Marvin Gaye’s Classic Vocals on ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’: The A Cappella Version

It’s hard to believe, but Marvin Gaye’s classic 1967 recording of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” was rejected by his record label.

The song, about a man’s grief over hearing rumors of his lover’s infidelity, was written by the legendary Motown Records producer Norman Whitfield and singer Barrett Strong. It was first recorded in 1966 by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, but that version was nixed by Motown founder Berry Gordy during a weekly quality control meeting. Whitfield recorded the song with Gaye in early 1967, but for some reason Gordy didn’t like that version either. So Whitfield changed the lyrics a bit and recorded it with Gladys Knight and the Pips. The fast-tempo arrangement, influenced by Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” was released as a single in September of 1967 and rose to number one on the Billboard R&B chart.

Gaye’s version might have been forgotten had it not been included in his 1968 album, In the Groove, where it soon became noticed. “The DJs played it so much off the album,” Gordy said later, “that we had to release it as a single.” Gaye’s recording of the song became a cross-over hit. It rose not only to the top of the R&B charts, but also spent seven weeks at the top of the Billboard Pop Singles chart. It was Motown’s biggest-selling single up to that time, and the In the Groove album name was changed to I Heard It Through the Grapevine.

Gaye was known for his sweet-sounding tenor voice, which he could modulate from a baritone to a silky high falsetto. During the “Grapevine” sessions, the singer reportedly quarreled with Whitfield over the producer’s insistence that he sing the song in a high rasp. Whitfield prevailed, and Gaye’s performance is one of the greatest of the Motown era. You can hear his classic vocals “a cappella” in the video above. And for a reminder of Whitfield’s classic arrangement, with its pulsing electric piano introduction and shimmering strings, see the video below. The Funk Brothers, the legendary Motown backing group, played on the track, as did the backing vocal group The Andantes and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

by | Permalink | Comments (5) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (5)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Ralph says:

    Interesting, but IMHO it’s the arrangement that makes the song. The insinuating beat is irresistible.

  • Tioga says:

    I can’t watch this video without singing it with Marvin.

  • Bruce says:

    Strong suspicion this is lip-synched video production, the “a-capella” version then played without the backup tracks. That doesn’t take anything away from the song or the singer — one of the top ten singles of all time.

  • Beverly J. Druskis says:

    Where are all the great black singers of today and who are they?

    I’m 82 and cannot get to restaurants or programs of live music-but the black people are blessed with such beautiful tones of voice in singing-where are they?

  • Marvin's Greatest Fan says:

    He may have been lip syncing but that phenomenal singing came from somewhere and that’s the one and only Marvin Gaye. He didn’t need any help belting out that song or any other of his beautiful songs.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.