On this day in music history: December 2, 1967 – “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Gladys Knight & The Pips hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 6 weeks, also peaking at #2 on the Hot 100 for 3 weeks on December 16, 1967. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, it is the biggest hit for the Atlanta, GA based R&B vocal quartet. Riding a wave of success writing and producing a string of hits for The Temptations, Norman Whitfield and his main songwriting partner Barrett Strong write “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” during this period in mid to late 1966. Whitfield cuts the song on The Miracles and The Isley Brothers, with both of their versions going unreleased (initially). Undaunted, the producer records it again in a dramatic rearrangement with Marvin Gaye in the Spring of 1967. The song is rejected by Motown’s Quality Control department as being “too different” and uncharacteristic of the Motown Sound. Gaye’s version is also shelved as a result of this rejection. Still believing strongly in the song, Whitfield asks Berry Gordy, Jr. if he can cut it on another artist. Gordy agrees, and the producer returns to the studio to cut the new version with Gladys Knight & The Pips. Inspired by Aretha Franklin’s recent smash “Respect”, Whitfield gives his song a similar “funky and earthy” arrangement. Featuring The Funk Brothers providing the musical backing, Whitfield plays the completed track for Gladys Knight & The Pips who work out their own vocal arrangement for the song. The group record their vocals at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit on June 17, 1967. Released as a single on September 28, 1967, initially Motown puts little promotional support behind it, and the group themselves actually approach DJ’s to encourage them to play the single. The strategy works and the record takes off within a month of its release, also crossing over to the pop charts and selling nearly two million copies in the US alone.
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