Beat Breakdown: “Sexual Healing” 

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In each Beat Breakdown, we dissect the beat of an iconic 808-driven song. Explore the beat online with Splice’s Beatmaker or download a project file with the MIDI drum pattern to play with it in your DAW.

Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” was the first song to popularize the 808 drum machine sound. Gaye’s first single on Columbia Records represented a turning point in his career. The was a massive hit, reaching the top of Billboard's Hot R&B Singles chart and taking the 808 with it.

The song opens with an iconic 808 groove alongside Harvey Fuqua’s whispers. The syncopated beat is layered and textural, contrasting with the drum machine’s more familiar applications in hip hop and techno tracks in years to come. The groove deliberately embraces the 808’s synthetic sound, forgoing any attempt to approximate an acoustic drum kit.

Gaye was drawn to the 808 drum machine when writing “Sexual Healing” because he could use it to create music without relying on other musicians or producers. His DIY mentality was a precursor to the “bedroom producer” boom that the 808 and other drum machines helped bring about. In a time when electronic music hadn’t yet hit the mainstream, Gaye’s use of the 808 was a fresh and bold move that immediately distinguished the single from the rest of his discography.


Written by
Harrison Shimazu

Harrison Shimazu is a video game and film composer passionate about communicating narrative through music and sound design.

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