Digital Storytelling

Remakes that Define and Defy the Genre

I decided to do the assignment “Remake That Genre!” but with a little twist of my own. I will be focusing on one song in particular, but will be providing an overview of all the different versions that have been made to-date. Some songs are so iconic that we are only familiar with one version, only to later discover it was a remake! Typically a cover of a song can be extremely popular, or an abject failure. The song I wanted to focus on for this assignment was “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” originally written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for Motown Records in 1966.

“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” has been an extraordinary Motown hit since its inception. Many talented Motown artists, as well as those outside of the soul genre, have made extraordinary covers of it. I will be going through as many of these covers as I could find, and will reveal which one I personally like the most at the end of this post.

The Miracles
(1966)

The Miracles were the first Motown group to record “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” in 1966, however it was not released as a single because Berry Gordy vetoed it during a weekly quality control meeting. It later appeared on their 1968 album Special Occasion and an unreleased version was released in 1998.

Marvin Gaye
(1967)

Marvin Gaye was the second artist to record this song in 1967, and is arguably the most well-known. His version was also vetoed by Berry Gordy, but made an appearance on his 1968 album In the Groove. A year and a half later it went to the top of the Billboard Pop Singles chart for seven weeks.

Gladys Knight & the Pips
(1967)

Gladys Knight & the Pips were the third group to cover “Grapevine.” The song was slightly altered for Gladys Knight, and included funk elements that were inspired by Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” While it was not vetoed, Berry Gordy reluctantly released it as a single in 1967.

Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers
(1968)

Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers recorded a version of “Grapevine” for their debut album based on Gladys Knight’s recent hit. But after hearing the Marvin Gaye version, they felt they had made the wrong choice.

The Temptations
(1969)

The Temptations produced a version of “Grapevine” for their 1969 psychedelic soul album, Cloud Nine, in which was said to have “brought compelling percussion to the fore, and relegated the piano well into the wings.”

The Undisputed Truth
(1971)

The Undisputed Truth recorded a version of the song in a style resembling Marvin Gaye’s version in 1971.

Creedence Clearwater Revival
(1970)

American rock band CCR recorded an 11 minute version of “Grapevine” that appeared on their 1970 album Cosmos Factory. It was released as a single and reached 43 on Billboard’s chart, with modest success in countries outside the U.S.

The Slits
(1979)

British punk and post-punk band The Slits recorded “Grapevine” in a post-punk style as a bonus track on their 1979 album Cut.

Roger Troutman
(1981)

Funk musician Roger Troutman from Zapp & Roger recorded an extended version in 1981, which brought the song back to 1 on the Billboard R&B chart. However it failed to be a more widespread hit, peaking at 79 on the pop chart.

Bettye LaVette
(1982)

Bettye LaVette recorded a version of “Grapevine” that resembled the Marvin Gaye version in 1982 for her Motown album Tell Me a Lie.

Queen Latifah
(1998)

While not a cover of “Grapevine,” Queen Latifah’s “Paper” is heavily based off of the more popular versions of the Motown version. It features a rhythm that sounds similar to Marvin Gaye’s version, while imitating the style of the lyrics.

The Gaye recording has become an acclaimed soul classic. In 2004, it was placed at number 80 on Rolling Stones list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

In 1998, the Marvin Gaye version of the song was inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame for “historical, artistic and significant” value.

In June 2008, on the commemorative fiftieth anniversary of the Billboard Hot 100 issue of Billboard magazine, the Marvin Gaye version was ranked as the sixty-fifth biggest song on the chart.

In 2018, the Gladys Knight & the Pips version was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

I’m sure you weren’t aware there were this many versions of a single song! Looking back, you can see that the song mainly stayed true to its Motown soul roots, however it did branch out and become popular in the rock, punk, and funk genres. Each version of this song is unique and wonderful in its own right, since many extremely talented groups have covered it. It’s honestly hard to pick a favorite, because I like each version for different reasons. However there are three that it boils down to: Marvin Gaye, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Roger Troutman. These are the three versions of the song I am most familiar with and have actually heard on the radio, out in public, in movies, or in video games. The rest of them I had to actively search for, so that automatically disqualified them for me.

Marvin Gaye’s version epitomizes soul music, and has such a sweet melodic feel. His version is iconic, and rightly so! Marvin Gaye was a legend in Motown, and this is merely one of many of his greatest hits.

Roger Troutman’s version has an electronic funk feel, and makes excellent use of the talkbox to reinvent the song. This version is actually popular in rap music, and has been sampled for that funky sound that resembles Parliament-Funkadelic and George Clinton.

However, I think the Creedence Clearwater Revival version is my favorite. I have been a fan of CCR for most of my life, enjoying the band’s southern bayou rock feel as well as examining the political messages behind their songs, since Vietnam was a huge influence on the band. There’s just something about the lead singer, John Fogerty’s, voice that sells this version for me. His gritty style of singing backed by the hard baseline transforms this song for me in a way that is totally different from all the other versions.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the other versions. Every single one is great in their own way, but CCR’s gritty southern rock version is the one I constantly find myself listening to and enjoying the most.

Please comment down below and tell me what you think! Which version was your favorite and why?

4 Comments

  • Mason Oberle

    This was a really interesting read Lyndsey. It was cool being able to listen to all of the different versions back to back. I think I have to agree with you, the CCR one is probably my favorite, but I think that the original recording by the Miracles is also pretty good too.

    • Lyndsey Clark

      I really enjoyed doing this assignment because I wanted to do a song that has so many good covers. Most people have strong opinions of covers, either loving them or hating them, but “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” was covered by so many influential bands and artists that it was hard to find one I didn’t like. I mainly stick to the CCR version because I love CCR, but I love how the others put their own spin on it. I personally think it’s a shame you don’t hear the other versions as much, but now that I know them all I will definitely keep listening to them!

  • Paul

    For me, the CCR version has been a long time favorite, but it’s so familiar now that I never listen to it. I mostly gravitate to the Gladys Knight version because I haven’t heard it as much. Latifah’s take is new to me. I’ll have to give that a closer listen.

    • Lyndsey Clark

      The Gladys Knight version is up there as being one of my favorites too! I also had no idea about Latifah’s take either until I did some digging. It’s not exactly a cover, but it has the same tempo and lyrical structure, so I thought I should include it.

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