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"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" is a landmark song in the history of Motown Records. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1966, the single was first recorded by The Miracles. Released on September 25, 1967 as Soul 35039 by Gladys Knight & the Pips, who recorded the third or (possibly) fourth version of the song, it has since become a signature song, however, for singer Marvin Gaye, who recorded the second or (possibly) third version of the song prior to the Pips' version but released the song after theirs on October 30, 1968 as Tamla 54176. Creedence Clearwater Revival released in 1970 a their popular version of the song.

Gaye's version has since become a landmark in pop music. #80 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Gaye's version also listed at #65 on Billboard's Greatest Songs of All Time. It was also inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant" value.

Background

Early recordings

In 1966, Barrett Strong, a former recording artist for Motown Records and the singer behind the label's breakthrough hit, "Money ", had begun to work in the songwriting staff after failing to produce a follow-up hit. Motown CEO Berry Gordy hired Strong to work with Norman Whitfield to work on recordings for The Temptations following the success of Whitfield's recording of the group's "Ain't Too Proud to Beg". Strong originally composed "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" due to his own personal relationship. Whitfield began collaborating with Strong on the song and eventually decided to record it on The Miracles, who recorded the song on August 6, 1966. Due to Gordy's strong veto power during Motown's annual Friday meetings at Hitsville USA's Quality Control Department, the Miracles' version was deemed unreleasable. The Isley Brothers may have recorded the song, but there is no evidence that they ever did, and some Motown historians or enthusiasts believe that a session may have been scheduled but canceled. Gordy's thoughts on the song were that he thought the song was "horrible" and advised Whitfield and Strong to create a stronger single, however the duo refused to budge. Years later, a second version by The Miracles, with a similar arrangement to their first version, appeared as an album track on their 1968 Special Occasion LP. Their original recording was issued years later on a compilation album entitled Motown Sings Motown Treasures . The Isley Brothers' recording has remained shelved.

Marvin Gaye recording

Whitfield recruited his early collaborator Marvin Gaye to record the song on April 10, 1967. Later recordings of Marvin's version took more than a month due to Whitfield overdubbing Marvin's vocals with that of The Andantes' background vocals, and including several tracks featuring The Funk Brothers on the rhythm track and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on the orchestral background. The session featuring Gaye led to arguments between the producer and singer, particularly over vocal registry. Whitfield struggled to convince Gaye to perform the song in a high rasp, a move that had worked on David Ruffin during the recording of the The Temptations hit, "Ain't Too Proud to Beg". Whitfield was later described by several Motown employees as "cocky" and "arrogant" but "always got what he wanted out of the performer". Marvin eventually agreed to record it in Whitfield's key and the song later led to a change in the singer's vocals, first reflected on the Ivy Jo Hunter-produced "You" and the Frank Wilson-produced "Chained". The mixture of Marvin's bluesy raspy vocals and The Andantes' sweeter harmonies, made Whitfield confident that he had a hit, however, Motown CEO Berry Gordy was not impressed. The label instead released the sweeter "Your Unchanging Love", a song that was included on the singer's 1966 album Moods of Marvin Gaye.

The Gladys Knight & the Pips recording

Gladys Knight & the Pips was the next Motown act to record "Grapevine". Signed to Motown in 1966, the group had already scored a few hits prior to signing with the label and in early 1967, had a hit with their third Motown single, "Everybody Needs Love". After hearing Aretha Franklin's version of "Respect", Whitfield again rearranged the song to fit its style. According to David Ritz, Whitfield set to record a song that would "out-funk" Aretha. After Whitfield presented the demo tapes for "Grapevine", members Gladys Knight, Bubba Knight, William Guest, and Edward Patten worked for several weeks on their vocal arrangement. To make the song suitable for Gladys, the first line of the second verse ("I know a man ain't supposed to cry/But these tears I can't hold inside") was altered to ("Take a good look at these tears in my eyes/Baby, these tears I can't hold inside"). After much talk, Gordy reluctantly allowed the Pips' version to be a single. Motown put little support behind it and the Pips relied on connections with DJs across the United States to get the record played. The Pips' version of "Grapevine" reached number one on the Billboard R&B chart on November 25, 1967, and stayed there for six weeks, making it the group's second R&B number one after 1961's "Every Beat of My Heart". It reached two on the Billboard Pop Singles singles chart. the same month, with The Monkees' "Daydream Believer" holding top spot. It was Motown's best-selling single to that point.

Marvin Gaye version's release and reaction

Despite this success, Whitfield felt Marvin Gaye's version was still a hit and he continued asking Gordy to release Gaye's "Grapevine" as a single, but Gordy didn't want to release Marvin's version after the Pips made a hit out of it. In September 1968, Whitfield managed to have Gaye's "Grapevine" added to Gaye's 1968 album In the Groove. The single for In the Groove, "You", made it to 34 on the pop charts, while "Grapevine" became the most-played and requested track from the album. After radio deejays prompted Motown to release it, Gordy finally relented, releasing Marvin's version as a single on October 30, 1968. Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" eventually outsold the Pips', and until The Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" 20 months later, was the biggest hit single of all time on the Motown label. It stayed at the top of the Billboard Pop Singles chart for seven weeks, from December 14, 1968 to January 25, 1969. Gaye's "Grapevine" also held number one on the R&B chart during the same seven weeks, and stayed at number one in the United Kingdommarker for three weeks starting on March 26, 1969. The label was pleased with the success, although Gaye, depressed because of issues such as the illness of singing partner Tammi Terrell, was quoted as saying that his success "didn't seem real" and that he "didn't deserve it".

Due to the song's success, In the Groove was re-issued as I Heard It Through the Grapevine and peaked at number two on the R&B album chart and number sixty-three on the album chart, which was at the time Marvin's highest-charted solo studio effort to date. Because of the success of both versions , "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" was the first and last number one on the Billboard R&B chart in 1968: the Pips version was the first week of January, the Gaye version the last week of December. Knight was not pleased that Gaye's version usurped her own. She stated that Gaye's version was recorded over an instrumental track Whitfield had prepared for a Pips song, an allegation Gaye denied. Despite initial disappointment, Gladys and Marvin would later patch things up and in 1983, the two now-former Motown label mates reunited to perform their versions of the single.

Overview of themes and psychedelic soul

"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" has been rendered in different ways, although the theme, a relationship beginning to break up, remains prominent in each. The narrator has no clue that his relationship is in a bad state, and only learns after gossip "through the grapevine" that his lover is cheating. Of the first four versions produced by Norman Whitfield, only the Gaye version makes pain and confusion a clear part of the texture: Whitfield surrounds Gaye with horror-film strings, voodoo drums and percussion, and an ominous Wurlitzer electric piano line doubled by the guitar. The Miracles' version is a mid-tempo number, while Gladys Knight & the Pips' version is built around bravado and a quick-tempo gospel feel.

Marvin's recording of the single gave way later on to the soul subgenre known as psychedelic soul, pioneered by Whitfield and Sly Stone the same year Marvin's version was released. Marvin would record in this style until after the release of What's Going On in 1971 before settling into a funk sound in the 1970s. Other artists who recorded in the "psychedelic soul" genre included The Temptations, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder and The Isley Brothers after their Motown tenure fizzled.

Other notable covers and references in media

Following Marvin Gaye's 1968 release of the single, his version has been frequently covered by artists of varied genres. In 1969, Whitfield produced a version for The Temptations for their hit album, Puzzle People though their version recalled The Pips'. In 1971, The Undisputed Truth became the final Motown act to record the song in its Marvin-styled version.

Creedence Clearwater Revival recorded an eleven-minute version for their album, Cosmo's Factory, released in 1970. Other versions have been recorded in other genres such as punk rock where the UK-based The Slits recorded a heavily dub version as a b-side of their first single recording it in the Marvin Gaye version. Other groups such as Tuxedomoon, The Crust Brothers and the disco band, P'Zzazz, featuring Mildred Vancy on vocals, also recorded the song.

In 1981, funk musician Roger Troutman, released a cover of the song, in an extended version, off his debut solo project, The Many Facets of Roger. Troutman's version brought the song back to number-one on the R&B charts in early 1982 marking the third time the single reached the top spot on that chart. Roger's version of the song also made the Hot 100, peaking at number seventy-nine..

In 1986, several studio singers re-recorded the song and featured it in a commercial for the clay-animated singing group The California Raisins. Their version became their signature tune, mainly due to a pun on the fact that raisins originate from "the grapevine."

Other artists to have recorded the song have included Trini Lopez, the Soultans and the Flying Pickets, the Doug Anthony All Stars, Giorgia, Marisa Monte, Kaiser Chiefs, Michael Chapdelaine, Paul Weller and Amy Winehouse in a duet version while performing on Jools Holland, The Robustos, Tina Turner, Elton John, Diana DeGarmo, Michael McDonald, and Fairport Convention in a live version with vocals by Richard Thompson.

In an episode for the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, "Mario and the Beanstalk", the song was covered but instead of "I heard it through the grapevine", the singer recited, "I heard it through the beanvine". A humorous cover of the song was recorded by Paul Shanklin for the album, Bill Clinton: The Early Years, based on former President Bill Clinton. Antonio Forcione recorded an instrumental version on his live album. Australian cult comedy trio the Doug Anthony All-Stars performed the song at many of their concerts during the height of their fame.

On the last night of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival each year, the song is always performed by the closing act at the Moosehead Award Benefit show. 'Grapevine' was the favorite song of Brian 'Moosehead' McCarthy, in whose memory the award is named. This tradition goes back over 20 years.

Marvin Gaye's version has been featured in films including The Big Chill (1983) and Remember the Titans (2001) and was featured on the 2008 play, The Big Payback. In 1986, the song was featured on a UK commercial when Levi's used a cover for a retro-themed commercial titled "Launderette", directed by Roger Lyons and featuring Nick Kamen renewing interest in the Marvin Gaye version. Tamla-Motown re-released the single and the song shot to number-eight on the UK Singles chart marking its second chart performance. In 2008, the Freemasons remixed the Marvin Gaye version for dance clubs.

Influence on other songs

On September 28, 1974, John Lennon commented on WNEW-FM, a New York City radio station, introducing Electric Light Orchestra's Showdown:

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Queen Latifah also used the melody of the song in her 1998 single "Paper".

The Gossip have used the refrain "Heard it on the grapevine that no longer would I be your baby" and transposed it into their song "Love Long Distance" with the words "Heard it through the bass line Not much longer would you be my baby" "The Gossip".

Credits

The Miracles version



Marvin Gaye version



Gladys Knight & the Pips version



Notes

References

  • McLean, Ralph. "Stories Behind the Song: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine". BBC.co.uk. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/music/story_behind/grapevine.shtml on March 29, 2006.
  • Bronson, Fred (2003, 5th ed.). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. New York: Billboard Books. ISBN 0-8230-7677-6
  • Knight, Gladys (1994). Between Each Line of Pain and Glory: My Life Story. Pgs. 180 - 184. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-6326-9.
  • Posner, Gerald (2002). Motown : Music, Money, Sex, and Power. Pgs. 224 - 225. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-50062-6.
  • (2005). "Sold on Song: Top 100 - "I Heard It Through the Grapevine". BBC.co.uk. Retrieved from http://www0.bbc.co.uk/radio2/soldonsong/songlibrary/ihearditthroughthegrapevine.shtml on March 29, 2006.



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