"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" is a R&B/soul song written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. The Funk Brothers created the tune. Whitfield recorded several versions with different Motown acts, and two became hits: one by Gladys Knight & the Pips became a number-two hit in the United States in 1967, while the version by Marvin Gaye became a number-one hit in the U.S. and the UK in 1968. Gaye's version is #80 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Gaye's version, the most notable, was his first number-one hit and the most successful single released by Motown in the 1960s. "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" has been covered, notably an extended 1970 version by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Whitfield had "Grapevine" recorded a third time. Whitfield had Marvin Gaye record the lead, with The Andantes on vocals and Motown's studio band The Funk Brothers playing a psychedelic soul-styled instrumental.
It took Gaye two months to complete his recording during April and May 1967. Whitfield had Gaye's vocal arranged just above his actual register, a trick he used with David Ruffin on Temptations songs such as "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" to elicit a rawer vocal as he strained to hit high notes. The trick worked, and Gaye's pained lead on "Grapevine", with the softer vocals of the Andantes, made Whitfield sure he had a hit. Motown chief Berry Gordy was not impressed. In its stead, the label issued another Gaye recording, "Your Unchanging Love", as a single; "Your Unchanging Love" charted at 33 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and seven on the Billboard Black Singles (R&B) chart.
Gordy allowed the Pips' version to be a single. Motown put little support behind it and the Pips relied on connections with DJs across the United States to get the record played.
Gladys Knight & the Pips' "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" reached number one on the Billboard R&B chart on November 25, 1967, and stayed there for six weeks, making it the group's second R&B number one after 1961's "Every Beat of My Heart". It reached two on the Billboard Pop Singles singles chart the same month, with The Monkees' "Daydream Believer" holding top spot. It was Motown's best-selling single to that point.
Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" outsold Gladys Knight and the Pips', and until The Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" 20months later, it was the biggest hit single on Motown. It stayed at the top of the Billboard Pop Singles chart for seven weeks, from December 14 1968 to January 25 1969." Gaye's "Grapevine" also held number one on the R&B chart during the same seven weeks, and stayed at number one in the United Kingdom for three weeks starting on March 26, 1969. The label was pleased with the success, although Gaye, depressed because of issues such as the illness of singing partner Tammi Terrell, was quoted as saying that his success "didn't seem real" and that he "didn't deserve it".
The In the Groove album was re-issued as I Heard It Through the Grapevine after the success of the single. Gaye's "Grapevine" was entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. In the List of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, published in 2004, Gaye's version of the song was placed at number eighty.
Because of the success of both versions , "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" was the first and last number one on the Billboard R&B chart in 1968: the Pips version was the first week of January, the Gaye version the last week of December. Knight was not pleased that Gaye's version usurped her own. She stated that Gaye's version was recorded over an instrumental track Whitfield had prepared for a Pips song, an allegation Gaye denied.
Meanwhile, a second version by The Miracles, with a similar arrangement to their first version, appeared as an album track on their 1968 Special Occasion LP. Their original recording was issued in 2004 on a Hip-O Select compilation album entitled Motown Sings Motown Treasures .
Of the first four versions produced by Norman Whitfield, only the Gaye version makes pain and confusion a clear part of the texture: Whitfield surrounds Gaye with horror-film strings, voodoo drums and percussion, and an ominous Wurlitzer electric piano line doubled by the guitar. The Miracles' version is a mid-tempo number, while Gladys Knight & the Pips' version is built around bravado and a quick-tempo gospel feel.
In 1979, UK punk group The Slits did a heavily dub influenced version as the B-side of their first single. In this, the female singer sings the song from the male view. Another underground group, Tuxedomoon, recorded a version which features a dirge-like rhythm and a tuneless vocal recorded through the telephone. The Crust Brothers, consisting of Stephen Malkmus and members of Silkworm, covered it on their Marquee Mark album, in a style reflective of CCR's version.
Funk musician Roger Troutman did a version for his debut solo album, The Many Facets of Roger, in 1981. Yet another later-period cover of the song is a version in 1988 by studio singers for the clay-animated singing group The California Raisins. Their version became the California Raisins' signature, a pun on the fact that raisins originate from "the grapevine".
Marvin Gaye version regained attention in Europe in 1986, when Levi's used a cover for a retro-themed commercial called "Launderette", directed by Roger Lyons and featuring Nick Kamen. After this, it re-entered the UK chart and reached #8.
The song has also covered by the Soultans and the Flying Pickets, who recorded an a capella version for Lost Boys in 1984.
The song was featured in the play "The Big Payback" in 2008
Michael Chapdelaine recorded a soulful solo guitar version for the album "Grapevine" in 2003. He rerecorded the album as "Grapevine 2005."
One other solo-singer to cover the song was the Brazilian singer, Marisa Monte. She recorded it in her self-titled album.
Elton John covered the song frequently during his concerts in 1977 and 1979, including his solo tour to the USSR.