The Slits’ cover of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” should have been that one song from the weird, still-breaking genre of punk that got some radio play and introduced the mainstream to something new, and encouraged the more adventurous to seek out the weirder, outre stuff. It’s a little bit disco, it’s a lot bit tribal punk, post-Television, pre-Le Tigre frenetic, wailing three-piece orgy of infectious, but scary energy. There’s something for everybody here, but not enough people bought the 45 for it to register with Billboard. It was arguably heard by more people when used on an episode of Eastbound and Down.
Covering “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” is almost a pop music rite of passage, making stars out of, or at least significantly raising the profile of pretty much anybody who’d recorded it—Smokey Robinson did it first, then Gladys Knight, then Marvin Gaye’s definitive version, then Credence Clearwater Revival’s version in 1970 that took the song’s essence, the bass hook, and stretched it out to what I’m pretty sure was a six-hour-long version. But each time this has been performed, the act has taken it on and made it something of their own, reinventing it, subverting it, and making it something else entirely while maintaining a cordial familiarity.
What I mean is that Slits singer Ari Up seems completely insane, and unlike Marvin and John Fogerty, doesnt’ seem to really give a shit if you’re gonna leave her or not, because she doesn’t need you, and especially not after she’s just ingested a mountain of drugs in preparation for her run-around-an-urban-green-space with her unhinged college friends, which is certainly the subtext of the Slits’ take on “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”
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