Marvin Gaye, a cappella

This is almost beyond description. Simply unbelievable to hear this -- not sure where it came from though! The track is "I Heard It Through The Grapevine." There's no question of the pure energy of this singer, nor his incredible vocal control. Listen to the strength and richness of his falsetto (and weep for his dutiful vocal cords). However, hearing him this way without obscuring instrumentation is a vocalist's dream. The most refreshing aspect? No pitch correction. Zip. Nada. No AutoTune. Blast you, Antares, you make vocalphiles like me very grouchy!

Sadly, this number one hit eventually led to These Guys.

There are a few deliciously humanly pitchy spots that would never ever make it through a modern production studio's vigilant watch. Actually, I suspect most of the take never would. This vocal track sounds like one of many: you can hear some strain in the voice, either from stretching for high notes, fatigue, or both -- regardless the cause, it imparts a truly personal and meaningful edge; a hit was born. The year was 1967 and the height of summer in Detroit sweltered. Barrett Strong, of "Money (That's What I Want)" fame, and Norman Whitfield had written the song and were working hard to coax the performance they wanted out of Gaye. From Ralph McLean at the BBC Northern Ireland:

…it wasn’t an easy experience for Gaye though and he recalled years later that “Norman and I came to within a fraction of an inch of fighting”…he added that “he made me sing in keys much higher than I was used to…he had me reaching for notes that caused my throat veins to bulge”. Despite this friction or perhaps because of it Marvin and Norman created a truly unique vocal take.

Whatever the drama surrounding it, the results are timeless, and if you're familiar with the studio setting, I imagine you can probably hear grit and summer sweat all over this session. Here's the isolated vocal track:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87FjkqtK67o

This video also demonstrates that Marvin Gaye was unafraid of lip-synching on television. I give him a pass; at least it's not because he was afraid of performing without a computer there to fix him up.