…there were some Motown studio master tapes floating around on the internet. It took me by surprise, I must say. I mean, who’d have thought these things would ever surface? And guess what? After a bit of poking about in all the right places I found them. I have right here in my sweaty wee hands the master tapes for Marvin Gaye‘s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’. That’s right. The master tapes for Marvin Gaye‘s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’. 10 tracks of pure 60s soul. It’s no wonder the musicians who played on the track were known as the Funk Brothers, as the funk drips from every bit of bassline, every hiss of the hi-hat and every falsetto’d note from Marvin’s sweet voice. “Drums in my ear….just what I need!” he says, and off he goes….
Marvin at the BBC
As usual, download the tracks as one big file, open them up, insert them into Audacity and play God. Although how you can possibly improve on the finished article is beyond me. But you can have loads of fun trying. I particularly like the harmonising female backing singers track. Woop woop a shobeedowop! Here‘s Marvin’s vocal-only track for starters. Now get the whole lot.
Not many people know, but Marvin Gaye’s version was actually the 2nd time the song was a hit. Written by Motown staffers Norman Whittfield and Barrett Strong (‘Money’, ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone’ amongst a ton of other big smash hits), it was first a hit in 1967 for Gladys Knight and the Pips. This version sounds nothing like Marvin Gaye’s. Faster and jazzier, it’s a call and response gospel-tinged belter. Think Aretha Franklin. I bet she does a great version of it somewhere. Anybody know?
Gladys and her Pips
Before Gladys and co recorded it, the writers had tried out Smokey Robinson and The Miracles doing a version. Their’s never made it outside the studio until 10 or so years ago, when an album called ‘Motown Sings Motown Treasures’ appeared. The album featured various Motown acts covering one another’s songs, with mixed results. Smokey’s version is more in keeping with Marvin’s, but is a touch faster. To be accurate, I suppose we should say that Marvin’s is more in keeping with Smokey’s, but a bit slower. It took Marvin 2 months to record his version, which is a marathon compared to how quickly records were knocked out in those days. The song was written in a key slightly too high for Gaye, a trick the producers used to ensure his voice achieved that rasp and pained sound in the high notes. The trick obviously worked – Marvin’s is of course the definitive version. Brooding, menacing and ideal music to sell jeans by. It was his first number 1 record, and Motown’s most sold single of the 60’s. It doesn’t get better than that.
More recently, Paul Weller and Amy Winehouse had a go at it. October 25th 2006, BBC Electric Proms to be more precise. It’s not bad. But not a touch on Marvin Gaye’s.
I like to think I know tons about music. Useless facts that come in handy when writing stuff like this. After finishing this post I did a search for some information about ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ and discovered this really indepth Wikipedia article about the song here. It repeats some of what you’ve just read but tells you way more. Have a look. And have fun with the remix, but remember, it can’t be bettered.