THE ORIGINAL: The Miracles (1966)
Bet you didn’t know this was the original! Smokey and the Miracles do an uptempo and spare arrangement here. The bass and drums are the loudest in the mix, you hear quick guitar strums and a very low keyboard, and Smokey’s lead vocal is almost whispered, with the slight background vocals sung like they’re hiding from someone.
The middle section is almost ghost-like, it’s haunting with a little echo. I like this fast groove that clocks in at exactly 3:00.
COVER #1: Marvin Gaye (1967)
This version starts out in a sinister way. The tambourine smack and hand clap, the lurching Hammond B3 organ chugging along, with the tambourine coming back in like a rattlesnake, the brighter keyboard hook, the horns, the strings, then Marvin singing in his higher register. The first 24 seconds of this song is instantly recognizable.
As the song continues, Marvin is baring his soul, and the cooing, all female backing vocals are classic Motown. This arrangement also has the bass and keys in front, followed by Marvin and then the strings. This is a slowed-down groove compared to the original, slinky and very sexy.
COVER #2: Gladys Knight & The Pips (1967)
This is a snappy-peppy cover that starts out with a great drum and bass part that sets the tone for the song. Once again, the bass is front and center in this version, but we hear a piano instead of an organ. Except for the wailing sax solo in the bridge there are no strings or horns, just a lot of guitar, piano and tambourine. And the vocal… Gladys serves us a sanctified black Baptist church version, her voice clear as a bell, and the Pips keep the song moving with their call and response background vocals throughout. They’re not hiding, like in the Miracles version.
COVER #3: Creedence Clearwater Revival (1970)
This is swampy from the jump, with guitars, drums and bass in the beginning. John Fogerty’s vocal comes in and mimics the upper register of Marvin Gaye’s voice. The background vocals are sung by the other dudes in the band, low and stiff.
This version has an odd kind of swing. The bass is in front, but the drums are driving this along, kind of like a slinky march. I’ve never been a fan of Fogerty’s voice, but I dig it here.
This version is an annoying 11:03 minutes long because of the extended guitar solo that goes on forever. I mean, the vocal ended at 2:52, for fuck’s sake. I think this is ridiculous and it ruins the song for me.
COVER #4: The Slits (1979)
The beginning starts off with three short measures of very low moaning by some male voices, driven by a very tinny and low drum part, which gets louder in the fourth measure, along with some guitar strumming and more moaning underneath. Then, Ari Up desperately wails “I bet, I Bet, I BET, I BET you wondered how I knew…” setting the tone for this version.
She sounds like she was doing jumping jacks in the studio, bouncing along with the bass, which is once again the loudest thing in the mix, and the conga drums. No strings, no horns, just some odd synths instead. This is a punk rock/new wave classic cover. The bridge is her melancholy yelling of the chorus with her own background vocals chanting, “grapevine, grapevine.”
I really dig this.
WHO DOES IT BETTER?
Despite every cover following the original rhythm pretty much verbatim, they all put their own stink on it, especially the first two, which is interesting considering they’re both Motown recordings like the original.
I already told you that I don’t like the Creedence version, and while I really dig the Slits, their version just doesn’t have enough chutzpah for me. So I’m giving this one to Gladys Knight and the Pips.
I love the ghostly original, and Marvin’s slinky ass. But Gladys really crushes this.
NOW YOU DECIDE!