Cover Versions of #1s – CCR & The Slits

Last night I did two cover versions of the same band; tonight it’s two cover versions of the same song! Onwards!

‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’, by Creedence Clearwater Revival – 1970 album track

(Originally a #1 in 1969, by Marvin Gaye)

Before we go any further, I don’t claim that any over version of ‘Grapevine’ is an improvement on one of the most perfect pop songs ever recorded. But these two gave it a right old go… First, Creedence, with an epic eleven minute take on it, from their ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ album. Does any song really need to be eleven minutes long? No, probably not. But the band sound so in-tune, firmly lodged in their groove, that we can indulge them. The first four minutes is the song, what remains is a jam session based around that timeless riff. It was eventually released as a single, in 1973, but couldn’t breach the US Top 40.

‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by The Slits – reached #60 in 1979

Shorter, though not exactly sweeter, post-punk band The Slits give us an oh so sarcastic rendition. When lead singer Ari Up sings I’m just about to lose my mind… you can’t tell if she’s walking away grinning, rolling her eyes, or preparing to launch herself at her dirty, rotten ex. Plus, the bass line here is really cool.

Two final covers up tomorrow!

268. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye

Attention. Attention. We have a stone-cold classic coming right up. Marvin Gaye is here, and he has been hearing things, through the grapevine…

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I Heard It Through the Grapevine, by Marvin Gaye (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 26th March – 16th April 1969

Has there been a cooler intro so far? A sexy, slinkingly slow build up, with a tickle of cymbal and a subtle riff: doo-do-do-doo… It’s dripping with attitude. And then Gaye’s voice, a husky falsetto. Ooh, I bet you’re wond’rin how I knew, Bout your plans to make me blue…

The singer has heard second-hand that his girlfriend is about to do the dirty on him. I heard it through the grapevine, Not much longer would you be mine… the backing singers chant, like the gossiping whisperers that have brought the news to him. The premise of the song is kind of flawed – surely the gossip would be that she is cheating on him, not that she’s just planning to – but shhh! Who cares? We’re in Greatest Pop Songs of all time territory here.

What I especially like about this song is that we are unsure how the singer really feels about the situation. Is he sad? (I know a man ain’t supposed to cry, But these tears I can’t keep inside…) Or angry? (It took me by surprise, I must say…) Or just disappointed? (You could have told me yourself, That you love someone else…) Or is he all of these things?

‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ is a Motown record, only the 3rd to hit the top of the UK charts, after ‘Baby Love’ and ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’, and the last one of the 1960s, the decade synonymous with the label’s sound. But, at the same time, it’s a lot subtler than earlier Motown hits – far less bubble-gum. There’s an edge to it. It’s instant, but it’s also layered. I know I write this fairly often, about other huge hits, but it still rings true… This would have been a hit at any time. It transcends time and place.

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Or if you want to distil it down to a simple, one-word description: it’s cool. You want to know what cool sounds like? You put ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ on. Marvin Gaye had been a recording artist since the start of the sixties, and a big star in the US for years before this became his biggest hit. In the UK, though, he hadn’t been higher than #16. Following this, he would become a routine visitor to the Top 10, throughout the seventies and early eighties, solo or with either of his favoured duetting partners, Diana Ross and Tammi Terrell. It all culminated in his huge ‘Sexual Healing’ comeback in 1982…

Until he was shot, dead, a year later. By his dad. We’ve met some pretty tragic characters in our journey through the charts so far, but this is up there with the worst of them. His father was a disciplinarian, a Christian minister, and yet a cross-dresser, with a very complicated relationship with his artistic, world famous, and possibly gay, son. Marvin stepped in to break up a confrontation between his parents, and was killed by a shot from the gun he had given his father a few months earlier.

Tragic stuff. And also tragic in its own way is the fact that this is Gaye’s one and only chart-topping single. No ‘It Takes Two’, or ‘What’s Goin’ On’, or the aforementioned ‘Sexual Healing’… Just this. But what a chart-topper it is. If you’re only going to do it once, then do it in style. Meanwhile, ‘Marvin Gaye’ will hit #1 many years from now, as the title of a song. Which I just realised answers a question I posed in my post on ‘Lady Madonna’, about #1s which reference chart-topping artists in their titles… Till then, then…