"Sexual Healing" is a 1982 song recorded by American singer Marvin Gaye on the Columbia Records label. It was his first single since his exit from his long-term record label Motown earlier in the year, following the release of the In Our Lifetime album the previous year. People described it as "America's hottest pop-culture turn-on since Olivia Newton-John suggested she wanted to get 'Physical'."[1] It's listed at No. 233 on the Rolling Stone list of its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Background[edit][edit | edit source]

In the winter of 1981, Marvin Gaye had relocated to Ostend, Belgium, following the end of a European tour amid financial struggles with the IRS and the end of his second marriage. Struggling with depression and cocaine addiction, Gaye had agreed to move to Ostend on the advice of longtime resident, Freddy Couseart. While in Ostend, Gaye began to curb his drug use and recover from his depression, partaking in Ostend's beaches. Gaye also began cutting ties with his longtime recording label, Motown, following the release of In Our Lifetime, an album the musician didn't declare to be finished. He declared that he would never record with the label ever again after he accused the label of betraying his creativity.[3]

Over the years, Gaye had received offers by labels such as I.R.S. RecordsArista Records and Elektra Records while still with Motown, afterwards, he sought to make a deal with CBS Records after they offered him a contract.[4] The label agreed to sign him and to help clear his financial debt. CBS would spend a year negotiating the contract. Needing spending money, Couseart set Gaye up with a month-long England tour between June 13 and July 1, 1981, titled A Heavy Love Affair Tour 1981, named after his song, "Heavy Love Affair", from In Our Lifetime.[5] After returning to Belgium that July, Gaye performed two shows at Ostend's Casino Kursaal on July 3 and 4, 1981.[6] The tour's commercial and critical success further renewed Marvin's musical confidence.

Production[edit][edit | edit source]

At the end of the tour, two of Gaye's musicians, Gordon Banks and Odell Brown had decided to stay in Ostend as Gaye had been planning on new musical material after being exposed toreggae music while in England.[7] With Brown and Banks, Gaye created and co-composed an instrumental track that featured reggae overtones, recorded around December of 1981.

Gaye was still working on the track when David Ritz, then a reviewer for Rolling Stone, arrived at Ostend to locate Gaye's whereabouts, despite Gaye's and Couseart's rules that no musical critic would be allowed to talk to the singer.[7][8] The story has been disputed on how the lyrics to "Sexual Healing" were devised from. Ritz's story claims that Gaye had been viewingsadomasochism comic books and advised Gaye he needed "sexual healing".[7] When Ritz further explained to Gaye what that meant, Gaye told him to "write a poem" while Gaye came up with the melody.[7] However, Gaye's closest friends dispute that claim.

In an interview with HUMO in 1994, Cousaert claimed the only songwriters were Gaye and Brown and stated Ritz's contribution was the title.[9] In Frankie Gaye's memoirs, My Brother, Marvin, the singer's brother claimed Ritz had told him, "not only are you sexy, your music is healing" inspiring Gaye to write the lyrics himself.[10] Gordon Banks told The Atlantic in 2012 that the conversation between Gaye and Ritz had nothing to do with Marvin's S&M collection but because Marvin had been intrigued by Amsterdam's red light district, to which Ritz replied that Gaye needed sexual healing but said he had nothing to do with the creation of the song.[11] Odell Brown stated he never met Ritz and only assumed Ritz was just there for an interview for Rolling Stone.[7] Though Gaye himself acknowledged Ritz for coming up with the song title, Ritz sued Gaye for $15 million for partial credit.[12]Though Ritz was eventually credited after settling with Gaye's estate following his death, his case was dropped due to insufficient evidence in 1983.[12]

Composition[edit][edit | edit source]

"Sexual Healing" has been described as a "reggae-styled number" and has elements of funkboogiesoul and gospel. The music starts off with a deep bass kick drum, performed on the Roland TR-808 drum machine, followed by "tinnyhandclap sounds", "ticky snare" and "tishy hi-hats".[13] The first vocal sounds are of whispers, recorded by singer Harvey Fuqua, an early mentor of Gaye's who would assist him in production of the song and its parent album, Midnight Love. Fuqua whispers, get up, wake up, four times before the sounds of a rhythmic keyboard are played. Afterwards, Gaye is heard singing an ad-lib before the first verse.

As Gaye sings the verses, background vocals (provided by Gaye and Gordon Banks) are heard singing, heal me, my darlin', while Marvin sings the lyrics. During the chorus, sounds of a harmonious synthesizer are heard before Gaye reaches a vocal bridge, that is led by Gaye and Gordon Banks providing a rhythm guitar solo. In the album version of the song, Fuqua's whispers are repeated in the middle of the song, in the single version, however, Gaye takes Fuqua's place, singing in part of Fuqua's words adding more lyrics before returning to the verse. Another bridge follows after the second repeat of the chorus. In different versions of the song, Gaye had added extra lyrics to the second bridge as showcased on the song's demo tape and on an alternate version of the song. Gaye eventually cut part of the lyrics off.

In the album version, Gaye and Banks' background vocals immediately come after the second bridge ends, but in the single version, Gaye repeats the vamp he had sung at the ending of the first bridge, this time with Fuqua's whispers added. The song ends with Gaye repeating the chorus line. As it fades out, Gaye can be heard singing, "please don't procrastinate, it's not good to masturbate".[14]

Release and reception[edit][edit | edit source]

"Sexual Healing" was released as a single on September 30, 1982. The song reached number one on Billboard's Hot R&B Singles chart, where it stayed for a record ten weeks before being replaced by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney's duet, "The Girl Is Mine". The success was similar on the Hot 100 where it peaked at number three. The song also was a success on Billboard's other component charts, reaching number twelve on the Hot Dance Club Playchart and number 34 on the Hot Adult Contemporary chart. The song reached number one on Canada's RPM chart. It also peaked at number four on the UK Singles Chart. On Belgium's Ultratop 50 chart, the song reached number two. It also reached number one on New Zealand's RIANZ chart, where it stayed at the top spot for six weeks. It reached number three on the Dutch Top 40 in the Netherlands and also reached number seven on the Irish Singles Chart inIreland. In other countries such as Germany's Media Control Charts, Switzerland's Swedish Singles Chart and Italy's Italian Singles Chart, success in those countries were modest, reaching number 23, 17 and 37 respectively in those countries' charts.

In his review of Midnight Love on Rolling StoneDave Marsh described "Sexual Healing" as a track that was "sort of a polemic for the power of rampant humping".[15] Blender described it as "the plaintively blue-balled model for basically every slow jam" since its release.[16] An Allmusic reviewer stated Gaye had "concocted a pioneering percussive sound that was balladic in taste but stimulating in feel".[17] In its end-year lists of 1982, Rolling StoneNME and the Village Voice listed it as one of the "songs of the year" with the latter two ranking it at number two.[18]

"Sexual Healing" won Gaye several music industry awards. At the 1983 Grammy Awards, the song won Gaye two Grammys, including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Instrumental Performance. Gaye's performance of the song later made it into the compilation album, Grammy's Greatest Moments Volume I, in 1994.[19] The American Music Awards recognized the track for Favorite Soul/R&B Single. "Sexual Healing" had reportedly sold over one million units in its standards format and was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in 2001. The digital sales of "Sexual Healing" reached 500,000 units in shipments and was certified as a gold single in 2005. Also issued as a mastertone, this format was certified platinum in 2007.

Personnel[edit][edit | edit source]

Charts[edit][edit | edit source]

Chart (1982-1983) Peak


Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[20] 2
Canadian RPM Top Singles[21] 1
France (SNEP)[22] 17
Germany (Media Control AG)[23] 23
Irish Singles Chart[24] 7
Italy (FIMI)[25] 37
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[26] 3
Netherlands (Mega Single Top 100)[27] 3
New Zealand (RIANZ)[28] 1
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[29] 17
UK (Official Charts Company)[30] 4
U.S. BillboardHot 100[31] 3
U.S. BillboardHot Adult Contemporary[31] 34
U.S. BillboardHot Dance Club Play[31] 12
U.S. BillboardHot R&B Singles[31] 1
Chart (2011) Peak


France (SNEP)[32] 74
Chart (2012) Peak


France (SNEP)[32] 187

Chart procession and succession[edit][edit | edit source]

Preceded by

"Love Come Down" by Evelyn King

U.S. Billboard Hot Black Singles number-one single

November 6, 1982 – January 8, 1983

Succeeded by

"The Girl Is Mine" by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney

Preceded by

"Pass the Dutchie" by Musical Youth

New Zealand RIANZ Singles Chart number-one single

January 21, 1983 – February 25, 1983

Succeeded by

"I Don't Wanna Dance" by Eddy Grant

Preceded by

"Africa" by Toto

Canadian RPM Singles Chart number-one single

February 19, 1983 – February 26, 1983

Succeeded by

"Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" by Culture Club

Sarah Connor version[edit][edit | edit source]

"Sexual Healing"
Single by Sarah Connor featuring Ne-Yo
from the album Soulicious
B-side "Get It Right"
Released 29 June 2007
Format CD single, CD maxi singledigital download
Recorded Saal 4 (Berlin, Germany)
Genre Soul
Length 4:10
Label X-Cell
Producer Kay D., Rob Tyger
Sarah Connor chronology
"The Impossible Dream (The Quest)"


"Sexual Healing"


"Under My Skin"


Ne-Yo German/Austrian/Swiss singles chronology
"Because of You"


"Sexual Healing"


"Hate That I Love You"


In 2007, the song was covered by German singer–songwriter Sarah Connor for her studio album of covers, Soulicious (2007). A re-recorded version featuring American singer–songwriter Ne-Yowas released as the album's second single on 29 June 2007. On the same album, Connor performed a posthumous duet with Gaye entitled "Your Precious Love".

The song's music video is placed in the story of the 1986 erotic drama film 9½ Weeks, featuring representative scenes from the film, e.g. the well-known "ice scene", Connor being fed by a Ne-Yo doppelgänger, and her homemade striptease. Apart from the original movie, this video is the only one which repeats the sex scene on the stairs in the rain. Ne-Yo was not available the day the music video was shot, so a Ne-Yo doppelgänger was used. Connor stated that she was slightly drunk during the shoot of the video.[33]

Track listing[edit][edit | edit source]

European CD single
  1. "Sexual Healing" (Video Version featuring Ne-Yo) – 3:52
  2. "Sexual Healing" (Original Radio Edit) – 3:51
European CD maxi single
  1. "Sexual Healing" (Video Version featuring Ne-Yo) – 3:52
  2. "Sexual Healing" (Original Radio Edit) – 3:51
  3. "Get It Right" – 4:20
  4. "Sexual Healing" (Video featuring Ne-Yo) – 4:04
  5. Online Access: Making of "Sexual Healing"

Charts[edit][edit | edit source]

Chart (2007) Peak


Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[34] 45
Eurochart Hot 100 Singles[35] 44
Germany (Media Control AG)[36] 11
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[37] 41

Other covers[edit][edit | edit source]

  • The song has been covered by Ben Harper in many of his live concerts and remains one of his most popular songs. One version appears on his 2001 live album Live from Mars.
  • In 2002, Darren Hayes recorded a cover during a Capital Radio session.
  • In 2005, English singer–songwriter Kate Bush released her Celtic-accented cover as the B-side to "King of the Mountain", her first new material in twelve years.
  • Also in 2005, Clam (featuring VDC) covered the song.
  • The song was covered by the English indietronica group Hot Chip as the B-side to their 2006 single, "Over and Over".
  • The Hot 8 Brass Band recorded a version of the track on their debut album, Rock with the Hot 8 in 2007.
  • Australian country artist Morgan Evans covered the song during his live set at CMC Rocks the Hunter 2013.

Remixes and samplings[edit][edit | edit source]

  • Big Daddy Kane's 1989 song "Smooth Operator" interpolated the part of Marvin singing "operate" from the track.[38]
  • Rap group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony interpolated the get up, wake up portion of the song for their 1995 hit "1st of tha Month".[39]
  • The backing beat is sampled for the instrumental of "Envy" by Fat Joe on his album Jealous One's Envy (1995).[40]
  • The song is sampled in the remix of Solo's 1995 song "Where Do You Want Me to Put It".
  • Kenyan artist Hardstone sampled the backing track for his 1996 hit single "Uhiki-a".
  • The backing beat was sampled for a remix of Keith Sweat's 1996 hit "Twisted".[41]
  • Master P used elements of the song on "Bourbon and Lacs" for 1997's Ghetto D, a song about the lives of "playas" in the New Orleans area.[42]
  • Erick Sermon sampled bits of the song for his song, "I'm Hot".[43]
  • Singer Joe interpolated Gaye's ad-lib intro, "let's get down tonight", for his 2003 hit, "Let's Stay Home Tonight".[44]
  • In 2007, this song was remixed by Alibi vs. Rockefeller with a music video featuring three female dancers dressed as nurses (Lauren Ridealgh, Bayley Darling,[45] and Stephanie Fitzpatrick). It charted at number 34 on the UK Singles Chart.[46]
  • R&B singer CJ Hilton used elements of the song's chorus in his 2011 single "So Fresh", which featured Nas.

Pop culture references[edit][edit | edit source]

  • The song is featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories on the radio station VCFL.
  • In the 2002 film I Spy, Kelly Robinson feeds lines from the song to Special Agent Alex Scott, who is trying to win the heart of fellow Special Agent Rachel Wright.
  • In 2010, the South Park 14th season premiere episode with the same title was released, mocking at the media attention given to celebrities' sexual affairs, such as those of Tiger Woods. The song is played at the end of the episode and sung incoherently by series co-creator Trey Parker for comedic effect.
  • The song was featured on the MTV sketch comedy show, The State.
  • In July 2006 Today Tonight performed a report on the controversies of music and how some songs encourage kids to have sex at a young age, naming "Sexual Healing" as one song that encouraged kids to have sex back in the 1980s.
  • The first scene in the 2011 movie No Strings Attached begins with the song playing in the background.

Legacy[edit][edit | edit source]

In 2003, Rolling Stone listed "Sexual Healing" at number 231 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In the follow-up 2011 list, it dropped two places to No. 233.[2] Frequently included in best-of lists, the song ranked number 45 on Blender's list of their "Top 500 Songs Since You Were Born".[16] It also ranked in several rock lists in Norway, Spain, the UK and the United States.[18] It was also inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

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