On December 14, 1968, Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" reached Number One on the Billboard charts and stayed there for seven consecutive weeks, carrying it into the new year. "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" is Gaye's essay on salvaging not just a love affair but also the human spirit. With its fretful, self-absorbed vocal, the song distills 400 years of anguish and talking-drum gossip into three minutes and 15 seconds of soul-searching. Producer Norman Whitfield's lovingly detailed music begins with an obsessively reiterated electric piano figure. A simple drum backbeat is followed by rattlesnake tambourine. Then comes chopping guitar and soaring strings. This version of "Grapevine" is memorable even before Gaye opens his mouth. (Gladys Knight and the Pips had an earlier success with the song, Creedence Clearwater Revival a later one.) Whitfield creates a tumult of voices horns, female choruses, echo, bass-drum breakdowns, string arpeggios that serves as a gossiping community, the singer isolated but engulfed within. Gaye protests, but he knows he's trapped.
Listen to and learn the stories behind the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's unique app. This app features clips of more than 500 songs, each with cover art, and fascinating artist and recording notes. The searchable list of songs is also divided among decades and artists, so finding and hearing exactly what you want is easy. It's perfect for trivia buffs, music lovers and fans of rock and roll. Click here to learn more!