That’s a Triple, No, Quadruple Affirmative: Gladys Knight and The Pips, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” (1967)

Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” has become such a huge monument in pop history that it blocks our memory of the fantastic uptempo version Gladys Knight and The Pips released a year earlier, much funkier, and containing some of the best “Yesses” ever.

“I Heard It Through The Grapevine”

For years GK&TP were only a radio presence to me, invisible, but I’ve always known there are three Pips because after Gladys sings “Just about” [3 times] “to lose my mind/Oh yes I am,” they sound off:

Oh yes I am

                           Oh yes I am

                                                      Oh yes I am

There’s more to this than a perfunctory “yeah, yeah” or response to a call. It’s a seriously measured affirmation, that birhythmic “Grapevine” figure coming in

Piano:  dum…………..dum DUM…….dum
Drums: dumdumDUMdum dumdumDUMdum

to frame it. Each Pip gets his turn, and the sense that each is slightly slowing down to say Yes with conviction grows stronger each time. The Pips are coming to Gladys’s rescue by Yessing in a contrary direction: after her “Yes I am” warns that she’s about to go to pieces, their repetitions of the phrase shore her up. They’re her good friends who empathize while keeping their own equilibrium. (You could also interpret them as one of those annoying Greek choruses that seems to have no mind of its own, but then you’d miss the noble support being offered.) When the episode is over, the three affirmatives have taken over Gladys’s “Yes I am” to make a quadruple; one feels a four-wall house foundation has been laid, solid as can be.

Another pleasing image that occurs to me is a relay ring, with “Yes I am” being handed off from friend to friend. The overlapping of the parts is just right to give that firm sense of linkage.

In any case, “Oh yes I am” sung Pip-fashion—whenever possible, in groups of three plus one—should be the musical motto of friendship.

Check out the megawatt charm in this Soul Train appearance:


About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Rock Aesthetics, Words and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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