Classic Cuts #1

“I heard it through the grapevine”

by Gladys Knight and the Pips

I don’t dance…ever. I have no desire to, no inclination, no wish or want, nothing. I look at other people dancing and it strikes me as a foreign language, one that I could never learn to speak, even if I should want to. I’ve been told there is an all-cleansing freedom in it, and I can almost see it, but just a brief glimpse before my brain rejects the idea outright, and I remain motionless. Maybe I was raised too Catholic or something. The long bony hand of god may have held me overly firm in adolescence, not allowing any crass wriggling gyration, and it must have stuck through adulthood. Not that I begrudge you for getting your freak on, freak away, in fact freak for me, because I can’t.

That being said, there do exist a song or two that make me sad I don’t speak the “forbidden language”. One such track is the above mentioned, ” I heard it through the grapevine”, as recorded by Gladys Knight and the Pips. It’s been recorded by more than thirty artists since it was released in 1967. The Temptations, The Slits, Amy Winehouse, hell even the goddamn California Raisins belted out their own version of this classic. Marvin Gaye, perhaps most famously, had his way with it, as did Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Smokey and the Miracles, the latter being the first to commit it to vinyl. But no one, in my humble opinion, ever did it the service Gladys Knight and her Pips did.

Everything in this song is absolute perfection, the vocals, the drums, the keys, and especially the bass, played expertly by the late great James Jamerson. (If you don’t think you know who he is, you’re wrong. Every amazing Motown song you’ve ever loved was made better by his magic fingers.) There isn’t a wasted second in this song. The story goes that Norman Whitfield, the producer and co-writer wanted to create a track that would “out-funk” Aretha Franklin. Listen to the way the drums, bass, and piano lock together to form the groove. All due R-E-S-P-E-C-T, to the amazing Ms. Franklin, but in my eyes there isn’t even a contest.

This is a track I wish I could force you to listen to, I mean it. It’s everything that is missing from modern Soul music. If it can make this geeky repressed white boy from New England almost want to shake his booty it can move you too.

I’m providing a Youtube link, it probably won’t work on your Iphone due to the dreaded Flash encoding, but bring it up on your computer at home, or even better go out and buy whatever album you can find it on, and listen to it a thousand times like I have, and will continue to do for the rest of my life. Thank you Gladys, thank you Norman Whitfield and thank you thank you thank you wonderful Motown.

I heard it through the grapevine

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2 comments

  1. I don’t know that I’ve heard this version, or if I did I don’t have a vivid memory of it. Good tune, and those magic fingers on the bass… so good!

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