Marvin Gaye scored his second Top 10 hit with this song penned and produced by the Holland-Dozier-Holland team. Gaye’s love songs were rarely this straightforward. The vocal melody is so strong the background singers and percussion are basically window dressing. And who says Motown doesn’t do jazz – check out the boogie-woogie piano playing under Gaye’s buoyant singing.
Gaye’s career has been infamously bipolar. In the ‘60s, he was essentially two performers: a nightclub singer turned pop star and coveted duet partner. “How Sweet It Is” was released after Gaye’s lone album with Mary Wells, and a couple years before he connected with Tammi Terrell. For most casual listeners, Gaye’s first decade is summarized by “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” a couple Terrell duets and this song.
Jr. Walker comes close to stealing Gaye’s song with his celebratory 1966 cover. Walker’s voice isn’t a smooth as Gaye’s, but his sax is. James Taylor took the song one spot higher – to No. 5 – in 1975. Listeners who enjoy a brief, deep nap can program Taylor’s cover against Michael Buble’s 1996 version. – by Joel Francis
[Note: This concludes the first disc on our road trip through the four-disc “Hitsville U.S.A.” box set.]