Marvin Gaye was going through a personal crisis in the summer of 1976. In November 1975, Gaye's estranged first wife, Anna Gordy Gaye, sued Gaye for divorce, claiming irreconcilable differences, and sought child support for their adopted son, Marvin Gaye III. Gaye later argued his spending habit was causing him to fall behind on payments. In September 1976, a warrant was issued for Gaye's arrest after he failed to pay alimony; this made him to feel vulnerable during the recording sessions causing the singer to hide from the public for several days.
Several weeks later, Gaye accepted an offer to do a tour of Europe. Between October and December 1976, Gaye performed in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and Germany. Following his return, he recorded "Got to Give It Up" and released it on his album, Live at the London Palladium. The song became an international hit, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
After months of delays, in March 1977, the singer's attorney Curtis Shaw wanted to end divorce proceedings and convinced Marvin to give up half of the percentage of album royalties he would earn from his next Motown album to Anna. The Gayes' divorce was finalized in June.
When Gaye was set to start production on the record, he said he figured he would just do a "quickie record - nothing heavy, nothing even good", stating, "Why should I break my neck when Anna was going to wind up with the money anyway?" But as Gaye lived with the notion of doing an album for his soon-to-be his ex-wife, the more it fascinated him, stating he felt he "owed the public my best effort." Gaye stated he did the record "out of deep passion", noting he "sang and sang until I drained myself of everything I'd lived through."
Shortly after the deal was made, Gaye entered his recording studio on March 24, 1977 to record the album with only engineer Art Stewart by his side. Gaye, who usually didn't write his lyrics, composed on the spot, mumbling over prerecorded tracks or to his own accompaniment. The mumblings were "embryonic melodies", which eventually evolved into lyrics after three or four takes. Gaye ended up playing all the keyboard parts of the album, saying later, "I didn't plan it that way. It just turned out to be a hands-on project."
According to PopMatters journalist Mike Joseph, Here, My Dear's music was "largely midtempo funk, with elements of traditional soul, gospel, and doo-wop mixed together with a slight hint of disco". The title track opens the album, and in the album's liner notes David Ritz describes Gaye's tone in the song as "self-serving, self-justifying [and] self-pitying". "I Met a Little Girl" includes doo-wop drenched harmonies with its lyrics and music producing a "thick mixture" of sincerity and sarcasm. Considered the central melodic motif of the album, "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You" abandoned traditional song structure with a discursive mode, without a chorus, with its lyrics expressing "different feelings - tenderness, fear, anger, regret". Described as "straight ahead and beguiling" compared to all the other songs on the album, "Anger" is considered as "part sermon and part self-retribution", describing his movement from catharsis to escape.
"Is That Enough?" was recorded shortly after Gaye returned from a day in divorce court, humming the song's melody and some lyrics. Much like some other songs, it's told in a storyteller's point of view. "Everybody Needs Love" is described as an "attempt to empathy". "Time to Get It Together" includes a confessional that was influenced by Stevie Wonder's song, "As". "Anna's Song" is described as "the very heart" of the album. "A Funky Space Reincarnation" alluded to Star Wars as well as the music of George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic. "You Can Leave, But It's Going to Cost You" is produced under an assertive tone describing an argument between Marvin and his wife over his girlfriend, Janis. The final track, "Falling in Love Again", is dedicated to Janis, in which Gaye concluded on a "regenerative note".
An Allmusic reviewer later wrote of the music:
...the sound of divorce on record—exposed in all of its tender-nerve glory for the world to consume... Gaye viciously cuts with every lyric deeper into an explanation of why the relationship died the way it did... Musically the album retains the high standards Gaye set in the early '70s, but you can hear the agonizing strain of recent events in his voice, to the point where even several vocal overdubs can't save his delivery.
The front cover featured a painting of Gaye dressed in a toga in a neo-Roman setting, created by artist Michael Bryan, who stated Gaye described how he wanted to be depicted on the cover. The back cover features a temple with the word "matrimony" collapsing around a mock-Rodin sculpture of a romantic couple. The fold-out illustration inside the original double album shows a man's hand reaching across to the hand of a woman's, about to give her a record. The hands are extended on a Monopoly board--with the legend JUDGMENT written on it. On the man's side are tape recorders and a grand piano; on the woman's are a house, car and ring. The scales of justice sit above the game while, from arched windows, curious observers watch. David Ritz described the juxtaposition of images reflected Gaye's turbulent state of mind at the time.
When Here, My Dear was released in the end of 1978, it was panned by consumers and critics alike, who called the album "bizarre" and "un-commercial". The album's lack of success angered Gaye to the point that he refused to promote it any further. Motown stopped promoting Here, My Dear in early 1979, by which point Gaye had gone into self-imposed exile. Around the same time, Marvin's relationship with second wife, Janis, had also fallen apart and the couple separated sometime in 1979. Upon hearing the album, a visibly upset Anna Gordy considered suing Marvin for invasion of privacy but, according to People magazine, later recanted that decision. The album peaked at number four R&B and number twenty-six pop becoming Gaye's lowest-charting studio album of the 1970s. Initial response to the album was mixed, as most critics described it as weird. However, Gaye's lyrical honesty over the laid back disco grooves of Here, My Dear was praised by many. Robert Christgau, of The Village Voice, wrote of the album:
...this is a fascinating, playable album. Its confessional ranges from naked poetry ("Somebody tell me please/Why do I have to pay attorney fees?" is a modernist trope that ranks with any of Elvis Costello's) to rank jive, because Gaye's self-involvement is so open and unmediated, guileless even at its most insincere, it retains unusual documentary charm. And within the sweet, quiet, seductive, and slightly boring mood Gaye is at such pains to realize, his rhythmic undulations and whisper-to-a-scream timbral shifts can engross the mind, the body, and above all the ear. Definitely a weird one.
The album was re-evaluated in the years following its original release, and is today seen as a landmark in Gaye's career.
In 1994, the album was re-released due to increased attention on Marvin's life to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the singer's untimely death, and reached number-one on Billboard's R&B catalog chart.
It was voted one of the greatest albums in music history by Mojo Magazine (1995) and in 2003, the album was ranked number 462 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time; in 2012, it was ranked at number 456 on a revised list.
On February 15, 2008, Hip-O Select reissued Here, My Dear as a two-disc Expanded Edition including a song cut from the original album, "Ain't It Funny How Things Turn Around", which was remixed by funk legend Bootsy Collins. Disc two featured remastered and alternate versions of the songs from the album remixed by contemporary soul producers such as Salaam Remi, Questlove, Prince Paul, DJ Smash, Mocean Worker, and others.
"It doesn't quite get you the first time," Jay Kay told Q. "And a lot of the songs are quite similarly paced. It's almost like the same song being subtly changed ten different ways. A lot of it, lyrically, is about the break-up of his relationship. There's a track called 'Anger', which is lyrically really brilliant; and there's a track called 'Time To Get It Together' using, I think, a marimba, and it's just dreamy and lovely. He was a deep man at the time, but I think the charlie was eating him up. It's all about struggling and fighting, and you can feel it."
All songs written by Marvin Gaye except where noted.Side one
- "Here, My Dear" – 2:48
- "I Met a Little Girl" – 5:03
- "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You" – 6:17
- "Anger" (Delta Ashby, Gaye, Ed Townsend) – 4:04
Total Length: 18:12Side two
- "Is That Enough" – 7:47
- "Everybody Needs Love" (Ed Townsend, Gaye) – 5:48
- "Time to Get It Together" – 3:55
Total Length: 17:30Side three
- "Sparrow" (Townsend, Gaye) – 6:12
- "Anna's Song" – 5:56
- "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You (Instrumental)" – 6:03
Total Length: 18:11Side four
- "A Funky Space Reincarnation" – 8:18
- "You Can Leave, but It's Going to Cost You" – 5:32
- "Falling in Love Again" – 4:39
- "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You (Reprise)" – 0:47
Total Length: 19:16
Bonus material for the 2007 Hip-O Select Expanded Edition, with first disc of the original album with bonus tracks and second disc of recordings from the sessions for Here, My Dear.Disc one (bonus track)
Marvin Gaye – vocals, piano, Rhodes, Roland bass, synth and horns; tape box percussion
Charles Owens – tenor saxophone
Wali Ali – guitar
Gordon Banks – guitar
Spencer Bean – guitar ("Time to Get It Together")
Cal Green – guitar ("Sparrow")
Frank Blair – bass
Eric Ward – bass ("Sparrow")
Elmira Collins – percussion
Ernie Fields, Jr. – alto saxophone
Fernando Harkless – tenor saxophone ("When Did You Stop Loving Me...", "Time to Get It Together")
Gary Jones – congas
Nolan Andrew Smith – trumpet
Bugsy Wilcox – drums
Melvin Webb – drums, congas, cowbell ("When Did You Stop Loving Me...", "Time to Get It Together")
Eddie "Bongo" Brown – congas, bongos ("A Funky Space")
Jack Ashford – percussion ("Ain't It Funny")
Odell Brown – RMI
Daniel LeMelle – saxophone ("A Funky Space" 12 inch instrumental overdubs)
Mike McGloiry – guitar ("A Funky Space" 12 inch instrumental overdubs)
David Ritz – liner notes
Michael Bryant – illustrations
David Stewart – handclaps (on "A Funky Space")
Richard "Do Dirty" Bethune – handclaps (on "A Funky Space")
Art Stewart – engineer, mixer, handclaps (on "A Funky Space")
Fred Ross – engineer
Tony Houston – engineer
Bill Ravencraft – engineer
- "Ain't It Funny (How Things Turn Around)" alternate mix – 4:04
- Mix produced by Bootsy Collins