Making the once known known again.
In the Fall of 2003 I enrolled in an audio engineering school called The Recording Workshop (RECW). RECW is located in Chillicothe, OH and students in the program basically eat, breathe and sleep audio engineering. At that time I wanted to work in a big time Nashville studio so I picked RECW to be my training ground. One of my roommates in the program, Dan, told me that if I taught him how to cook, he would teach me how to play guitar. I was hesitant to give away my “perfect burger” recipe but Dan said he would teach me barre chords which were more advanced than the campfire chords I was using. Long story short , I taught Dan to cook a burger and he opened a new world of guitar playing for me. Soon my desire to work in a studio was replaced by dreams of being a staff writer for a record label. I believe this was around the time my mother started calling me a gypsy. Anyway, I started writing and dreamed every night about being a successful songwriter. My goal was to have a career as prolific as Holland-Dozier-Holland.
Holland-Dozier-Holland was the songwriting/production team responsible for most of the Motown label’s hits in the 1960’s. The team consisted of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie’s brother Brian. Before forming H-D-H, Brian was already a staff writer at Motown while Lamont and Eddie were signed to the label. The three of them connected in order to write music for themselves and other artists, but eventually decided to work strictly behind the scenes. That decision changed pop music forever.
H-D-H scored their first top ten hit in 1963 with Martha and the Vandellas’ “(Love is Like a) Heatwave.” After that, they were unstoppable. If you were to list ten Motown songs, chances are that Eddie, Lamont and Brian wrote nine of them. Classics such as “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” and “Stop In The Name of Love” were all written by the trio. In fact, they were responsible for ten of the Supremes’ twelve number one singles. By the end of the decade Holland-Dozier-Holland had written and produced 30 top ten pop singles and helped define the music of a generation.
At the peak of their success, H-D-H felt that Motown founder Berry Gordy was not giving them their due share of profit and royalties. The trio intentionally slowed down their musical output and by 1969 had left the label. They created their own, Invictus Records, and scored big with “Band of Gold” by Freda Payne and “Give Me Just A Little More Time” by Chairmen of the Board. Motown sued them for breach of contract and H-D-H countersued. The litigation was finally settled in 1977 with the team only getting several thousand dollars, a mere fraction of what they were worth.
In my opinion, Holland-Dozier-Holland’s legacy does not get the attention it deserves. Yes everyone knows about Motown and dances to the label’s hits at wedding receptions, but no one talks about the three men behind the songs. In articles and conversations about pioneering songwriters, H-D-H is rarely mentioned. I’d venture to say the majority of people in my generation don’t know who they are, which means that the next generation is pretty much hopeless. This is why I chose to excavate Holland-Dozier-Holland this week.
Reflecting on this excavation leaves me with conflicting emotions. I feel a deep sense of pride that these three African American males were able to achieve such mainstream success in the midst of 1960’s racial hatred and segregation. I feel joy as I think about the dancing melodies in “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)” and “Come And Get These Memories.” However, I feel anger at the thought of them not getting proper compensation for their gifts and talents.
I’m not going to ask any deep questions that make you reflect on the inner workings of your psyche this week. I just want to hear what you take away from this excavation. Did you know about Holland-Dozier-Holland? What are your favorite H-D-H/Motown songs and memories? How do you feel about their legacy?
See you next week.
*Check out “Standing In The Shadows of Motown” for further info about the Motown writers/musicians*