This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #437: I Heard It Through The Grapevine by Gladys Knights and the Pips (covered famously by Marvin Gaye)
For the second time in this countdown list, we come across a song that would have tripped me up if it was the focus of the final championship question in the World Trivia Finals. The first song to do this was, “Crazy”, which I had always believed was a Patsy Cline song but, in reality, turned out to be written and originally recorded by Willie Nelson. The same scenario is true of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”. This is not, in fact, a Marvin Gaye song! He was actually the THIRD act to record and release this song. All three versions of this song were created as part of the Motown music system. In that system, teams of songs writers wrote songs and then, producers like Quincy Jones, would decide which acts would be given which songs to record. In the case of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, this song was first recorded and released by Gladys Knight and the Pips. Her version of the song went to #1 on the R & B charts and stayed there for six weeks! Gladys Knight and the Pips’ rendition of “‘Grapevine” has also been selected for inclusion in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s Song category, as being one of the most culturally significant songs of all time. I have never, ever heard anyone sing this song besides Marvin Gaye, let alone, someone of Gladys Knight’s calibre. If this song was the focus of the trivia championship’s final question, I would have bet all of the hair on my daughter’s head that this was a Marvin Gaye song and, as a result, my sweet Sophie would be bald but, we would all be that much more knowledgable and wiser from the experience.
As mentioned previously, Gaye was the third to be given the chance to record this song. Second chance went to The Miracles (of “Smokey Robinson and the Miracles” fame). Their version didn’t chart so, Marvin Gaye was given a shot. Three years after Gladys Knight and the Pips reached #1, Marvin Gaye’s now-familiar version of the song reached #1 and stayed there for seven weeks. It, too, has been selected for inclusion in the Song category of The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
The content of the song is straight-forward enough. It is a song about a man (in Gaye’s version) learning, via word of mouth from his friends and hers, that his partner may, in fact, be unfaithful to him. But, did you know that the phrase, “I heard it through the grapevine” is actually something whose meaning stretches all the way back to the time of The Underground Railroad? For anyone unaware, The Underground Railroad was an organized system that helped slaves escape from the southern U.S. to live as free people in Canada. The Underground Railroad operated in a very clandestine, hush-hush fashion. For example, one of the ways that a person on the run knew where they could turn if they needed a hiding spot in a home or a meal or whatever, was by the colour of the washing hung on clothes lines outside of the home they were told to look for on their way. If they got to that particular house and saw a red blanket hung, second from the left, for example, that was a signal that it was safe to stop there. These safe houses and the codes which signified the true meaning of any given situation became known as “The Grapevine”. Thus, when you hear Marvin Gaye (or Gladys Knight) speak of hearing information from “the grapevine”, they are saying that the information they posses is credible and can be counted on to be true.
I will play the Marvin Gaye version of this song below. But, I will, also, play the Gladys Knight take on this song. She was the one who recorded and released it first and she deserves full credit for her great work. In both cases, I trust that you will enjoy this terrific song; especially, now that you know a bit more about the cultural significance of that popular saying, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”. Enjoy.
The link to the music video for “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye can be found here.
Gladys Knight and the Pips have their own website which can be accessed by clicking on the link here.
Marvin Gaye has his own website that you can view by clicking on the link here.
Thanks to Rolling Stone Magazine for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.
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