Sep 06

MARVIN GAYE – “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”

FT + Popular63 comments • 7,948 views

#268, 29th March 1969

Some of my favourite soul performances go to the ragged-throated extremes of the style – Lorraine Ellison’s apocalyptic “Stay With Me”, for instance. But more of them are like “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, whose emotions are just as intense but more strictly controlled.

In fact the impact of Gaye’s song is in the way the singer enacts resisting the intolerable pressure of the situation – the sound of him not cracking up, howling or hollering or exploding with pain, is as powerful and wracking as the dams actually bursting. His only chance – whether of winning her back or just keeping his dignity (by the end it doesn’t necessarily matter) – is to stay reasonable, to not break down. The music – measured, smooth, almost smoochy – taunts his efforts. The backing singers hardly break a sweat. Stray words of Gaye’s bubble into wails or snarls, he ends bitter and defeated, but he keeps control. His reward is simply a limit on his humiliation, and the power of the song is in selling us a situation where that really is worth fighting so hard for.



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  1. 31
    blount on 17 Sep 2006 #

    was the ccr potentially in ‘response’ to vanilla fudge’s ‘keep me hanging on’? are there enough nixon era ‘motown x “dazed and confused”‘ epics to fill a cd-r?

  2. 32
    Oh No It's Dadaismus on 17 Sep 2006 #

    are there enough nixon era ‘motown x “dazed and confused”‘ epics to fill a cd-r?

    Rare Earth’s entire career surely?

  3. 33
    intothefireuk on 18 Sep 2006 #

    Marvins ultra smooth effortless delivery is what seals it for me. That and the psuedo tribal rhythm behind the intro and chorus. It is though so familiar now it is easy to overlook just how good it really is. Of course at the time of its release Gaye was planning to edge Motown in a more overtly politically conscious direction possibly hastened by the death of MLK. This would be combined with elongated, lusher orchestral arrangements which would in turn pave the way for ‘Seventies soul’ – but we’ll get to that in a few years time.

  4. 34
    marian amos on 22 Apr 2007 #

    did anyone make an instumental that you know of?

  5. 35
    Erithian on 19 Sep 2008 #

    Norman Whitfield R.I.P. This and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” for starters – wow.

  6. 36
    DJ Punctum on 19 Sep 2008 #

    Also, on “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore,” the most subtle and emotional use of the syndrum in pop I can think of.

  7. 37
    Erithian on 19 Sep 2008 #

    Indeed yes – funny we should be discussing the syndrum right now on the Ring My Bell thread. Now there (i.e. Rose Royce) was a case where that sound enhanced the record rather than dominating it, and what a fantastic song.

  8. 38
    mike on 19 Sep 2008 #

    Re. Norman Whitfield: see also the remarkable Masterpiece, his last album with The Temptations – although in truth the Tempts barely get a look-in, leading certain wags of the day to dub them “the Norman Whitfield Chorale”. As annoying as that sidelining might have been to the Tempts at the time, what remains is a marvellous piece of symphonic soul indulgence, particularly on the 13 minute near-instrumental title track and the seminal underground gay dance classic “Law Of The Land”.

  9. 39
    DJ Punctum on 19 Sep 2008 #

    Hmmm…for me that was the point where they teetered into self-parody. Lots of reviews at the time of the “it was very nice of Norman to allow the Temptations to appear on their own record” variety.

    On a not entirely separate note, has anyone else heard Marc Rapson’s pretty stunning dub remix of “Grapevine”? I’m absolutely sure that had the 12-inch single existed back then Whitfield would have jumped straight in and done an extended mix, and this is quite fantastic…


  10. 40
    Waldo on 5 Aug 2009 #

    This was certainly one of Motown’s absolute finest and I suppose I must declare my admiration notwithstanding for Gaye as an artist in the Register of Members’ Interests (The Tempts too, since you ask) before going any further. I can well remember this being on TOTP, shortly before my eighth birthday but not quite understanding what “grapevine” meant. It was probably the case that I assumed that grizzling Marvin certainly may have been having a few glasses before slurring “how much longer can you be mine” to the woman who was dumping the bum, which would be in direct line with how Waldo would evolve as a young man, but I cannot be sure of this. Just as I cannot be sure that The Onion Song inspired my passion for curries, which has long been accepted as a rite of passage for all freeborn Englishmen – well, certainly of my vintage.

    Marvin’s was a remarkable talent within a stable of greatness. Smokey and Stevie shone equally (I think Wonder is a genius) but it was Gaye who really captivated me and it was this magnificent record which alerted me to him. “Got To Give It Up” and “Sexual Healing” followed decade by decade and then the singer’s manic father shot him to death in order to “teach Marvin a lesson”. The sad little prequel to this shocking and needless murder was a documentary Gaye made when he bizarrely turned up in Oostende, of all places, and wandered around this unremarkable Belgian seaside town talking gibberish. Not many of the locals knew who he was. One fisherman asked him (certainly in the spirit of the lunacy of the situation) whether he was from Uruguay. Soul legend he might have been but Gaye’s confession that he had no idea where this country was only demonstrated the poorness of the knowledge of lands outside their own country’s borders which is sadly typical of many of his compatriates. But then again, he did have enough savvy to find Belgium, much good that it did him, the poor bastard.

  11. 41
    rosie on 22 Oct 2010 #

    Since The Slits get a mention in this thread, it’s a good place to mark the passing of Ariane Forster, aka Ari Up. The cool people apparently learned this on John Lydon’s home page. Uncool Rosie heard in on Woman’s Hour this morning but then I am the first on Popular to mention it!

    (Slits notwithstanding, I still think this is a straight-up 10)

  12. 42

    I learnt the sad news via twitter, but I was pleased also to see it reported in the Metro yesterday, over someone else’s shoulder — even if the heaqdline had to do a lot of explanatory heavy-lifting (it called her “Sex Pistol daughter-in-law”)

  13. 43
    George on 22 Oct 2010 #

    To follow on from #40 if you think the Oostende period was odd then it’s rumoured he spent some time living in a bread van in Hawaii during the late 70’s. Needless to say by this point excessive drug use was taking a huge toll. Inexplicably stripping down to his underwear during live performances may have been amusing but having roadies and assorted lackeys carry weaponry (including sub-machine guns) because he believed the ex-wife had a contract out on him less so.

    Gaye’s final years were a sorry tale and there was little evidence to suggest that a commercial rebirth with ‘Midnight Love’ and the new contract with Columbia would have turned around a chaotic private life.

    It must be said though that despite the abuse he put his body through for several years his voice remained in fine shape.

  14. 44
    crag on 14 Apr 2011 #


    Alan Price, Singer(1982)

    Raymond Seitz,American Ambassador to the UK(1993)

    Pete Waterman, record producer(1995)

    Dr Susan Greenfield, Writer, Neuroscientist(1997)

    Professor Stuart Hall,Cultural theorist(2000)

    Quentin Blake, Illustrator(2006).

  15. 45
    Lena on 4 Jan 2012 #

    What, me worry?: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2012/01/knowing-dean-martin-gentle-on-my-mind.html Thanks for reading, everyone!

  16. 46
    Lena on 10 Jan 2012 #

    Oom-pah-pah in the UK: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2012/01/pink-fluff-lulu-boom-bang-bang.html Thanks for reading, everyone!

  17. 47
    swanstep on 26 Sep 2012 #

    The pretty good, pretty shocking documentary, What’s Going On: The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye which people allude to above (and which I only saw recently for the first time on TV) is on youtube in 7 parts, beginning here. It persuasively makes the case that Gaye was as troubled a dude as anyone (Curtis, Cobain, Nico, Jamerson, Judee Sill…) in pop music history. It further, and I assume controversially, makes the case that Gaye’s death was as good as suicide (it all but exonerates his dad). Recommended.

  18. 48
    swanstep on 1 Oct 2012 #

    Good interview with Marvin Gaye’s producer and guitarist on his final album, Midnight Love here.

  19. 49
    hectorthebat on 28 May 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 3
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 1
    Life (USA) – 40 Years of Rock & Roll, 5 Songs for Each Year 1952-91 (Updated 1995)
    Paul Williams (USA) – Rock and Roll: The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1993)
    Pitchfork (USA) – Top 200 Songs of the 60s (2006) 22
    RIAA and NEA (USA) – 365 Songs of the Century (2001) 21
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 4
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 80
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 81
    TIME (USA) – The All-Time 100 Songs (2011)
    The Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame Albums and Songs (USA)
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2000) 38
    2FM (Ireland) – Top 100 Singles of All Time (2003) 64
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1960s (2008)
    HarperCollins GEM (UK) – Single of the Year 1949-99 (1999)
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles of All Time (1997) 5
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2000) 21
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (1976) 6
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (2002) 51
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 150 Singles of All Time (1987) 21
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 26
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    Sounds (UK) – The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1986) 4
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Zig Zag (UK) – Gillett & Frith’s Hot 100 Singles (1975)
    Nerikes Allehanda (Sweden) – The 50 Best Rock Songs of All Time (1992) 27
    Berlin Media (Germany) – The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1998) 2
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The Best Singles of 5 Decades (1997)
    Zounds (Germany) – The Top 30 Songs of All Time + Top 10 by Decade (1992) 10
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Rocks Musiczine (Spain) – The 100 Best Rock Songs in History (1995) 62
    Peter Holmes, The Sun-Herald (Australia) – 100 Best Songs of All Time (2003) 2
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  20. 50
    Lazarus on 18 Nov 2014 #

    Some high ratings there, and I particularly like that Germany had/has a music magazine called ‘Zounds.’

  21. 51
    Justified Ancient on 18 Nov 2014 #

    I seem to remember that (pardon: zat) “Zounds” existed just long enough to appear, put together their “Top 30 Songs of All Time” list and disappear again, all within the year 1992.

  22. 52
    Lazarus on 18 Nov 2014 #

    I don’t suppose anyone recalls the London-only music paper ‘Trax’, which appeared in early 1981? I have a couple of copies somewhere, but I’ve seen no trace of it on the ‘net.

    Or the equally short-lived ‘New Music News?’

  23. 53
    sukrat unlogged on 18 Nov 2014 #

    I have a copy of New Music News somewhere! I wasn’t very good.

  24. 54
    sukrat unlogged on 19 Nov 2014 #

    er that shd read “it wasn’t very good” i guess but w/evs

  25. 55
    wichitalineman on 19 Nov 2014 #

    New Music News, eh? But do you have any New Sounds New Styles?

  26. 57
    Mark G on 19 Nov 2014 #

    Wasn’t the NMN (as nobody called it) started up during the NME strike?

  27. 58
    Lazarus on 19 Nov 2014 #

    #56 Thanks, I did see those after posting; I’m not forking out 13 quid a copy, but I’m going to see how many I can find in the loft.

    I didn’t know there was an NME strike, but that would explain why the NMN only lasted a few weeks.

  28. 59
    cicero ada sukrat on 20 Nov 2014 #

    There were two strikes! The first was IPC-wide (in 1981) but MM’s editor ran a scab issue and a bunch of writers quit MM for NME — this was when NMN was conjured up to grab the gap. The second was in 1984 (I think) and the three most militant titles were NME, New Scientist and Woman’s (?Realm maybe?) (one of the fubsier-sounding women’s titles anyway, we shared a photocopier with them) — this militancy ensured NME was a management target for several years after that, which IMO contributed a lot to its editorial flaws in the mid-80s (and ultimately contributed in photo-negative — they were much more studiedly apolitical — to MM’s rather different editorial flaws in the late 80s and early 90s). Mark M might remember the details better though.

  29. 60
    punctum on 20 Nov 2014 #

    The first one was actually in 1980. I remember it – Richard Williams quit the paper. The second one was certainly in 1984. And I think the common problems to NME and MM are ascribable to the same person but naming no names here.

    Spotlight Publications, which published Music Week, Sounds and Record Mirror, were briefly on strike in October 1981. This resulted in an issue of Sounds full of puff pieces on a certain agent’s acts (who mostly would never otherwise have seen the inside of the paper).

  30. 61
    ace inhibitor on 20 Nov 2014 #

    I remember having a bootleg tape of a Redskins performance at an outdoor GLC event which must have been in the summer of 1984 (it ended with them getting attacked by fascist skinheads) during which Chris Dean did a bit along the lines of “this song’s dedicated to a group of workers who have stood firm and proud on the picket lines against this Tory government and their bootboys in blue… no, not the miners, its the NME actually…”

  31. 62
    lonepilgrim on 12 Feb 2017 #

    I wasn’t aware of IHITTG at the time and only became aware of it towards the end of the 1970s when I, and my friends from my Art Foundation course, discovered it on a jukebox in a cafe near our college in Worthing. It’s stripped down paranoia seemed to fit well along side the punk, post-punk and Berlin era Bowie we were listening to at the time. It makes sense that the Slits would cover it.

  32. 63
    Gareth Parker on 7 Jun 2021 #

    In total agreement with Tom’s 9/10 here.

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