Marvin Gaye, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”

Written by November 19th, 2012 at 6:00 am

Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s classic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” best known for its version by soul icon Marvin Gaye, is one of popular music’s greatest examples of how a single song can be a financial blessing to its writer for decades.

Whitfield and Strong were no strangers to success before Gaye cut “Grapevine.” Strong had already had a major hit as a singer with the first version of “Money (That’s What I Want),” one of Motown Records’ early hits, and Whitfield was making a name for himself as the producer of the Temptations, among others. “Grapevine” was originally cut by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles in 1966, but was rejected by Motown owner Berry Gordy, who thought the song still needed work. The song was recorded by Gaye in 1967, but wasn’t released until after Gladys Knight and the Pips had seen their version of it reach number two on the pop charts. It was then released as a cut on Gaye’s 1968 album In the Groove with no intention of it being a single. But, as happened so often in the ‘60s and ‘70s when DJs had the freedom to play whatever they wanted, they started spinning Gaye’s version of “Grapevine” off the album, and it was such a hit that Gordy had no choice but to release it as a 45.

Many Internet chord sites have the song listed as having been written in D minor, but legend has it that Whitfield wanted Gaye to sing it higher to add a little strain to his voice, which is why the song was recorded in Eb minor. Later live versions of Gaye singing the song have him singing it in C minor, a step-and-a-half lower than the original single, and it definitely doesn’t have the same punch.

A couple years after Gaye’s success, a loud band of hippie-looking guys with a driven, charismatic leader decided to record their own version of “Grapevine.” Creedence Clearwater Revival included an 11-minute version of the song on their 1970 album Cosmo’s Factory, and it was a hit for the band as both a single and in the form of the stretched-out album guitar jam, which FM stations embraced late at night. CCR’s version was in Dmi, and it’s interesting that the band didn’t capo up and do it in the same key as Gaye, since John Fogerty was known for his tonsil-tearing high notes.

About a decade later funk pioneer Roger Troutman had a hit with the song, just a couple years before Gaye’s tragic death at the hand of his father. Then the age of big-time television usage came about, and the song was once again a hit in the UK thanks to a Levi’s commercial featuring singer Nick Kamen. The song was then introduced to a new generation in 1986 when drummer Buddy Miles, from Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, sang it as a member of the claymation-character California Raisins in a wildly popular television ad campaign for the California Raisin Advisory Board. The Raisins’ version of “Grapevine” even made it to the Billboard Hot 100, and the characters got their own Saturday morning cartoon show.

“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” is a soul and pop classic that has sold millions of copies, and has been covered by numerous acts, including the late Amy Winehouse with Paul Weller in performances that can be seen on the Internet. Like Winehouse, many of the people who performed this song died relatively young. But the song lives on, and there’s no doubt that it still continues to generate substantial royalties.

“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”

Ooh, I bet you’re wond’rin’ how I knew
’bout your plans to make me blue
With some other guy you knew before
Between the two of us guys you know I love you more
It took me by surprise I must say
When I found out yesterday
Dontcha know that I

Heard it through the grapevine
Not much longer would you be mine
Oh I heard it through the grapevine
Oh I’m just about to lose my mind
Honey, honey yeah
(Heard it through the grapevine)
(Not much longer would you be my baby, ooh, ooh, ooh)

I know a man ain’t supposed to cry
But these tears I can’t hold inside
Losin’ you would end my life you see
‘Cause you mean that much to me
You could have told me yourself
That you love someone else
Instead I

Heard it through the grapevine
Not much longer would you be mine
Oh I heard it through the grapevine
And I’m just about to lose my mind
Honey, honey yeah
(Heard it through the grapevine)
(Not much longer would you be my baby, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh)

People say believe half of what you see
Son, and none of what you hear
But I can’t help bein’ confused
If it’s true please tell me dear
Do you plan to let me go
For the other guy you loved before?
Dontcha know I

Heard it through the grapevine
Not much longer would you be mine
Baby I heard it through the grapevine
Ooh I’m just about to lose my mind
Honey, honey yeah
(Heard it through the grapevine)
(Not much longer would you be my baby, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)

Honey, honey, I know
That you’re lettin’ me go
Said I heard it through the grapevine
Heard it through the grapevine

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