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"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" is a song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for Motown Records in 1966, and made famous by Marvin Gaye in a single released in October 1968 on Motown's Tamla label.
Originally recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles in 1966, that version was rejected by Motown owner Berry Gordy, who told Whitfield and Strong to make it stronger. After recording the song with Marvin Gaye in 1967, which Gordy also rejected, Whitfield produced a version with Gladys Knight & the Pips, which Gordy agreed to release as a single in September 1967, and which went to number two in the Billboard chart. The Marvin Gaye version was placed on his 1968 album In the Groove, where it gained the attention of radio disc jockeys, and Gordy finally agreed to its release as a single in October 1968, when it went to the top of the Billboard Pop Singles chart for seven weeks from December 1968 to January 1969 and became for a time the biggest hit single on the Motown label. The Gaye recording has since become acclaimed a soul classic, and in 2004, it was placed on the Rolling Stone list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. On the commemorative 50th Anniversary of the Billboard Hot 100 issue of Billboard magazine in June 2008, Marvin Gaye's "Grapevine" was ranked 65th. It was also inducted to theGrammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant" value.
In addition to being released several times by Motown artists, the song has been covered by a range of musicians including Creedence Clearwater Revival, who made an eleven-minute interpretation for their 1970 album, Cosmo's Factory; and has been used twice in television commercials – each time using session musicians recreating the style of the Marvin Gaye version: the 1985 Levi's commercial, "Launderette", featuring male model Nick Kamen, and the 1986 California raisins promotion with Buddy Miles as the singer for the clay animation group The California Raisins.
By 1966, Barrett Strong, the singer on Motown Records' breakthrough hit, "Money (That's What I Want)", had the basics of a song he had started to write in Chicago, where the idea had come to him while walking down Michigan Avenue that people were always saying "I heard it through the grapevine". The phrase is associated with black slaves during the Civil War, who had their form of telegraph: the human grapevine. Producer Norman Whitfield worked with Strong on the song, adding lyrics to Strong's basic Ray Charles influenced gospel tune and the single chorus line of "I heard it through the grapevine". This was to be the first of a number of successful collaborations between Strong and Whitfield.
The lyrics tell the story in a first person narrative of the betrayal of the singer's romantic partner, how he heard about it indirectly via gossip from other people (through the "grapevine"), and the emotional pain and disbelief he is suffering.
Producer Norman Whitfield recorded "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" with various Motown artists. The first known recording is with the Miracles on August 6, 1966, though there may also have been a recording with the Isley Brothers, or at least Whitfield intended to record it with them; however a track has not turned up – some Motown historians believe that a session may have been scheduled but cancelled. The Miracles' version was not released as a single due to Berry Gordy's veto during Motown's weekly quality control meetings; Gordy advised Whitfield and Strong to create a stronger single. The Miracles version later appeared on their 1968 Special Occasion album, with a slightly different take, possibly from the same session but unreleased, appearing on the 1998 compilation album, Motown Sings Motown Treasures. Marvin Gaye's version was recorded in spring 1967, and is the second known recording, though was also rejected by Gordy as a single, and would also later go onto an album, In the Groove. The third recording was in 1967 with Gladys Knight and the Pips in a new, faster arrangement. Gordy accepted the new arrangement and the Gladys Knight version was released as a single in September 1967, reaching number 2 in the charts. When Gaye's album with his version of Grapevine was released in August 1968 radio disc jockeys were playing the song, so Gordy had it released as a single in November when it went to number one.
In 1968 Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers recorded a version for their debut album based on Gladys' recent hit; however, after hearing the Marvin Gaye version, they felt they'd made the wrong choice. In 1969, Whitfield produced a version for the Temptations "psychedelic soul" album, Cloud Nine, in which he "brought compelling percussion to the fore, and relegated the piano well into the wings". In 1971, the Undisputed Truth became the final Motown act to record the song in its Marvin-styled version. The song was also covered by the Chi-Lites on their 1969 debut album Give It Away.