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.

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Comments (5)
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  • 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.

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