"Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" was the second million selling hit single from Marvin Gaye's 1971 album, What's Going On.
Following the breakthrough of the title track's success, the composition, which was written solely by Gaye, and became one of his most poignant anthems of sorrow of the environment- years before global warming became a hot topic. He pointed out how everyone has an obligation to care for the ecological welfare of the planet.
Led by Gaye playing piano, and multi-tracked vocals, the strings on the track were conducted by Motown trombonist and musical arranger, Paul Riser. The session band was the legendary Funk Brothers from Detroit.
The song, like others on the album which explored deeper social themes, were opposed by Motown boss Berry Gordy who believed the general public would not be able to relate to the high-end intellectual nature of the lyrics and content. Apparently, when he heard the song Gordy didn't even know what the word "ecology" meant and it had to be explained to him.
The composition is about how Man is destroying Earth and how the balance of nature is upset by the activities of mankind. Mother Earth is forgiving but for how much longer?
His lyrics lay out the dilemma for mankind clearly:
"Mercy mercy me, ahh things aint what they used to be, no no where did the blue skies go? Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east”.
Another clear reference is:
“Ahh things aint what they used to be, no no Oil wasted on the ocean and upon our seas, fish full of mercury."
The singer is specifically talking about the greed of man that causes damage to mother nature and our natural resources, and of the need to be at one with Mother Nature.
Marvin Gaye said in 1976:
"We appear to have reached the bottom line. And, just like Bunny says (referring to the Jamaican musician Bunny Wailer), it’s in obeying the laws of nature that this wisdom and freedom lies. Those songs aren’t written for nothing. A lot of the time, they don’t even know it as writers, but they’re just forced to put Mother Nature into the picture, like Stevie Wonder in ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.’”