I Heard It Through The Grapevine - Marvin Gaye

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"I Heard It Through The Grapevine" - Marvin Gaye (1968)

“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was the only song that was a R&B hit for three different artists.

Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for Motown Records in 1966. Marvin Gaye released the track a few years later after a version by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles was rejected by Motown owner Berry Gordy. In 1967 yet another version of the song by Gladys Knight & the Pips hit number two in the charts.

The origins of the song has Barrett Strong, the singer on Motown Records’ breakthrough hit, “Money (That’s What I Want)”, walking down the street in Chicago when he thought to himself how 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. Strong originally wrote it on a $40 piano with only 10 working keys.

Whitfield worked with him, adding lyrics to his basic Ray Charles influenced gospel tune and the single chorus line of “I heard it through the grapevine”. The track features a classic bass line.

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. Marvin Gaye wrung out the emotion in the song is coupled with Whitfield’s suggestion to sing slightly higher than his normal range. This created the strained vocal. Gaye said:

“I simply took direction, as I felt the direction he was expounding was a proper one. Had I done it myself I would not have sung it at all like that, but y’see there are many benefits in just singing other people’s material and taking directions. The job of interpreting is quite an important one, because when people are not able to express what is in their souls if there is an artist who can... then I think that is very valuable.”

Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield also wrote “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” "Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” “Just My Imagination,” and “Money (That’s What I Want).”

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