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NOD TO THE GODS: Gladys Knight & The Pips, “Heard It Through The Grapevine”
September 29, 2013
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Each and every Sunday night when the clock hits eight, The Strombo Show celebrates the spirit of radio over on CBC Radio 2. It's music for music lovers by music lovers. To kick off the program, we always tip our hats to the legends, the noisemakers and the ground-breakers in a segment that we like to call: Nod to the Gods.

The tune was originally recorded by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, then Marvin Gaye — but both versions were rejected by Motown owner Barry Gordy. It was the soulful power of Gladys Knight and the Pips that made a hit single of "I Heard it Through the Grapevine".

As their fourth top-20 single on the Billboard chart, it incorporated the funk elements of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. Songwriter/producer Norman Whitfield had heard Aretha Franklin's "Respect" and decided to use the same rhythm musicians on his new tune. During his 25-year career, Whitfield co-wrote and produced countless hits for Motown and was basically one of the creators of the enduring Motown sound that includes "Ain't Too Proud to Beg", "(I Know) I'm Losing You", "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", "Cloud Nine", "I Can't Get Next to You", "War", "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)", "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)", "Smiling Faces Sometimes", and "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone". His work extended deep into the Temptations catalogue, and he produced eight of their albums between 1969 and 1973.

As we explore the world of Motown music, it's important to acknowledge the groove and backbeat behind it all - the Funk Brothers, the unrecognized and uncredited musical backbone who played on Motown's recordings right from 1959 up to 1972. The Funk Brothers had more number one hits than The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Elvis Presley combined.

Directed by Paul Justman, Standing In the Shadows of Motown tells the story of the studio musicians, hand-picked by Berry Gordy, who played on those hit records: James Jamerson (bass), Jack Ashford (percussion); Bob Babbitt (bass); Joe Hunter (keyboards); Uriel Jones (drums); Joe Messina (guitar); Eddie Willis (guitar); "Pistol" Allen (drums); "Papa Zita" Benjamin (drums);"Bongo" Brown (percussion); Johnny Griffith (keyboards); Earl Van Dyke (keyboards); and Robert White (guitar).

For further musical musings, new and old, join the collective for The Strombo Show on CBC Radio 2, every Sunday night at 8PM. And if you'd like to catch up or relisten, all of the episodes are archived on our Radio page.


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