Friday, December 14, 2018

50 years ago: Marvin Gaye hit #1 with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”

I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Marvin Gaye

Writer(s): Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield (see lyrics here)

Released: October 30 1968

First Charted: November 16, 1968

Peak: 17 US, 15 CB, 11 HR, 17 RB, 13 UK, 8 CN, 40 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 4.0 US, -- UK, 6.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 6.0 radio, 64.5 video, 210.61 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Marvin didn’t want to record it, RS500 Motown didn’t want to release it, RSP and Berry Gordy, the company head honcho, thought it was horrible. FB Naturally it became Gaye’s first pop #1 and biggest hit, as well as Motown’s longest running #1 to date. FB

Norman Whitfield, a producer for Motown, had a habit of pushing the same song on multiple acts. While it frustrated some of his charges, it also worked, at least on occasion. Never was that more the case than with Gaye’s cover of “Grapevine.” RS500 First the Miracles put their spin on it, then the Isley Brothers, whose version is still locked somewhere in the Motown vaults. FB In 1967, both Gaye and Gladys Knight & The Pips tackled it. WK Before year’s end, the Pips had a #1 R&B and #2 pop hit with it.

Gaye’s version was more aligned with the song’s lyrical theme. TB It was spookier than the Pips’ “journeyman rendition,” MA slowed down “to a voodoo chant pace” TC and “accenting a more churchy, Ray Charles feel.” TC When they were recording the song, Whitfield encouraged the reluctanct Gaye to sing in a high, raspy voice. As was generally the case, Whitfield got his way. WK

Whitfield championed Gaye’s “Grapevine,” but it was shelved for more than a year, finally emerging when filler was needed for Gaye’s In the Groove album. A DJ on a radio station in Chicago began playing the song and when it was obvious it was a hit, Gordy finally gave in and allowed the single to be released. WK


  • FB Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 249.
  • TC Toby Creswell (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York, NY. Page 188.
  • JA David A. Jasen (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 84.
  • MA Dave Marsh (1989). The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. New York, NY; New American Library. Page 2.
  • RSP Rolling Stone. (September 8, 1988; Issue 534)."The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years." New York, NY; Straight Arrow Publishing Company. Page 65.
  • RS500 Rolling Stone (12/04). “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
  • TB Thunder Bay Press (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Outline Press Ltd.: San Diego, CA. Page 106.
  • WK

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First posted 11/16/2011; last updated 11/24/2021.

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