Song: “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye
Reached #1: December 14, 1968 (his first, 7 weeks)
Yesterday, I referred to Motown’s system of “test-driving” songs with their second tier of acts before letting the top tier have a shot at them.
Well, it turns out that “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” wasn’t exactly handled that way. When Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote “Grapevine”, it was first given to Smokey Robinson & the Miracles – but Motown czar Berry Gordy didn’t like it and told Whitfield/Strong to rework the song. The Marvin Gaye recording was also rejected before Gladys Knight & The Pips did a version Gordy was happy with.
While Gordy didn’t want to release Marvin Gaye’s version as a single, it was added to his 1968 album In The Groove, where radio DJs found it and made the decision for Gordy.
In the end, Knight was never really happy that Motown released Gaye’s version, feeling they’d taken her group’s signature song.
Motown liked the song so much, they had the Temptations and the Undisputed Truth cover the song in the years after Gaye’s release.
Of course, the story of Marvin Gaye’s career is well beyond the scope of this blog, but between losing his singing partner Tammi Terrell (who had the stroke that led to the discovery of her cancer here in the Richmond area at Hampden-Sydney College) and eventually losing his own life at the hands of his own father after a family fight… there’s probably a movie there just waiting for the right producer.
Tomorrow, the Atlanta-based R&B balladeer whose song title came from a distracted recording session…
Other songs that reached #1 on December 14:
1959 – “Heartaches By The Number” by Guy Mitchell (his second, 2 weeks)