2021 SONG DRAFT- ROUND 5 PICK 7- NOSTALGIC ITALIAN SELECTS- ‘I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE’- MARVIN GAYE

Song Draft 2021 – Pick 5 – I Heard It Through the Grapevine

As the Song Draft continues, we have come to my fifth pick. I have noticed that I have primarily leaned very “local”. In all honesty, I don’t think I did this intentionally. I have featured songs from my home state of Michigan, and primarily from the Detroit area. I would be remiss if I did not include a song from the Motown Label.

I thought long and hard about just which song to pick. As I looked through the LONG list of Motown groups, I saw The Four Tops, The Supremes, The Temptations, Edwin Starr, Marvin Gaye, The Marvelettes, Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Isley Brothers, Mary Wells, Tammi Terrell, The Spinners and more! There were so many artists to chose from.

Now look at that list of artists again, and imagine the list of songs associated with them! The amount of hits (and non hits) produced out of Motown are plenty. However, as I looked through the list of songs, there was one stand out. I dare say that the song is THE BEST of all of the Motown songs. That song, and my fifth pick for the 2021 Song Draft, is I Heard It Through the Grapevine.

The song was written by another Motown artist, Barrett Strong.

Barrett is famous for his song Money (which was once covered by the Beatles) and for writing other songs like Papa Was a Rolling Stone. He got the idea for the song when he was living in Chicago and heard lots of people using the phrase “I heard it through the grapevine.” Barrett said, “Nobody wrote a song about it, so I sat at a piano and came up with the bass line.” 

From Song Facts:

The classic about a man who finds out his woman is cheating on him was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. Strong came up with the idea and asked Motown writers Holland-Dozier-Holland to work on it with him. They refused to credit another writer, so Strong took it to Whitfield, who helped put it together. The song eventually became a Motown classic, but it had a rough start, as executives at the company thought it was too bluesy and lacked hit potential.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were the first to record the song, but their version wasn’t released until years later on an album called Special Occasion. The Isley Brothers then took a crack at it, but their version wasn’t released. Whitfield and Strong then had Marvin Gaye record the song but still no luck: Motown head Berry Gordy chose Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Your Unchanging Love” over “Grapevine” as his next single. Finally, a new Motown act Gladys Knight and the Pips recorded the song as a gospel rocker. Their version was a hit, entering the Top 40 in November 1967 and going to #2 in America.

Marvin Gaye’s version was included on his 1968 album In The Groove (later re-titled I Heard It Through The Grapevine). After E. Rodney Jones, the Chicago disc jockey at WVON, started playing it on the air, Berry Gordy reconsidered and released Gaye’s version as a single, which became even more popular and known as the definitive version of the song. Gaye’s “Grapevine” pounded the charts about a year after Knight’s, going to #1 in America on December 14, 1968.

On the Motown Box Set, Gladys Knight’s version and Marvin’s version are included. If I had to chose which version I like more, I’d lean more Marvin. However, that being said, Gladys version is really cool too. Hers has a more uptempo feel to it, the bass line (played by James Jamerson in both versions) is extra funky and I love to listen to the drum work in it. Check it out here:

Then you get to Marvin’s version. Slower, groovier, and perfect.

What makes Marvin’s so special? According to Song Facts: Marvin Gaye wrung out the emotion in the song thanks to Norman Whitfield, who produced the track and gave him very specific instructions. Whitfield had Gaye sing slightly higher than his normal range, which created the strained vocal, and he made him do it over and over until he got it right. Gaye explained to NME: “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.”

With that in mind, one of the most amazing videos on YouTube is this version of Grapevine where Marvin’s vocal is isolated. I still get chills listening to the perfection in his voice.

WOW! Just WOW!!

Heard It Through The Grapevine – Lyrics

Ooh-ooh, bet you’re wond’ring how I knew
‘Bout your plans to make me blue
With some other guy that 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

Ooh-ooh I heard it through the grapevine
Not much longer would you be mine
Ooh-ooh I heard it through the grapevine
And I’m just about to lose my mind
Honey honey yeah

You know that 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 found someone else

Instead I heard it through the grapevine
Not much longer would you be mine
Ooh-ooh I heard it through the grapevine
And I’m just about to lose my mind
Honey honey yeah

People say you have from what you see
And not not not from what you hear
I can’t help, bein’ confused
If it’s true, won’t you tell me dear

Do you plan to let me go
For the other guy that you knew before

Ooh-ooh I heard it through the grapevine
Not much longer would you be mine
Ooh-ooh I heard it through the grapevine
And I’m just about to lose my mind
Honey honey yeah

Ooh-ooh I heard it through the grapevine
Not much longer would you be mine
Ooh-ooh I heard it through the grapevine
And I’m just about to lose my mind

Ooh-ooh I heard it through the grapevine

22 responses to “2021 SONG DRAFT- ROUND 5 PICK 7- NOSTALGIC ITALIAN SELECTS- ‘I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE’- MARVIN GAYE

  1. Great pick. I love Marvin Gaye’s soulful singing! He’s one of my all-time favorite soul vocalists. The isolated vocal track from “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” gives me the chills as well – first time I heard it – really cool!

    Coincidentally, I included another Motown song in my Sunday Six feature today. While my pick, “Dancing in the Street” by Martha and the Vandellas, more closely follows the “Motown formula”, I think it’s another great example of the Motown magic – when it was great, it was truly great!

  2. Fantastic pick Keith. Just the fact that this song has been recorded by so many artists over the past 50 years is a testament to it’s greatness. I love both Gladys Knight & the Pips and Marvin Gaye’s versions, though I would have to also pick Gaye’s as the best.

    • Billy Joel was in Detroit touring with Elton John many years ago and he was just making small talk with the audience. He started talking about the “Motor City” and then went into Grapevine. It was such a cool thing!

  3. Great song. I think Marvin’s version is the best, and most haunting. A little bit ago, I actually heard the CCR version of this song on the radio, and it reminded me that I hadn’t yet joined in the draft discussion today. 🙂

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