I Heard

I Heard It Through the Grapevine

"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 also listed at #65 on Billboard's 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.

Original Motown versions

Shelved versions by The Miracles and The Isley Brothers

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

Recording the Marvin Gaye version

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.

Recording and releasing the Gladys Knight & the Pips version

Whitfield recorded a fourth version. This was recorded by Gladys Knight & the Pips, in an uptempo gospel-based arrangement influenced by Aretha Franklin's "Respect". The Atlanta, Georgiaact had joined the label the year before and had been relegated to second-stringers. After Whitfield presented the demo tapes for "Grapevine", Gladys Knight, Bubba Knight, William Guest, and Edward Patten worked for several weeks on their vocal arrangement. To make the song suitable for Gladys Knight, the first line of the second verse ("I know a man ain't supposed to cry/But these tears I can't hold inside") was altered to ("Take a good look at these tears in my eyes/Baby, these tears I can't hold inside").

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.

Marvin Gaye

Whitfield had taken a liking to the Marvin Gaye version. He asked Gordy to release Gaye's "Grapevine" as a single, but Gordy didn't think Gaye's version would be a hit, especially after Knight & the Pips' version. In 1968, Whitfield managed to have Gaye's "Grapevine" added to Gaye's 1968 album In the Groove. The single for In the Groove, "You", made it to 34 on the pop charts, while "Grapevine" became the most-played and requested track from the album. DJs who had been playing Gaye's "Grapevine" from the album began requesting the song's release as a single, which was done in the autumn of 1968.

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 .

Overview of themes

"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" has been rendered in different ways, although the theme, a relationship beginning to break up, remains prominent in each. The narrator has no clue that his relationship is in a bad state, and only learns after gossip "through the grapevine" that his lover is cheating. The narrator confronts the lover, and explains that, although the betrayal hurts, it is the fact that the lover refused to inform the narrator of the infidelity that hurts most.

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.


"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" has been covered frequently. Among the earliest covers were two more versions by Whitfield, one by The Temptations in 1969, another by The Undisputed Truth in 1971. Creedence Clearwater Revival recorded an 11-minute version for their 1970 album Cosmo's Factory. There is a ten-minute live version on the Average White Band's 1976 album Person To Person.

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".

British Indie band the Kaiser Chiefs covered the song as part of the Help: A Day in the Life project.

Former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald recorded the song as part of his Motown album in 2003.

Italian singer Giorgia recorded the song on her MTV Unplugged album in 2005. This version was in the soundtrack of the Italian movie "Romanzo Criminale".

Marvin Gaye's version has featured in films, including The Big Chill (1983) and Remember the Titans (2001).

The Doug Anthony All Stars covered this song in their final performance on The Big Gig in 1989

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.

A cover of the Marvin Gaye version was featured in the original Super Mario Bros. Super Show episode "Mario and the Beanstalk", with the word "grapevine" changed to "beanvine".

Amy Winehouse and Paul Weller covered the song on Jools Holland.

The Robustos covered the song on The New Authentic

Elton John covered the song frequently during his concerts in 1977 and 1979, including his solo tour to the USSR.

Influence on other songs

On September 28, 1974, John Lennon commented on WNEW-FM, a New York City radio station, introducing Electric Light Orchestra's Showdown: soundclip


Gladys Knight & the Pips version

Marvin Gaye version

  • Lead Vocals by Marvin Gaye
  • Background Vocals by The Andantes: Jackie Hicks, Marlene Barrow and Louvain Demps
  • Instrumentation by The Funk Brothers



  • McLean, Ralph. "Stories Behind the Song: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine". BBC.co.uk. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/music/story_behind/grapevine.shtml on March 29, 2006.
  • Bronson, Fred (2003, 5th ed.). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. New York: Billboard Books. ISBN 0-8230-7677-6
  • Knight, Gladys (1994). Between Each Line of Pain and Glory: My Life Story. Pgs. 180 - 184. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 0-7868-6326-9.
  • Posner, Gerald (2002). Motown : Music, Money, Sex, and Power. Pgs. 224 - 225. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-50062-6.
  • (2005). "Sold on Song: Top 100 - "I Heard It Through the Grapevine". BBC.co.uk. Retrieved from http://www0.bbc.co.uk/radio2/soldonsong/songlibrary/ihearditthroughthegrapevine.shtml on March 29, 2006.

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