Classics: Marvin Gaye – I Heard It Through The Grapevine (Tamla)
A quick look at history tells us as to how the establishment of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ as one of Marvin Gaye‘s biggest classics had nothing of an evidence. With this, because of the amalgmation of various reasons.
The first in a consistant series of collaborations between producer Norman Whitfield and songwriter Barrett Strong, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ happened to be recorded by various artists around the same time. Gladys Knight & The Pips released it first back in September 1967. But its first recording (by the likes of The Miracles) is reported to be dating from August 1966, although it only saw the light 2 years later as a part of their ‘Special Occasion’ album.
Marvin recorded ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ with Whitfield over 5 different sessions between February and August 1967. It recording took quite some time. Most likely because of Norman Whitfield overdubbing Gaye’s vocals with the Andantes‘ background one. This in addition to mixing in several tracks with the Funk Brothers on the rhythm track. Then the string section from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Paul Riser. However, Motown label head Berry Gordy blocked its release as a single. The reason being that he didn’t want to release another version after the Pips had already made a hit out of it.
Whitfield added ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ to Marvin’s new album ‘In The Groove’ in September 1968. With the DJ’s playing so much the album version, its quickly became a radio hit which endly got the label to release it as a single at the end of October 1968. With the rest being history. Marvin’s version outselling the one of Gladys Knight & The Pips and eventually becoming Motown’s biggest selling until the arrival of The Jacksons‘ ‘I’ll Be There’ by the end of Summer 1970.
Narrating the feelings of betrayal and disbelief one may feel after hearing of his loving partner’s infidelity “through the grapevine” (*), the song found further echo in the repertoire of other artists. Beginning with Rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival who recorded an 11-minute version for their 1970 ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ album. But also Zapp & Roger Troutman who eventually gave it their distinctive vocoderized Funk signature 11 years later.
(*) For those of you who may wonder about the signification of its title, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ finds its roots back at the time of the Civil War when the Black slaves had their form of telegraph by the likes of the human grapevine.
– A WDC native, Marvin Gaye first took to singin’ at his father’s church choir. Eventually learning piano and drums while at school. He progresively broadened his musical interests beyond Gospel to R&B. Froming a group – The D.C. Tones – with some friends of his. After a brief spell in the US Air Force as a basic airman, he joined The Rainbows, along with Don Covay and Billy Stewart. Him and two former Rainbows members forming The Marquees back in 1957. Performing in the D.C. area, they soon began working with Bo Diddley, who got them to sign a deal with Columbia subsidiary OKeh Records. There, they recorded a single – ‘Wyatt Earp’ – whose poor results got them fired soon after.
By 1959, The Marquees auditioned for Harvey Fuqua who got them to team up with him while givin’ birth to The Moonglows. After two singles for Chess Records, Fuqua moved to Detroit, MI where he married Gwen Gordy. Eventually becoming the director of her sister’s label (Anna) before Motown took it over.
Once at Motown, Fuqua brought Marvin to the Motor City as a session drummer. This getting him to collaborate with Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.
Lookin’ back then, Motown’s mogul Berry Gordy showed some scepticism at the perspective of Marvin recording as a singer. But ‘Let Your Conscience Be My Guide’ became his debut solo release back in 1961. With an album – ‘The Soulful Moods Of Marvin’ – to follow the year after.
Marvin scored his first success that same year with the memorable ‘Stubborn Kinda Of Fella’ featuring Martha & The Vandellas in the backing vocals. A cut which Buffalo Smoke covered 16 years later, givin’ it a Disco feel.
By 1964, Marvin started exploring the duet concept. Successively with Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Tammi Terrell and Diana Ross. This resulting in gems such as ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and ‘Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Deal’. But also ‘If The World Were Mine’ to name a few.
Just like The Temptations also happened to do, Marvin came to work with producer Norman Whifield back in 1968. This resulting in the recording of the memorable ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’. One of Motown’s all-time biggest selling singles. A cut which artists such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and Zapp covered respectively in 1973 and 1981.
In 1970, Tammi Terrell tragically died during one of their shows in Cleveland, OH. This left Marvin in a considerable state of shock. Almost becoming a recluse for some time. By that time his brother, Frankie, returned from Vietnam. His account of this experience added to the social climate in America serving as the spiritual food of the recording of ‘What’s Going On’ in 1971. An album which spanned the classics ‘Inner City Blues’, ‘Mercy Mercy Me’ and its title track.
The year after, Marvin Gaye delivered the soundtrack to Ivan Dixon directed film ‘Trouble Man’. With its title track standing as another timeless masterpiece. 1973 seeing the release of the ‘Let’s Get It On’ album featuring its memorable title track.
His next studio album – ‘I Want You’ – saw the light back in 1976 with production work by the likes of Leon Ware. Meanwhile ‘Here, My Dear’ followed 2 years after, showcasing Marvin‘s sufferings from his divorce with Anna Gordy. Thus displaying gems such as its title track. But also ‘When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You’ and ‘A Funky Space Reincarnation’ which generated a poor reception at the time. Although, let’s not forget his 1977 ‘Live At London Palladium’ album which, in the interval, got him to warm up the dance floors with the infectious ‘Got To Give It Up’.
His final album for Motown – ‘Once In A Lifetime’ – also met unfavorable reviews. By the time of its release, Marvin had relocated to Ostend, Belgium under the advice of music promoter Freddy Cousaert back then. It was then that Larkin Arnold from CBS Records brought him to sign a new record deal. The latter bringing him to deliver the ‘Midnight Love’ album back in 1982. With its first single – ‘Sexual Healing’ – bringin’ him a Grammy Award.
Following an extra argument, Marvin was tragically shot dead by by his dad on Apr. 01, 1984. His father was arrested, but later walked free, proving he was acting in self-defense. CBS released two further albums by the likes of ‘Dream Of A Lifetime’ and ‘Romantically Yours’ the year after. Meamwhile Motown released ‘Motown Rememnbers Marvin Gaye’ in 1986. Then eventually ‘Vulnerable’ (from old recordings) in 1997.
– Contemporary Music may not have become what it is without Norman Whitfield‘s contribution. As a matter of fact, he might pretty well be the first producer ever who established a sound / an approach as a trademark…
Hailing from Harlem, NY, he and his family relocated to Detroit where he started working with Motown’s head Berry Gordy. Aged 19, he progressively established himself as in charge of the quality control department. A position which allowed him to determine which songs would or would not be released, prior to join the label’s in-house songwriting staff.
He would find his niche in the production though. When he came to collaborate with Marvin Gaye on the memorable ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ back in 1968. But even more when he took over Smokey Robinson‘s role as the main producer for The Temptations 2 years before.
From then on, he took the group to a brand new dimension. What he did was changing the nature of the songs, from love matters to the social issues of the time, such as war, poverty and politics. But also experimenting sound effects and production techniques. Eventually getting the group into a darker infectious sound blending psychedelic Rock and Funk. From this liaison which lasted until 1975, came gems such as ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ back in 1966. But also ‘Cloud Nine’ and ‘Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)’. Not to mention the memorable ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’, ‘Plastic Man’ and ‘Law Of The Land’…
Whitfield parted way with The Temptations coz’ they disliked how he put more emphasis on the instrumentation instead of their vocals. And also because they wished he wrote more romantic ballads for them. This therefore led him to leave Motown and launch his own Whitfield Records imprint. From then, he convinced The Undisputed Truth to follow him. But also Junior Walker, and Rose Royce who were Edwin Starr‘s backing band while at Motown.
He most likely scored his biggest success ever with ‘Car Wash’ for the latter. A cut which won Whitfield a 1977 Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album. He soon after also composed the theme song for the 1977 motion picture ‘Which Way Is Up?’, performed by Stargard.
Among his biggest productions as well, the mellow ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’ by Rose Royce. And also ‘Is It Love That You’re after’. A jam which British producer Mark Moore sampled on ‘Theme From S-Express’ back in 1988.
Whifield underwent treatment for diabetes and other ailments at Los Angeles’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in 2008. He fell into a coma, briefly improved, but sadly succumbed to diabetic complications on Sept. 16, 2008, aged 68.
You might also like…
Buying vinyl records: What? How?