Marvin Gaye I Heard It Through The Grapevine (1968)

Marvin Gaye is an American legend. He was signed to the fledgling Motown label in 1961 by label founder Berry Gordy and scored a total of 39 US Top 40 singles for the label.

Born in 1939 in D.C. to a father from Kentucky and a mother from North Carolina, Marvin Gaye blazed the trail for the continued evolution of popular black music. Moving from lean, powerful R&B to stylish, sophisticated soul to finally arrive at an intensely political and personal form of artistic self-expression, his work not only redefined soul music as a creative force but also expanded its impact as an agent for social change. Marvin Gaye was one of the most gifted, visionary, and enduring talents ever launched into orbit by the Motown hit machine.

By the time of his death in 1984 at the hands of his clergyman father, Gaye had won two Grammy Awards: one for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and one for Best Instrumental Recording for the single, Sexual Healing.

Norman Whitfield first recorded "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" in early 1967 with Smokey Robinson & the Miracles as the vocalists. During the 1960s, Motown held Quality Control meetings each Friday morning to determine which new recordings would be released as singles. The Quality Control staff voted as a democracy, with Motown chief Berry Gordy also holding veto power. During one of those meetings, Whitfield presented the Miracles' "Grapevine", which was not chosen for release. Undaunted, Whitfield had The Isley Brothers re-record the song; their version also failed to gain a release.

Still determined that he and Barrett Strong had written a hit, Whitfield had "Grapevine" recorded a third time. Re-imagining the soul song as a slower, psychedelic-inspired record, Whitfield had Marvin Gaye record the lead vocal, with The Andantes on background vocals and Motown's studio band The Funk Brothers playing a voodoo-like instrumental track.

It took Marvin Gaye two months to complete his recording of the song, which he worked on during April and May of 1967. Whitfield had Gaye's lead vocal arranged just above his actual register, a trick he had used with David Ruffin on Temptations songs such as "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" in order to elicit a rawer vocal from the singer as he strained to hit the high notes. The trick worked, and Gaye's pained lead on "Grapevine", contrasted with the softer vocals of the Andantes, made Whitfield sure he had finally recorded a hit. Motown label chief Berry Gordy was not impressed, however, and vetoed "Grapevine" at a Friday morning Quality Control Meeting. In its stead, the label issued another Gaye recording, "Your Unchanging Love", as a single; "Your Unchanging Love" charted at number thirty-three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and number seven on the Billboard Black Singles (R&B) chart.

"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" has been rendered in several different ways, although the song's theme, a relationship in the beginning stages of breakup, remains prominent in each version. The narrator in the song has no clue that his/her relationship is in a bad state, and only learns after hearing gossip "through the grapevine" that his/her lover is cheating. The narrator confronts the lover, and explains, through the lyrics, that, although the betrayal hurts the narrator deeply, it is the fact that the lover refused to inform the narrator of the infidelity that hurts the most.

Of the first four versions of the song produced by Norman Whitfield himself, only the Marvin Gaye version makes pain and confusion a clear part of the recording's musical texture: Whitfield surrounds Gaye with horror-film strings, voodoo-styled drums and percussion, and an ominous Wurlitzer electric piano line doubled by the guitar. The Miracles' version is a standard mid-tempo number, while Gladys Knight & The Pips version is built around bravado and a quick-tempo gospel feel.

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