“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for Motown Records in 1966. Strong came up with the idea and asked Motown writers Holland-Dozier-Holland to work on it with him. They refused to credit another writer, so Strong took it to Whitfield, who helped put it together. The song eventually became a Motown classic, but it had a rough start, as executives at the company thought it was too bluesy and lacked hit potential.
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were the first to record the song, but their version wasn’t released until 1968 on an album called Special Occasion.
The Isley Brothers then took a crack at it, but their version wasn’t released. Whitfield and Strong then had Marvin Gaye record the song but still no luck: Motown head Berry Gordy chose Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Your Unchanging Love” over “Grapevine” as his next single. Finally, a new Motown act Gladys Knight and the Pips recorded the song as a gospel rocker. The first recording of the song to be released was produced by Whitfield for Gladys Knight & the Pips and released as a single in September 1967.
The Marvin Gaye recording has since become an acclaimed soul classic.
In 2004, it was placed on the Rolling Stone list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. On the commemorative fiftieth anniversary of the Billboard Hot 100 issue of Billboard magazine in June 2008, Marvin Gaye’s “Grapevine” was ranked sixty-fifth. It was also inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame for “historical, artistic and significant” value.