Can I Get A Witness - Marvin Gaye

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"Can I Get A Witness" - Marvin Gaye (1963)

Written and produced by Motown songwriting and producing team Holland–Dozier–Holland, “Can I Get a Witness” was built among gospel-styled music and heralded Marvin Gaye's beginnings in the church with a rhythm and blues/rock and roll setting.

The title is a phrase commonly used in black churches and has a very spiritual connotation: When the preacher asks, "Can I Get A Witness," he's asking the congregation for affirmation, often met with the response of "Amen!" This song helped popularize the phrase.

All three members of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team had a background in Gospel music. Dozier said:

"Gospel music influenced myself and the Holland brothers because it was the thing you had to do every Sunday – go to church. Black gospel music was part of the lifestyle."

The sound of the 1963 track was unique due to the boogie woogie-styled piano riff played by Funk Brothers pianist Earl Van Dyke. Gaye recorded the song in a gospel harmony with members of The Supremes and Holland-Dozier-Holland backing him up on background vocals. Gaye performs the song mostly in a tenor range but occasionally sings in both the baritone and falsetto ranges.

Gaye complained to the producers about singing their songs above his vocal range. According to  Holland, once Gaye heard Holland perform the song to him, he nodded and stated, "okay I'm ready" to a perplexed Holland, who often had to work over the song a few times with other artists who recorded their songs.

Gaye recorded the song in one take, which impressed Holland, his brother and Dozier. Holland would later call Gaye "the mversatile vocalist I ever worked with."

In 1974, Grand Funk Railroad used lines from this song in their version of "Some Kind of Wonderful" which hit number three on the US charts.

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