Friday 15 November 2013

I Heard it Through the Grapevine - Gladys Knight and the Pips (1967)


Today I will be looking at the Gladys Knight and the Pips song 'I Heard it Through the Grapevine'. Although Marvin Gaye's recording of this tune is far more famous, the bass line on this version is just fantastic. I have worked on this piece on and off for the last few years and I personally see it as one of the more challenging Jamerson lines that I have played. In particular, it's the fast arpeggio figures over the C7 chord that get me - pretty tricky stuff!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this analysis. As always, there is a video at the end.

Oh and please feel free to contact me either through the form on the right, or my website



So then, as you can see this line is pretty simple in terms of Jamerson's melodic choices. In fact, it's basically all arpeggios. A very simple root / fifth movement takes us through the C7 chord in the first bar and a half, before climbing up to the high G via a simple arpeggio line. The G7 and F7 figures are equally as simple, using root / third and fifth to outline the G7, a chromatic walk down to the F, more fifths and roots and a quick open A to bring us back into the C7 in bar four. The strong, driving rhythm (particularly over the C7 chord) propels the song forward, and the simple note choices outline the chords perfectly.

The next four bars are basically identical, aside from the G right at the end of bar eight, acting as a step up to the A in the next bar. Over the Am chord, Jamerson sticks again to a strong root / fifth movement, only touching on the seventh at the end of the bar. The F7 line is equally as straight forward, only using an A and D (3rd and 6th) right at the end before dropping into the chorus groove. The chorus for this song kind of overlaps with the tail end of the verse, so Jamerson hits this C7 / F7 groove early - defining what is to be THE chorus groove for the rest of the tune.

For me, this is where things get interesting...

Chorus 1

This is a very good example of how Jamerson can take a simple theme and gently vary it. Take a look at the four bars of C7..... they are pretty much identical. All contain some form of classic Jamerson arpeggio drop - quickly skipping through the root, fifth, third and occasionally seventh. The variation in the fifth bar is a slight rhythmical change, as well as using the Bb (the seventh) as a part of the arpeggio drop. This is very similar to bar seven, but this time the Bb is dropped down an octave and placed after the drop.

In terms of the F7, bars two and four see a simple root, third, fourth, chromatic passing note and sixth figure. Note how even though that 'wrong' chromatic note - the B natural - is played for a whole beat, it still sounds good? This is a great example of how the pull of a chromatic line allows you to get away with quite a bit! (See my other analysis' for more examples of Jamerson doing this kind of thing... it's all over his playing and in my opinion is a strong indicator of his Jazz background). This use of 'wrong' notes is most evident in bar eight, where that low E lasts for quite some time - but again the chromatic phrase over the last two beats kind of justifies it.

Back to bar six, we can see Jamerson make a slight variation to his F7 line, whilst still keeping it's defining feature - that chromatic pull - intact. He is really good at this; playing around with his phrases whilst still keeping the key themes pretty much the same. (I personally think this is partly how he could get away with playing such busy lines on what are essentially pop records). A similar thing is seen on bar eight, where the chromatic phrase over the last two beats is still there.

Jamerson chooses to stick to mainly the root note of C over the next few bars, breaking up his line and taking it away from his pre established themes. A really simply but effective chromatic phrase in the last bar rounds the chorus off perfectly and brings the song really nicely back to a verse groove.


What is really cool about Jamerson's playing on the bridge is how it is as if he just sees it as six bars of F7, rather than a whole new section of the song. The strong chromatic feel of this section is reminiscent to his line over the F7 chord in the chorus (he even plays that exact line in the final bar). Using a mixture of strong chord tones, tied together in typical Jamerson fashion with quick chromatic passing notes, he navigates through the bridge. Notice how he always lands on the F, the root of the chord, on beat one - really establishing the chord before skipping off up and down the octaves. The rhythm of this section really adds to the driving feel of the song, with the chromatic passing notes adding quick moments of tension and release.

Chorus 3

What I really wanted to highlight in this section is how Jamerson introduces more variations in the line, whilst still retaining the feel and sound of the established chorus groove. As before, it's the C7 that sees the most variation - look at how he plays with the rhythm throughout this section. Harmonically, he isn't really complicating things and sticks mainly to the same group of notes. I get the impression that he was just having fun at this point, just playing around with the line and improvising some new ideas.

I really like how the F7 in bar eight walks up to the high A in the next bar, simply through the seventh and root heading up in that direction. The figure over the Am is something that we haven't seen before - but is still in keeping with the ideas that he has already played. Simple chord tones outline the chord, before heading on down to the F7. Here, he plays a really nice open string line that drops down the octave (a classic Jamerson technique is to use open strings), before walking chromatically up to the C7 in the next bar.

In summary, this is a really good example of how good Jamerson can make those chord tones sound! Through playing with the rhythm and note choices, he keeps the line funky, driving and interesting, whilst complimenting the track perfectly.


  1. Fabulous job! Thank you for taking the time to post all this cool Jamerson info.

  2. Nice. Very nice, Chris. I always loved this bass line - informative to see it isolated!

  3. Really well done. Those arpeggios take a good bit of work to make them clear and groovin'. Your hard work has paid off and your "P-bass with flats" tone only compliments the delivery. Love this Jamerson track!

  4. Damn! Great job. IMHO to really get Jamerson, one must understand his physical endurance. NFL stamina to the very end. Jamerson was out for blood. His music is premeditated murder. His music is my music. We are all elevated in his joyous noise.