"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" is a song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for Motown Records in 1966, and made famous by Marvin Gaye in a single released in October 1968 on Motown's Tamla label.
Originally recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles in 1966, that version was rejected by Motown owner Berry Gordy, who told Whitfield and Strong to make it stronger. After recording the song with Marvin Gaye in 1967, which Gordy also rejected, Whitfield produced a version with Gladys Knight & the Pips, which Gordy agreed to release as a single in September 1967, and which went to number two in the Billboard chart. The Marvin Gaye version was placed on his 1968 album In the Groove, where it gained the attention of radio disc jockeys, and Gordy finally agreed to its release as a single in October 1968, when it went to the top of the Billboard Pop Singles chart for seven weeks from December 1968 to January 1969 and became for a time the biggest hit single on the Motown label.
The Gaye recording has since become an acclaimed soul classic, and in 2004, it was placed on the Rolling Stone list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. On the commemorative 50th Anniversary of the Billboard Hot 100 issue of Billboard magazine in June 2008, Marvin Gaye's "Grapevine" was ranked 65th. It was also inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant" value.
In addition to being released several times by Motown artists, the song has been covered by a range of musicians including Creedence Clearwater Revival, who made an eleven-minute interpretation for their 1970 album, Cosmo's Factory; and has been used twice in television commercials – each time using session musicians recreating the style of the Marvin Gaye version: the 1985 Levi's commercial, "Launderette", featuring male model Nick Kamen, and the 1986 California raisins promotion with Buddy Miles as the singer for the clay animation group The California Raisins.
- 2 Motown recordings
- 3 Releases
- 4 Legacy
- 5 Covers
- 6 Media
- 7 Personnel
- 8 Charts
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
By 1966, Barrett Strong, the singer on Motown Records' breakthrough hit, "Money (That's What I Want)", had the basics of a song he had started to write in Chicago, where the idea had come to him while walking down Michigan Avenue that people were always saying "I heard it through the grapevine". The phrase is associated with black slaves during the Civil War, who had their form of telegraph: the human grapevine. Producer Norman Whitfield worked with Strong on the song, adding lyrics to Strong's basic Ray Charles influenced gospel tune and the single chorus line of "I heard it through the grapevine". This was to be the first of a number of successful collaborations between Strong and Whitfield.
The lyrics tell the story in a first person narrative of the betrayal of the singer's romantic partner, how he heard about it indirectly via gossip from other people (through the "grapevine"), and the emotional pain and disbelief he is suffering.
Producer Norman Whitfield recorded "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" with various Motown artists. The first known recording is with the Miracles on August 6, 1966, though there may also have been a recording with the Isley Brothers, or at least Whitfield intended to record it with them; however a track has not turned up – some Motown historians believe that a session may have been scheduled but cancelled. The Miracles' version was not released as a single due to Berry Gordy's veto during Motown's weekly quality control meetings; Gordy advised Whitfield and Strong to create a stronger single. The Miracles version later appeared on their 1968 Special Occasion album, and a slightly different take, possibly from the same session but unreleased, appeared on the 1998 compilation album,Motown Sings Motown Treasures.
Marvin Gaye's version was recorded in spring 1967, and is the second known recording, though was also rejected by Gordy as a single, and would also later go onto an album, In the Groove. The third recording was in 1967 with Gladys Knight and the Pips in a new, faster arrangement. Gordy accepted the new arrangement and the Gladys Knight version was released as a single in September 1967, reaching number 2 in the charts. When Gaye's album with his version of Grapevine was released in August 1968 radio disc jockeys were playing the song, so Gordy had it released as a single in November when it went to number one.
In 1968, Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers recorded a version for their debut album based on Gladys' recent hit; however, after hearing the Marvin Gaye version, they felt they'd made the wrong choice. In 1969, Whitfield produced a version for the Temptations "psychedelic soul" album, Cloud Nine, in which he "brought compelling percussion to the fore, and relegated the piano well into the wings". In 1971,the Undisputed Truth became the final Motown act to record the song in its Marvin-styled version. The song was also covered by the Chi-Lites on their 1969 debut album Give It Away.
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Whitfield recorded the song with Marvin Gaye over five sessions, the first on February 3, 1967, and the final one on April 10, 1967. Recordings of this version took more than a month due to Whitfield overdubbing Gaye's vocals with that of the Andantes' background vocals, mixing in several tracks featuring the Funk Brothers on the rhythm track, and adding the string section from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with an arrangement by Paul Riser.
The session featuring Gaye led to an argument between the producer and singer. Whitfield wanted Gaye to perform the song in a higher key than his normal range, a move that had worked on David Ruffinduring the recording of the Temptations' hit, "Ain't Too Proud to Beg". The mixture of Gaye's raspy vocals and the Andantes' sweeter harmonies, made Whitfield confident that he had a hit; however, despite approval from Motown's Quality Control Department, Gordy blocked the release.
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Gladys Knight & the Pips recorded "Grapevine" on June 17, 1967 in Motown's Studio A, with Norman Whitfield as producer. After hearing Aretha Franklin's version of "Respect", Whitfield rearranged "Grapevine" to include some of the funk elements of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. According to David Ritz, Whitfield set to record a song that would "out-funk" Aretha. After Whitfield presented the demo tapes, 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 on September 28, 1967 on Motown's Soul label.
The first release was the Gladys Knight & the Pips version on September 28, 1967 on Motown's Soul label, with "It’s Time To Go Now" on the b-side. 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. The song was later placed on the Gladys Knight & the Pips album Everybody Needs Love.
Whitfield wanted Gordy to release Gaye's "Grapevine" as a single, but Gordy didn't want to release another version after the Pips had already made a hit out of it. In September 1968, Whitfield added "Grapevine" to Gaye's new album In the Groove. On release "Grapevine" became a radio hit and, according to Gordy himself, "The DJs played it so much off the album that we had to release it as a single". So Gaye's version was released 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 Kingdom 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 (which would kill her less than a year later), 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. Gladys Knight was not pleased that Gaye's version usurped her own, and claimed that Gaye's version was recorded over an instrumental track Whitfield had prepared for a Pips song, an allegation Gaye denied. In 1985, one year following Gaye's death, the song was re-released in the UK reaching number eight thanks to a Levi's commercial (starring Nick Kamen).
The Gaye recording has become an acclaimed soul classic. In 2004, it was placed at number 80 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, with the comment that Whitfield had produced the song with a number of artists using different arrangements, and that on the Marvin Gaye recording he had a "golden idea" when he set the song "in a slower, more mysterious tempo". In a new Rolling Stone list published in 2011, the single was placed slightly lower at 81.
On the commemorative 50th Anniversary of the Billboard Hot 100 issue of Billboard magazine in June 2008, the Marvin Gaye version was ranked as the 65th biggest song on the chart. It was also inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant" value. In July 2014 the song was voted "The Nation's Favourite Motown Song" in the UK in an ITV television programme of that name.
In addition to being recorded several times by Motown artists, the song has been covered by a range of musicians including Creedence Clearwater Revival who recorded an eleven-minute version for their 1970 album, Cosmo's Factory, and funk musician Roger Troutman whose extended version off his 1981 solo album, The Many Facets of Roger, brought the song back to number one on the R&B chart in early 1982 marking the third time the single reached the top spot on that chart. It also made the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number seventy-nine.
The Soultans released a cover of the song in 1997. Queen Latifah used the music as a basis for her 1998 single "Paper", produced by Pras Michel for her album Order in the Court. The song has also been covered by Fairport Convention (at their annual Cropredy Convention), The Slits, Tuxedomoon, Average White Band and The Mend.
"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" has been used twice in television commercials – each time using session musicians recreating the style of the Marvin Gaye version. For the 1985 Levi's 501 commercial, "Launderette", featuring male model Nick Kamen, agency BBH and director Roger Lyons, owing to budgetary constraints, brought in Karl Jenkins and Mike Ratledge to recreate the sound of the Marvin Gaye original with Tony Jackson, a Barbadian background singer for Paul Young, handling vocals and P. P. Arnold on backing vocals. The commercial's success prompted Tamla-Motown to re-release Gaye's single with the Levi's 501 logo on the sleeve — "an example of integrated marketing almost before the term was invented". The record went to number eight on the UK Singles chart, marking its second chart performance. A year later, in 1986, Buddy Miles was the singer for the clay animation group The California Raisins which sang it as part a TV advertising campaign.
Marvin Gaye's version of the song is used in the opening credits of The Big Chill (1983) as each of the main characters gets to hear (through the "grapevine") about the death of their college friend, and then travels to his funeral; the song serves in an extradiegetic fashion to both unite the main characters' friendship and to locate it nostalgically for the viewer.
- Lead vocals by Marvin Gaye
- Background vocals by The Andantes: Jackie Hicks, Marlene Barrow and Louvain Demps
- Instrumentation by the Funk Brothers and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra