Play that song for us one more time, Marvin.
- This photo from the Motown vaults is marked December 14, 1968, and, whether by design or coincidence, it was taken on the day which proved to be the peak of Marvin Gaye’s professional life in the ’60s. On the Billboard Hot 100 chart of that date, his recording of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” soared to Number One – the first time the singer had reached that summit. The track went on to spend seven weeks there, and to achieve a personal goal. “I dreamed of stardom – a Number One record and everything else that goes with it,” Marvin told the Associated Press later that month. “I’ve been extremely optimistic all my life and I imagined it would take a while to reach the pinnacle of success I’m after. But I had no doubt I would eventually reach it.”
- The Motown files do not reveal the photo location, but it was probably inside the company’s headquarters on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit – although the backdrop is not that of the hit-making Studio A in the building’s basement. Pianos were located in various offices, while the casual drop-off of Marvin’s jacket suggests he wasn’t planning to stay. In fact, he almost looks surprised that a picture was taken at all. As for the photographer, it might have been Robert Gordy, whose name appears on the back of various prints of the period, including several of Norman Whitfield, the producer of Gaye’s gargantuan “Grapevine.”
- But where was the champagne? Not only had “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” vaulted to the Billboard summit that week, but Diana Ross & the Supremes’ “Love Child” was at number two (having spent two weeks at the top) and Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life” was at number three. It was the first time in Motown history that the company had achieved such a triple on the pop charts. Marvin admitted to the AP journalist that personally, he wasn’t used to such success. “I don’t know what’s coming next,” he said. “I’ve never sold a million records before, and this one is on its way to two million.” Elsewhere on the week’s Hot 100, there were two other Motown hits heading for the Top 10: “Cloud Nine” by the Temptations and “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” by Diana Ross & the Supremes and the Temptations. Maybe the champagne was to be found in Berry Gordy’s office that day.
- Still, who had time for celebration? Aside from TV appearances to sustain the success of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” Marvin needed to prep for a post-Christmas concert in Indianapolis, where he was due to headline a bill which included Young-Holt Unlimited and Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson, and for his scheduled appearance at the Miami Pop Festival at the end of December. That three-day show at Gulfstream Park boasted quite a line-up, including Jr. Walker & the All Stars, Jose Feliciano, the Grateful Dead, Buffy St. Marie, Country Joe & the Fish, and Chuck Berry. But when showtime came around, there was only one singer with a record still at the peak of the Billboard Hot 100 – and you already know his name.