Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: “Every Beat of My Heart,” the first hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips, has befuddled me for decades.

It seems there are several different versions floating around and most of them claim to be the original hit.

Which one really is? How do we know the difference?

Hopefully you can unbefuddle me and sort them all out.
—Darcy Kingman, Gig Harbor, Wash.

DEAR DARCY: You sure picked one of the more convoluted recordings of the '60s.

One reason “Every Beat of My Heart” is so difficult to sort out is that Gladys demonstrated an amazing ability to re-record a song so true to the original. Knowing which is which is very challenging.

Written by Johnny Otis, and first issued in 1952 by the Royals (Federal 12064), “Every Beat of My Heart” had been around long before 17-year-old Gladys Knight revived it.

Only then did the song become a hit.

Credited just to the Pips, their original version came out in April 1961 on Atlanta's tiny Huntom label (45-2510).

Meanwhile, Bobby Robinson, owner of Fury and Fire Records in Harlem, got wind of how well Georgia dee jays liked the record. Robinson immediately flew Knight and the Pips to New York for a session.

Just coming off huge hits on both of his labels — Wilbert Harrison's “Kansas City” (Fury 1023) and Buster Brown's “Fannie Mae” (Fire 1008) — Robinson had the national distribution Huntom lacked, so they re-recorded “Every Beat of My Heart,” along with some other tunes.

Learning of the N.Y. session, Huntom quickly leased their version to Chicago's Vee Jay label, thus giving their recording (VJ 386) equal or better distribution than the Fury platter (#1050).

Both Fury and Vee Jay rush-released their singles and on May 15 1961, they made a neck-and-neck debut on Billboard — Vee Jay, still credited to the Pips, at No. 81 and Fury, crediting Gladys Knight and the Pips, at No. 83.

Vee Jay's lead widened in the weeks ahead, though both technically made the R&B Top 15, Vee Jay at No. 1 and Fury at No. 15.

Not lost in all of this action is one highly unusual occurence — that Gladys Knight and the Pips actually covered themselves!

Not often did an artist have both the original and a cover version on the charts at the same time.

However, the differences between the Atlanta original and the New York cover are so subtle that very few listeners could have known they were not hearing just one recording.

I don't think I have ever heard such a dead-on duplication.

Since slight timing and phrasing variations can't be effectively described in text, the easiest way to tell these tracks apart is how they end.

The Huntom-Vee Jay original ends cold, immediately after Gladys sings the last “heart.”

On the Fury track, that final “heart” is followed very briefly by about three fading but still audible piano notes.

Knight went on to be one of Motown's top acts in the mid-'60s, and of course she remade “Every Beat of My Heart” again, which turned up on some “Best of” compilations.

This circa-'69 version is much easier to distinguish, especially when she follows “in every toast of wine there's a toast for you,” with the ad lib comment, “oh yes it is.”

IZ ZAT SO? The first couple of “Every Beat of My Heart” discs mentioned above have hefty values.

The Royals 1952 release on 45 rpm can sell for $500 to $1,000.

Two years later, the Royals became the Midnighters, with the name change actually reflected on the labels as “The Midnighters (Formerly Known as the Royals).”

In 1959, the group officially became Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.

An original Huntom Pips single is in the same price range, though a bit more toward the higher end.

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