Marvin Gaye returned to the top of the charts at the end of 1968 with a soulful version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, packed with emotion and power! The single peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles Chart week-ending 14th December 1968 (7 weeks) and also reached number one at the same time on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart (with Diana Ross & the Supremes at number two with “Love Child”, followed by Stevie Wonder with “For Once in My Life” at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart).
Marvin Gaye’s classic hit achieved the longest run at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart during that decade for the label. The single also did very well in the UK on the Official Pop Singles Chart by going to number one (the first for Marvin Gaye in the UK) week-ending 26th March 1969 (1 week). Once again Motown Records closed off the year with one of its acts at number one on the Billboard Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles Chart and also (for the first time) at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart with the same single. What was equally impressive, during the week-ending 28th December 1968, the Motown family had five of the top ten records in America.
Paul Riser conducted and arranged the strings on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, giving the track its timeless quality and making the track continually fresh and exciting! The backing vocals were impressive, performed by The Andantes, with their “call and response” style of background singing which became a signature sonic trade mark of Motown Records. The parent album for the single, “Marvin Gaye in the Groove”, was filled with the new sound emerging out of Motown called psychedelic soul, originated by Norman Whitfield, which began to take centre stage. This new style combines innovative funky bass lines by James Jamerson and equally funky drums backbeats by both Richard “Pistol” Allen and Uriel Jones, reflecting the musical changes occurring during the late 1960s and into the 1970s. The album was co-produced by Frank Wilson and Ivy Jo Hunter. The first single released from the album prior to the classic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was “You” on the 21st December 1967. The single was co-written by Ivy Jo Hunter, Jack Goga and Jeffrey Bowen.
The single features Gaye with a different vocal approach, a bit rougher in vocal style, moving away from the sophisticated style which dominated his mid-1960s recordings. The album peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot Soul and R&B Albums Chart listing.