The 100 Greatest Songs of the Rock Era: #95: I Heard It Through The Grapevine


Marvin Gaye from In the Groove (1968)

“So what’s worse,” Peggy said, “hearing it through the grapevine or getting a breakup text?”

“Since I have no experience with the latter, I’m going to have to go with the former. Also, I can’t imagine Marvin Gaye singing a song about receiving a breakup text.”

“If he had, though, he would have crushed your heart with it –while at the same time making you wish you were him.”

Peggy had nailed it. There were many remarkable things about Marvin Gaye as a singer, but maybe most notable was his ability to make you feel his pain in such a way that you wished you were him feeling this pain. The first time I heard this song, I knew that what he was describing was a lousy way for a relationship to end, but I had no doubt that Marvin Gaye (or the character he was playing in the song) was going to come out of this fine. The woman who had wronged him would probably regret her behavior for the rest of her life, but he would move on to someone better … someone who appreciated a man who felt like Marvin Gaye.

“Yeah, that was pretty true of everything he did,” I said. “There are so many other versions of this song – Gladys Knight had the first hit with it, remember – but for me no one nailed the sentiment of this song the way Gaye did.”

“Well, there were the California Raisins.”

“Close second.”

Peggy laughed. Then she was quiet for several seconds. Once she’d moved to Austin, I’d always sought to fill any empty spaces in our conversation instantly. I didn’t today, though. This was more like our college days when we could go a half-hour without saying a word and still feel that we were connecting.

“Wait,” she said, finally. “You’ve had experience hearing it through the grapevine?”

“You remember.”

“I really don’t.”

I was a little hurt. “You really don’t?”

She was silent for several seconds more. “You mean…?”

“It counts.”

Peggy’s voice came back strong. “She didn’t count. How many times did I tell you that?”

“It didn’t scar me for life. I just thought of it because we were talking about this song. Music, you know?”

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