I’ve been prone to these songwriter series playlists moreso. This time we make a visit to our first team. While Burt Bacharach’s mix featured him not exclusively tethered to Hal David, and Sylvia Moy found herself working with a round robin of partners, this one solely focuses on Holland-Dozier-Holland.
Brothers Eddie and Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier all took turns as solo singers before getting behind the scenes at Motown Records. They all worked with separate partners through the end of 1962. However, starting with one Mary Wells B-Side that year, they came together more often than not, solidly focusing their attentions on Martha & The Vandellas as Fall of 1962 turned into early winter of 1963. Of course, the trio of Top 40 hits granted Miss Martha and her Girlfriends were just the beginning. If not benefiting from a hit record from the team, most Motown acts either saw some studio time with them, or by proxy benefited from the fierce competition to keep The Motown Sound fresh and competitive within the walls of 2648 West Grand Boulevard, nevermind the Billboard charts.
It’s weird to look back at a creative team from their point of crisis. Nonetheless, I’m looking back at the Holland-Dozier-Holland powerhouse from the vantage point 50 years after their legendary slowdown of output for Motown Records. In the Fall of 1967, the trio of two brothers and a brother in song dwindled their creative juices for the institution that brought them relative fame and wealth to a halt.
By the time 1968 strode in, the lawsuits were flying, adding another blow to the Motown machine that had suffered plenty of turmoil to sully its big happy family image. Coinciding with Florence Ballard’s messy departure from The Supremes, a sacked Betty Kelley from Martha & The Vandellas, Gladys Horton giving a middle finger to show business and growing resentments between David Ruffin and all the other Temptations, The Sound Of Young America was full of the drama that normally resigned in the grooves of the latest singles they produced.
Of course, that impact rattled Motown’s top hit making acts the most. The sales might of The Supremes 10 #1 hits, and various sundry Top 40 hits since 1963 had made Berry Gordy one of the biggest names in the record industry. Unfortunately, Gordy didn’t necessarily share the wealth he cultivated on the hard work of his vast creative teams all that democratically. Given that Gordy more or less did not write any huge Motown successes past 1964, and the financial resentments that had arose between him and his first superstar, Mary Wells, you would think a few years perspective would have made him award his artists better for their efforts. Of course, it didn’t end up that way.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty to be said and listened to and debated about the most prominent creative force that changed Pop Music in the 1960s. It’s fair to look back, at the constant thrills that H-D-H had supplied the world with over their 5 years doling out delights heard over transistor radios around the globe.
I tried to complicate the representations here. There’s plenty of gems and fun house mirrors to play with on the subject of H-D-H material. There’s our classic Motown stars that benefitted from their productions like The Supremes, Four Tops and Martha & The Vandellas. With them, I try to feature album tracks, b-sides, live or unreleased material. We’re all well versed with their hits, so who needs another mix with “Stop! In The Name Of Love” included as intended for making millions?
The famous songs here end up being given covers, some from within Motown. Kim Weston raises her hand in desperation here over a nearly 4 minute torch read of “Stop!” Some of the covers are outsourced from other stars and potentials, like Leslie Uggams taking us to the Supper Club for a finger snapping version of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).”
I’m also gathering a few gems from H-D-H’s own time getting efforts out the door at their own Hot Wax-Invictus imprints. Starting in 1969, they used the pseudonym Edythe Wayne (it’s still to be determined or lost to the lies of the past what or how much of a slice Ronald Dunbar’s contributions really were with the Invictus/Hot Wax songs) for material they generated as a collective. Indeed, their imprint on these tunes sound decidedly like songs intended for The Supremes, The Vandellas and The Four Tops as the H-D-H sound continued to evolve. It also always makes me wonder why they never reached out to Florence Ballard post her ABC records deal going mute around the same time, but that’s ponderances for another time.
We finish up with the duality of them going collectively their separate ways. With 50 tunes, I hope this mix teaches you about the depth and diversity of one of the most important artistic teams in popular music. The songs they wrote, steeped deep in African American Tradition, became the voice for many people of diverse backgrounds to grab a hold of and cherish as poetry of the heart. To them, we’re forever indebted.
2) The Four Tops – Gotta Say It, Gotta Tell It Like It Is
11) Eddie Holland – Just Ain’t Enough Love