Saturday, July 7, 2012

Story Songs: I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong probably wrote the greatest heartbreak song in history in "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." It was a No. 1 hit for the legendary Marvin Gaye in 1969, and No. 2 for Gladys Knight and the Pips in 1967. Even Creedence Clearwater Revival had a minor hit with the tune in the 1970s.

Rock critic Dave Marsh, in his book, "The Heart or Rock & Soul," rates Gaye's version as the No. 1 greatest single of all time. Certainly subjective, but he makes a strong case for his choice.

The narrator is troubled and heartsick when he learns that his girlfriend is returning to an earlier lover (the Gladys Knight version takes a feminine point of view):

"Heard it through the grapevine
Not much longer would you be mine
Oh I heard it through the grapevine
Oh I'm just about to lose my mind"

He's upset that he didn't hear it from her about her plans to leave him for another man:

"You could have told me yourself
That you love someone else
Instead I
Heard it through the grapevine."

And he still wants to hear it from her mouth:

"People say believe half of what you see, son
And none of what you hear
But I can't help bein' confused
If it's true please tell me dear"

But at the end of the song, he knows the relationship is about to end:

"Honey, honey, I know
That you're lettin' me go"

I believe most of us can relate to this song and that's what makes it a universal anthem for breaking up. Hey, it hurts, and the lyrics reveal the pain.

Among the other artists who've recorded the song are Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (the first in 1966), Amy Winehouse, The Slits, Earl Klugh, Patti LaBelle, Michael McDonald, Martha Reeves, Ronnie Milsap, and from TV commercial fame, The California Raisins  (I've included their video with Michael Jackson). 

Do I have a favorite version? I suppose Gaye's is the defining  rendition (foreboding) of this great song although I enjoyed the interpretations by Gladys Knight and the Pips (upbeat) and CCR (haunting). 

1 comment:

  1. Anything Motown is awesome. Thanks for the walk down memory lane!