This was the  first Marvin Gaye album produced by the artist himself, What's Going On is an album consisting of nine songs, most of which lead into the next. It has also been categorized as a Song Cycle. The album is told from the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran returning to the country he had been fighting for, and seeing nothing but injustice, suffering and hatred.

What's Going On was the first album on which Motown Records main studio band,  the Funk Brothers, received an official credit.  What's Going On was both an immediate commercial and critical success and has endured as a classic of early-1970s soul.

In worldwide critics', artists' and public surveys, it has been voted one of the landmark recordings in pop music history and is considered to be one of the greatest albums ever made. In 2003, the album was ranked number six on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.