I Heard it Through the Grapevine has been covered by many artists over the years, with well-known versions being released by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles:
and possibly the best known and most loved version by Marvin Gaye:
and of course there was the version by The California Raisins that introduced a whole new generation to the song back in the 80’s.
The Gladys Knight version has a funky dance beat to it and features the patented call and response backing of the Pips. You can really hear how Motown era R&B influenced modern rock music on this track. Gladys’ vocal would sound right at home on a classic rock track or a modern throwback album.
The Smokey Robinson version features a thumping bass and a smoother, more jazzy vocal. You could still dance to this tune, but it doesn’t have the peppy sound to it that Gladys’ version has. The song seems a poor match for Smokey’s almost delicate voice. He sounds like he’s straining to be heard over the music through much of the song.
Marvin Gaye’s version has a similar backing track to Robinson’s but the vocal has much more power and raw emotion. It’s easy to understand why this version has become such a classic. Instead of a peppy dance number, Gaye’s version sounds like a man in pain because he has found out his woman has been running around and plans to leave him. The song is still catchy and peppy, but it’s also raw and emotional.
I must admit, my first introduction to this tune was through the animated musical group The California Raisins, who’s television commercials made them a huge 80’s fad sensation for a time. The Raisins were everywhere for a while. They had CDs, toys and I think even a Saturday morning cartoon, before eventually fading back into obscurity.
As much as I loved the Raisins back in the day, I’m going to have to go with the Marvin Gaye version as my favorite and a worthy entry into the 100 Best Songs of All Time.