When someone writes as many perfect songs as Lamont Dozier in such a short time, others are tempted to compare the work to that of a machine, a robot, or an industrial plant.
How else to understand the ability to sing tunes like “Heat Wave”, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)”, “Stop! In the Name of Love”, “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” and “Standing in the Shadows of Love” – songs that capture the sound of Motown Records and, more broadly, young America, as the slogan of the Labels aptly defined Let’s say it – over the course of less than half a decade?
Even Dozier himself, who died Monday at the age of 81, reached for the comparison: Regarding the songwriting and production team he formed with brothers Brian and Eddie Holland at Motown, Dozier wrote in his 2019 memoir: ” We thought of HDH as a factory within a factory.”
But even if their pace of assembly reflected a technician’s know-how — not to mention a belief in the efficiency of interchangeable parts — their music always beat with a human heart. Holland-Dozier-Holland channeled blossoming ecstasy and piercing anguish in their work for Martha and the Vandellas, the Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye and most notably the Supremes, for whom they have written and produced no fewer than 10 No. 1 hits of youth romance; They also conjured up the thrill of young sex at a time when its pleasures needed to be rendered in coded form.
Think of the Four Tops’ “Bernadette,” which peaked at #4 on the Hot 100, in large part due to the bleakness in Levi Stubbs’ heartbroken vocal performance. But what a text message Dozier and the Hollands gave him. “Bernadette, they want you for the pride that gives,” Stubbs wails over his mistress’s other suitors as the song’s descending bass line chases him down a hole, “But Bernadette, I want you because I need you to live.”
This guy isn’t just horny and heartbroken – he’s engaged in an epic moral battle in which his only hope of victory is that the purity of his feelings counts.
It could also be said that Dozier was not really a machine: not everything he created did what it was designed to do. Despite scoring dozens of indelible Top 40 singles throughout his life, Dozier leaves behind a rich catalog of less commercially successful songs, some composed by the HDH team when it was at its peak, others by Dozier and other collaborators in followed in the decades that followed. Since you already know all the classics, here are seven underrated gems worth revisiting or discovering for the first time.
1. Lamont Anthony, “Popeye” (1960)
Sung by Dozier himself (under a stage name) before he joined the Hollands, this edgy funk tune pits beautifully unashamed lyrics – “Just when I think he was been done / He pull out a can of spinach” – against the scrub Guitar, rollicking piano and a driving beat pounded by pre-star Marvin Gaye. When the owners of the comic strip “Popeye the Sailor Man” threatened to sue, Dozier re-edited the song as “Benny the Skinny Man”.
2. The Marvelettes, Lock Up My Heart (1963)
One of HD-H’s earliest singles to chart the Hot 100 (albeit a low number 44), “Locking Up My Heart” demonstrates the songwriting trio’s talent for combining emotional misery with musical exuberance: ” Hello loneliness, goodbye love.” the Marvelettes sing with gleeful resignation, “I’m tired of being abused and abused.” Great saxophone solo too.
3. The Supremes, “Run, Run, Run” (1964)
In a chatty YouTube video posted just days before her death last year, the Supremes’ Mary Wilson admitted that she and her bandmates thought this up-tempo, scrappy pop-soul song about a man with two faces was ” would be a hit, but it wasn’t.” Today it sounds like a hidden reference to the Go-Go’s and the Bangles.
4. Freda Payne, Unhooked Generation (1969)
HDH left the Motown group in 1967 amid a dispute over money, and then formed their own labels, Invictus and Hot Wax, with which they scored hits including Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold” and The Chairmen’s “Give Me Just a Little More Time.” of the board. This lunatic Payne jam — credited like many other Invictus titles to Edythe Wayne to bypass Motown’s legal department — has nothing to do with “Band of Gold” business, but it does have days of bragging rights.
5. Dionne Warwick, You’re Gonna Need Me (1973)
Warwick designed HDH after her split from Burt Bacharach and Hal David; The partnership was short-lived, but spawned that slightly psychedelic groove that J Dilla later sampled on his beloved Donuts album.
6. Lamont Dozier, Back to My Roots (1977)
Any good pop songwriter knows the value of flexibility, which is why, after a few years of struggling to revive his solo singing career, Dozier transitioned into (or close to) disco. His ultra-whooping vocal performance here is a fascinating contrast to the track’s lush strings-and-horns arrangement – and perhaps explains why the song faltered in the year of “Dancing Queen” and “I Just Want to Be Your Everything.”
7. Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle, “Without You” (1987)
Dozier made it back to the top of the Hot 100 in 1989 with “Two Hearts,” his and Phil Collins’ cool piece of Motown cosplay from the movie “Buster”—and earned an Oscar nomination. (Don’t forget that Collins covered HD-H’s 1982 Supremes hit “You Can’t Hebrew Love” almost note for note.) But by this point, Dozier was already in the movie business, having written this luscious R&B -Ballad for the sad Bill Cosby vehicle “Leonard Part 6”. Forget the movie; enjoy the song.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2022-08-09/lamont-dozier-motown-songwriter-underappreciated-songs 7 great Lamont Dozier songs you don’t already know by heart