Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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I Heard It Through the Grapevine

First recorded by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (1966, released 1968).
Hit versions by Gladys Knight & The Pips (US #2/R&B #1 1967), Marvin Gaye (US #1/R&B #1/CAN #8/UK #1/IRE #7 1968), Creedence Clearwater Revival (US #43 1969).

From the wiki: “First recorded by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles in 1966, ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ was rejected for release by Motown owner Berry Gordy, who told Barrett Strong (co-writer) and Norman Whitfield (producer and co-writer) that the song was ‘too bluesy’ and that it lacked ‘hit potential’. Whitfield produced another version, with Marvin Gaye, in 1967 with Gordy also rejected (‘it sucks’, he is reported to have opined) for release. Even the Isley Brothers are said to have taken a crack at it (see below).

“It wasn’t until the song was given to the label’s newest group signing, Gladys Knight & The Pips, that Gordy finally agreed to release ‘Grapevine’. Released to radio in October 1967, Knight’s recording eventually went Top 5 – peaking at #2 in the Billboard Hot 100 chart while topping the R&B chart.

Now, Whitfield wanted Gordy to release Gaye’s ‘Grapevine’ as a single, too, but Gordy wouldn’t release another version of the same song so soon after the Pips had already made a hit out of it. Regardless, Whitfield added ‘Grapevine’ to Gaye’s new album, In the Groove, where it gained the attention of radio disc jockeys who began spinning the track even though ‘Grapevine’ was not being promoted. Gordy finally relented his refusal to issue the song as a single, after the album’s first two promotional singles (‘You’, and ‘Chained’) failed to light up the charts, agreeing to ‘Grapevine’s release as a single in November 1968. And the rest, as they say, is international music history.

“Released on October 30, 1969, Gaye’s recording of ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ was at the top of the Billboard Pop Singles chart six weeks later and stayed there for seven weeks, from December 14, 1968 to January 25, 1969. It would go to become for a time the biggest hit single on the Motown label (until the Jackson 5’s ‘I’ll Be There’ in 1970). It also topped the R&B chart (for seven weeks) and it became Gaye’s first international hit, topping the UK Singles chart for three weeks.

“In 1969, rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival recorded an 11-minute interpretation for their 1970 album, Cosmo’s Factory. Although it did not crack the Billboard Top 40, their recording became an album radio hit and today is considered a heritage rock classic.

“The first known recording of ‘Grapevine’ by the Miracles happened on August 6, 1966, but there may also have been an even earlier recording with the Isley Brothers, or that Whitfield at least had intended to record the song first with them. However, a track has not turned up – some Motown historians believe that a session may have been scheduled but was canceled. The Miracles’ version was not released as a single due to Berry Gordy’s veto during Motown’s weekly quality control meetings; Gordy advised Whitfield and Strong to create a stronger single. Instead, the Miracles recording later appeared on their 1968 Special Occasion album – where fans assumed it was a cover of Knight’s and Gaye’s hits – but it was, in reality, the original recording.”

Gladys Knight & The Pips, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (1967):

Marvin Gaye, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” monaural single (1968):

Creedence Clearwater Revival, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (1969):

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