Is Creedence Clearwater Revival's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" Cultural Appropriation?

Like a lot of people over the last decade in our perpetually divided nation it's not always easy for me to discuss controversial topics, especially ones that shouldn't - in my opinion - be so contentious. It's the reason I avoid writing about social and political issues. However, today I'm breaking my self-imposed rule for only the second time in the nineteen year history of this blog.

In the Twenty-first century, most Americans are viewed by each side as either being too far to the left or too far right, and we often formulate our opinion of a person's political beliefs based on a single position they hold without exploring what else he or she may have to say. I'm probably guilty of it myself.

As an alternative to X/Twitter, this past July I joined a new online platform born in February 2023. It's called Spoutible and in a lot of ways it's very different from Elon Musk's misadventure. Spoutible owner, Christopher Bouzy - a very successful African-American entrepreneur - has created a safe haven where members (spoutees) can post their opinions (spouts) away from the frequently hateful place Tesla's owner has allowed X to become. Many spoutees' political beliefs lean heavily to the left-of-center, but Mr. Bouzy readily allows opposing viewpoints as long as all parties discuss their differences respectfully.

My favorite thing about this alternative social media site is that it has no algorithim. Members create their own by interacting with other members, spouting, and following people you believe fit your interests and personality. It works very well. In just a few months I've acquired 1,325 followers compared to X where I've only managed 127 followers since joining it in 2012.

Spoutible features a lot of music. It's the primary reason I became a participant, but recently a member became very disenchanted with someone who posted a video of Creedence Clearwater Revival's eleven minute version of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine."

Even though I couldn't find the original offending post or the apparently less than polite negative reaction to it, I decided to respond. It took six spouts threaded together to make my point due to the platform's 300 character limit - compared to X's 280 - and below I've adapted and expanded on what I originally wrote to better fit the blog format.

"Cultural Appropriation" is often defined as a dominant culture taking something from another culture and then exploiting its use for their own benefit.

I'm not naive enough to believe that the art and culture of oppressed groups have never been used inappropriately by people who are holding them down, but to quote John Lennon, "Music is everybody's possession. It's only publishers who think that people own it."  While he was refering to the business side of the art form, if you read his words within the context of the interview he was giving it's also easy to interpret that Lennon believed it's acceptable for anyone to enjoy and make use of art created by others if the user's intentions are good.

Two Motown composers, Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield, wrote "I Heard It Through The Grapevine." CCR's long version was released on their LP, Cosmos Factory, an album that went 4 times platinum, meaning the record sold 4 million copies. Composers are supposed to receive royalties on every single unit sold, so along with an album track by Smokey Robinson and hit singles by Gladys Knight (#2 on the Hot 100) and Marvin Gaye (#1) "Grapevine" should have helped make the composers rich. If so, Whitfield and Strong greatly benefited from the CCR arrangement. I fail to see where they were exploited.

There is another side to this issue. What if a recording artist from a dominant culture refused to perform songs by a minority because they considered the smaller group's artistic endeavors to be inferior. Isn't that far worse?

Rap/hip-hop aside, my CD/record collection is loaded with R&B, jazz and blues, much of it by African-Americans. I've always appreciated what they've contributed to American music. I expect to love a lot more of their work in the future, and I have a Visa card in my wallet ready and waiting when I do.


  1. I suspect that there are nuances to any 'misappropriation' charge that are imperceptible to the person charged. Do I know what they are? Nope. But I imagine that your final paragraph will come off to people alert to such nuances -- in the way that a hammer is ever alert to the presence of a nail -- as the equivalent of saying "I have a lot of Black friends." Not your intention, but the sense and even some of the phrasing is there. By the same token (no pun intended), you've chosen to highlight an outlier in terms of royalties generated (CCR's version of "Grapevine"), when misappropriation more typically occurs in instances where public awareness isn't even a factor, let alone a force likely to focus on an individual appropriator's 22-cent royalty check.

    How was your response received by the wokesters who flagged the CCR vid?

    1. Unusually, my post was mostly ignored.


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