Making the once known known again.


H-D-H in the studio.

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*


32 comments on “Holland-Dozier-Holland

  1. Cole Rae
    July 16, 2012

    My favorite H-D-H song is “Give Me Just A Little More Time”. I love that song :-D. Close seconds are “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You” and “Baby Love”. I had no clue the name of the writing team that wrote these songs. Their catalog is AWESOME. It’s like they wrote the soundtrack for the 60’s and 70’s.

    It’s so sad that they did and have not gotten the recognition and royalties they deserved for their work. As I went through their catalog I see that there music is EVERYWHERE. I’ve been hearing it all of my life in commercials, movies and sitcoms. Not getting recognition for their achievements and not getting their fair share is ridiculous. This is continuous problem in the industry even today. While it’s not as bad as it was many artist, writers and producers get entangled in messy contracts and verbal agreements that leave them having their work literally stolen. I see this a lot especial with indie artist. It’s very sad.

    They need to get a life-time achievement award or something! Dag… Great article!

    • PopExcavators
      July 16, 2012

      They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame but that was almost 25 years ago.

  2. Trevor Honeycutt
    July 16, 2012

    I wasn’t familiar with “HDH”, but only “Motown”.

    Besides learning a more accurate account of music history (thx!), I took this as another example of man’s sinful propensity to enrich himself through harnessing & pillaging other men’s gifts. It’s a very unfortunate reality that’s seen way beyond the music industry, and in most of man’s Babylonian economic and governmental endeavors.

    • PopExcavators
      July 16, 2012

      I agree Trevor. Making others less so that we can be more is a common them in our society. It should be the other way around.

  3. Nate
    July 16, 2012

    Who first taught you to play guitar…I’m deeply offended.
    Good article, not to exclude all of the amazing studio musicians that played for Motown that have been used then forgotten

    • PopExcavators
      July 16, 2012

      Haha! Man you taught me my first chords but Dan Raphael taught me barre chords!
      I agree about the studio musicians. The fact that a lot of those guys are living paycheck to paycheck is a travesty.

  4. Auntie Jan
    July 16, 2012

    Lamont Dozier had a couple of hits in the seventies by himself. Anyone remember Fish Ain’t Bitin’ about Nixon and the economy? And Trying to hold onto My Woman? Good solo efforts

    • PopExcavators
      July 17, 2012

      I keep hearing about Fish Ain’t Biting but have never actually heard it. Going to look it up now!

  5. Nadia
    July 17, 2012

    Songwriters today have learned from the experiences of H-D-H and others who signed on with recording companies as a songswriters…maintain your right to royalties from your publishing.

    The Motown sound was new and innovative in the 60’s, It seems that the writers involved (except for Barry and Smokey) had no idea just how lucrative the industry would be.

    • PopExcavators
      July 17, 2012

      I was just reading an interview with Smokey where he said pretty much the same thing. He didn’t realize what an impact they were having. They were just making music.

      • Madison
        July 18, 2012

        I agree with Nadia that many songwriters have learned from R&B/Soul/Blue’s sordid past as far as business practices are concerned. However, I think that in this industry many are still ignorant of the ends and the outs of the business which leads to them getting scammed. There are countless songs out there right now that many of us have on our iPods that were written by people that are not getting royalties. There are a lot of Smokeys out there that are “just making music” and end up getting cheated. They will accept money upfront, sell their rights,not understanding publishing, residual pay, etc.

  6. Michele Alston
    July 18, 2012

    Yeah, it’s sad but true. It may not be going on at the same level as it was in the 50’s through the 80’s but it still happening. When ever there is a great deal of money to be made people will try to get over. Like Trevor mentioned above, it’s a human’s sinful nature to exploit. As Madison noted ignorance is the issue. People are going to try to get over you just have to be educated. Also, I agree that it is still happening. The series “Unsung” chronicles the stories of artist from the 60’s through the 90’s. Artist have stories like this in every decade.

  7. Michele Alston
    July 18, 2012

    I have never heard of H-D-H. “Give Me Just A Little More Time” is in heavy rotation right now on a national tv ad campaign. I never even thought twice about who wrote the song. I hear it almost every day. It’s ashamed that they got screwed over.

    As for Berry. He seems to be a character and a half. Good ole Berry. You know that it is said that the character “Big Red” in the “The Five Heartbeats” is based in part on Mr. Gordy. More than one person has written books painting him as an evil, ex-pimp that cheats and scams anything with a pulse. His response to all of this is

    “I’ve been in business for 35 years.. “When you cheat people, they don’t stay with you. They don’t sign up with you over and over again. All I’m saying is that I can only tell you that . . . truth is the most powerful weapon you have. People have to make their own judgments. . . . A man who is a crook couldn’t have built Motown. A man who cheated people couldn’t have built Motown.” – Gordy

    I don’t know, it seems to me that all evidence points towards Gordy not being honest in his business practices. What do you guys think? In this case with H-D-H it seems obvious.

  8. Sierra
    July 18, 2012

    It has always been so interesting to me how music works. We listen to songs over and over and over again. They are catalyst for healing, bring joy, happiness, relief, entertainment, life. We attach them to our memories. They are in essence the soundtrack to our lives BUT we rarely know or care about all the crap that took or takes place between the time the song is conceived to it getting to us. A song may point us back to God, be the tool that saves a marriage but the sacrifice, struggles, pain and lives of those who bring the music to us rarely are of consequence until it becomes a public spectacle or they are found dead with a needle in their arm on a bathroom floor. Thanks PopE for bringing artist to the forefront in a way that wouldn’t sell gossip magazines but actually respects the artist and the art.

    • PopExcavators
      July 18, 2012

      Beautifully put. That’s what we’re all about. Thank you.

  9. Candice
    July 18, 2012

    Never heard of them but I love their stuff. Interesting story. I hope one day they get the recognition and money they deserve. Are they still writing?

    • PopExcavators
      July 18, 2012

      The latest H-D-H project that I know of is the score of a musical a couple years ago.

  10. PopExcavators
    July 18, 2012

    I agree Madison! Sometimes people are so hungry for the fame that they will do whatever and sign whatever just to see their name in lights. Not that this was the case was H-D-H… regardless, these things shouldn’t still be happening today. We need to learn from those who learned before us!

  11. Chad
    July 18, 2012

    Being from Detroit and know their descendants, I know all about them. However, you are correct; they do not get the recognition they deserve!

  12. T.E.M.
    July 18, 2012

    I incorporated the song “Stop in The Name of Love” into the Red Light Green Light game on the kindergarten playground in 1965 – Dude! Recall the Holland-Dozier-Holland names printed on stacks of 45s piled in the RCA console getting warm from the heat of the vacuum tubes – couldn’t afford solid state! Thanks for the memories!

    • PopExcavators
      July 20, 2012

      Haha man thanks for sharing! Great visuals. Music really is the soundtrack of our lives.

  13. Levi
    July 19, 2012

    It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ve always like “Standing in the Shadows of Love” performed by The Four Tops.

    It makes me wonder how many other songs/artists I like simply because of the work done behind the scenes. I might think I like 6 different performers and not know I really just like this one writer. Sierra really sums it up. I imagine you’ll add more content like this in the future. I wonder if H-D-H feels like a proud parent? Do you know a modern writer’s feeling towards being the behind the scenes unrecognized source of such influence?

    • PopExcavators
      July 20, 2012

      “Standing in the Shadows of Love” is one of my favs too.

      The majority of today’s pop music is written by the same 3 or 4 writing/production teams. My fav mainstream pop writer right now is Dr. Luke. Similarly to H-D-H, he’s written a ton of number one singles but a lot of people don’t know who he is. Difference is Dr. Luke is a gabazillionaire. I read an interview with him and he said he loves being behind the scenes and doesn’t mind being “unknown” to the average pop music consumer. I’m sure his piles of money comfort him, haha.

  14. TriLamJae
    July 19, 2012

    I knew about H-D-H. They’ve got so many great songs, it’s really hard to pick just one. Jimmy Mack, I’ll Be There, Bernadette, Keep Me Hanging on, I think I could list dope songs by them for days. Motown was a perfect storm of creativity, that just exploded on this black and white world and saturated it with the colors of Detroit. I’m glad you chose to excavate them, it gave me a great excuse to excavate my music collection.

    • PopExcavators
      July 20, 2012

      Thanks for rekindling your relationship with PopExcavators. Detroit has such a bad reputation now. It breaks my heart to think about how it was such a powerful force in the 60’s and now people think no good comes from there.

  15. Brea Dawn (@i_am_Brea)
    July 19, 2012

    Of course, I am familiar with Motown, but had no idea who H-D-H was! Just looked them up, and saw they had a hit as late as 1990 with Rod Stewart and Ron Isley. Also read they had to sue Aerosmith in 1989, won and Aerosmith eventually agreed to add them to their album liner notes. Wow. Seems they had to fight for the majority of their careers for their due share/recognition. Pretty neat they are now being recognized in 2012. Go PopExcavators!

  16. PopExcavators
    July 20, 2012

    That’s a great observation. We need to learn from their example so that we don’t have to go through the same things. Thanks for commenting Brea.

  17. Bernadette Davis
    July 21, 2012

    Well said. H-D-H is indeed one of the greatest songwriting teams of all time. Their feel good songs provided the soundtrack to my life in real time. Through their songs’ timelessness, they will continue to do the same for generations.

  18. Linda Fowlkes
    July 22, 2012

    There are too many H-D-H songs for me to list as favorites. I agree that they, as well as many of the talented musicians, did not get their share of recognition and riches.

  19. Angelo Williams
    June 26, 2013

    I enjoyed this read but at the same time it truly hurt my heart, I grew up listening, danceing, and loving the motown sound, i even wanted to go there as many young singers during that period did, No! berry gordy didn’t build motown, David and Eddie, Paul and Florence, Marvin and tammi, Martha, Mary and Cindy and countless others who were cheated and used did by a man we are suppose to give praise and respect to? i dont think so, and on top of all that he’s got the nerve to put on a musical still making money off the people he cheated, some who couldn’t even afford to be buried or who was homeless out of the many millions and millions they earned with their talent, all i can say is if you ever want to see a rat that shaves look at him he is truly a rat bastard.

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This entry was posted on July 16, 2012 by in Phonograph and tagged , , , .
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