six of Lamont Dozier’s best songs

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Martha and the Vandellas – Heatwave (1963)

The intensity of Heatwave never ages, and the message of love as an inevitable mixture of pain and ecstasy would be repeated on many of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s greatest recordings. It proved too raw for British ears in 1963, although the Who covered it early on. The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian thought it was so good that he simply played the backing track at double speed and came up with his own classic, Do You Believe In Magic?

The Four Tops – Reach Out I’ll Be There (1966)

More popular in the UK than the US, where the Temptations were always Motown’s premier male group, the Four Tops cut HDH’s most groundbreaking material. After the galloping hooves and piccolos of the intro, singer Levi Stubbs let fly with a vocal that mixed Bob Dylan and black pride. The edgy minor chords never let up, which makes its joy all the stronger. It was an instant classic, and transatlantic No.1.

R Dean Taylor – There’s a Ghost in My House (1967)

The self-mythologizing northern soul scene tended to ignore some of its most popular spins – like this – once they hit the ground running. Motown, and especially HDH, effectively created not only the sound, but also some of the rarest singles. White singer R Dean Taylor’s sinister top three hit from 1974, driven by a dark fuzz bass line, had initially been a 1967 flop that didn’t make it past the proof pressing stage. That speaks volumes for HDH’s productivity – it’s hard to believe that no one at Motown thought this was a hit. “Sitting in my loveseat, I feel your fingers running through my hair” was perhaps the most uncomfortable lyric they ever wrote.

Diana Ross and the Supremes – Reflections (1967)

Loneliness (the Vandellas’ In My Lonely Room, Marvin Gaye’s Lonely Lover) was the key to many of Dozier’s most bruising songs. Here it spills over into paranoia. The Supremes had always received HDH’s A-grade material – too many classics to list here – but when they incorporated psychedelia into their palette in 1967, they drew on this frighteningly powerful performance from Diana Ross. Backed by eerie electronic swoops, Morse code beeps and dark, unexpected chords, Reflections was also the first Supremes single to give Ross star billing, unwittingly marking the end of the label’s freewheeling golden age.

Foreman of the board – Just give me a little more time (1970)

After falling out with Motown, HDH had to work under pseudonyms on their newly formed Invictus label, where Freda Payne’s Band of Gold gave them their biggest ever UK hit. The mighty “General” Norman Johnson was the singer with COTB, and a new, Levi Stubbs-like cipher for the team, with an urgent, pleading voice that never sounded less than tearful. Give Me Just a Little More Time’s hook was enough for Kevin Rowland to build a career and a philosophy around.

Left to right, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland.

Left to right, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland. Photo: Lester Cohen/Getty Images

Lamont Dozier – Going Back to my roots (1977)

His solo career may never have come close to replicating his success as a songwriter, but it’s full of lesser-known gems like the slow-burning track of Fish Ain’t Bitin’ and the original proto-house recording of Going Back to My Roots , which would become a club standard in the hands of Odyssey in 1981. It’s an exuberant anthem for awareness, and “zipping up my boots” was an opening line to match all his 60s classics.

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