Can I Get A Witness

Album: The Very Best Of Marvin Gaye (1963)
Charted: 22

Songfacts®:

  • Gaye wrote many of his own hits, but this was written by the famous Motown team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland. The title is a phrase commonly used in black churches and has a very spiritual connotation: When the preacher asks, "Can I get a witness," he's asking the congregation for affirmation, often met with the response of "Amen!" This song helped popularize the phrase.

    All three members of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team had a background in gospel music. Dozier explained to NME in 1984: "That was the thing a lot of black people played; a lot of gospel music and a lot of classical. When I was coming up, my aunt played piano and my grandma instructed her what to sing in church since she was one of the church's directors. My aunt played different classical music and I remember sitting on the stool and she would serenade me with these tunes and they sort of stuck with me, influenced me throughout the years. The gospel music on the other hand influenced myself and the Holland brothers because it was the thing you had to do every Sunday – go to church. Black gospel music was part of the lifestyle."
  • They're barely audible, but The Supremes added background vocals on this track along with the song's writers, Holland-Dozier-Holland. The call-and-response style mimicked a church congregation shouting back to the preacher.

    The Supremes had a lot of support from Motown head Berry Gordy, but no hits to show for it when this song was recorded in September 1963. Holland-Dozier-Holland had some success with songs like "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave" and "You Lost the Sweetest Boy," but no #1s. That changed in 1964 when H-D-H wrote "Where Did Our Love Go," and The Supremes very reluctantly recorded it. The songwriting trio ended up writing nine more chart-toppers for the group, which became the biggest female act on Motown. In 1973, Diana Ross – by then the "first lady of Motown" – and Marvin Gaye released the duets album called Diana & Marvin.
  • The Holland-Dozier-Holland team also wrote Gaye's hit "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You." With Gaye, they wrote songs in keys that were higher than he was comfortable singing, which got him into his falsetto. "We would stretch it a key higher, or even half a key higher, so it was out of his comfort zone and when he sang it, he could develop his own style and make the song his," Lamont Dozier told Songfacts.
  • The Rolling Stones covered this in 1965. They recorded "Now I've Got a Witness," one of the first songs Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote, at the same session, using the keyboard riff from this for inspiration. The Stones also covered Gaye's "Hitch Hike" in 1965. Says bass player Bill Wyman: "Andrew Oldham was always pushing us to get us to do Motown things like 'Can I Get a Witness?' And he was right as well; he was more right than we were. And, of course, when Mick and Keith got into writing, the songs came out more like he was looking for. Keith was always more into Soul music than me or Charlie, and Mick loved soul performers like Wilson Pickett and James Brown." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • A cover version was a US #39 hit for Lee Michaels in 1971. This is the only other version of the song to make the Hot 100.

Comments: 7

  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaThe bass just GROVES. Can i get a witness!
  • Markantney from BiloxeAug 2014,

    Out of all the many hits of Marvin's; I find this one the most underrated.
    It highlights his brilliant (seemingly) "Off Key" Range, yet (somehow) it fits his songs perfectly. I guess it would be termed "Off Key" any experts out there to school me on this???

    "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" does the same but even more.

    I probably own 90-95% of his Catalog in Albums and CDs (mostly).
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyLee Michael's version just barely made the Top 40, it peaked at No. 39!!!
  • Brad from Cleveland, OhThe Supremes sing background vocals on this song.
  • Teresa from Mechelen, BelgiumYou can call this a 100 % Holland-Dozier-Holland
    song. This was a very talentfull songwriting team
    who worked with many Tamla Motown artists.
    Marvin Gaye's version is very good.
  • Jo from Newcastle, AustraliaSam Brown ("Stop!") also did a version of this- went top 20 in Australian charts, in June of '89.
  • Ruud from Amsterdam, NetherlandsGrand Funk Railroad used lines from this song in their version of "Some Kind of Wonderful"
see more comments

Editor's Picks

George ClintonSongwriter Interviews

When you free your mind, your ass may follow, but you have to make sure someone else doesn't program it while it's wide open.

Daryl HallSongwriter Interviews

Daryl Hall's TV show is a hit, and he's been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - only one of these developments excites him.

Song Titles That Inspired MoviesSong Writing

Famous songs that lent their titles - and in some cases storylines - to movies.

Graham ParkerSongwriter Interviews

When Judd Apatow needed under-appreciated rockers for his Knocked Up sequel, he immediately thought of Parker, who just happened to be getting his band The Rumour back together.

Tim Butler of The Psychedelic FursSongwriter Interviews

Tim and his brother Richard are the Furs' foundation; Tim explains how they write and tells the story of "Pretty In Pink."

Barney Hoskyns Explores The Forgotten History Of Woodstock, New YorkSong Writing

Our chat with Barney Hoskyns, who covers the wild years of Woodstock - the town, not the festival - in his book Small Town Talk.