It was during the 1960s that two brothers, Brian and Eddie Holland, and their friend Lamont Dozier formed a songwriting and production alliance. The trio wrote, arranged and produced a number of songs that helped define the Motown sound of the era, shaping the ‘sound of Young America’. Their work endures in hits for the Supremes, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Martha and The Vandellas, and more!
There were a lot of independent labels looking for a slice of the soul music market in the late-’50s and early-’60s. In Detroit, the competition was fierce, however Motown Records’ savvy founder Berry Gordy managed to secure a great roster of artists and musicians, and the best writers and producers, turning it into a hub of musical activity and outshining all the other labels.
Gordy first met Smoky Robinson in 1957, and while Robinson has become one of the best known songwriters from the Motown stable, the kings of the lot are Holland-Dozier-Holland. They were something of a well-oiled machine with Dozier and Brian Holland coming up with the melodies and arrangements while Eddie had control of the lyrics. However, had it not been for Gordy it is unlikely that this trio would have had such success in music.
Older brother Eddie had already experienced the hardship of the industry when he recorded a handful of singles (most of which were flops). His biggest hit was ‘Jamie’, which entered the Billboard top 30 in 1961. He was introduced to Gordy and was brought into the Motown fold for demo work. Brian also tried his hand as a solo singer, but his real talent was as a musician. Eddie brings his musically minded brother into the Berry Gordy circle and Brian begins working with another Motown recruit, Robert Batemen. Together Brian and Bateman write and produce several hits, including the number one hit ‘Playboy’ and ‘Please Mr Postman’ for the Marvelettes, who were the label’s premier girl group at the time.
Dozier had a gift for melody, but he’d only recorded for small Detroit labels and that always led to a dead end. Good timing saw Motown open the doors to Lamont Dozier just as Robert Batemen was walking out and Dozier teams with Brian Holland. When Eddie suggested to the pair that they would be more prolific with him, the trio was born. The first Holland-Dozier-Holland collaboration is ‘Dearest One’, which was released in 1962.
Their first big hit together was ‘Come and Get These Memories’ for Martha and the Vandellas in early-’63, and it was to be the first of many for the group with ‘Heatwave’, ‘Nowhere To Run’ and ‘Jimmy Mack’ all making their mark on the charts. Holland-Dozier-Holland also wrote the hit ‘Mickey’s Monkey’ for the Miracles, and they brought Marvin Gaye out of his crooner comfort zone with songs like ‘Can I Get A Witness?’ and ‘Baby Don’t You Do It’.
When Gordy’s confidence in them was at its peak, he presented them with his greatest challenge — the Supremes. To turn the group into a hit, Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote the worldwide number one ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ in 1964. It was the first of five consecutive chart toppers for the group, which include ‘Baby Love’, ‘Come See About Me’, ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’ and ‘Back In My Arms Again’.
Over the next three years the songwriting and production trio cut three more number one triumphs for the Supremes (‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’, ‘Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone’), but they’ve also sustained that momentum with hits for Marvin Gaye, Martha and The Vandellas and the Four Tops.
As they say, all good things come to an end, and in 1967 the team’s relationship with Motown soured. Their demands for a fair share of the company’s profit saw them butt heads with Berry Gordy and lawsuits followed. They eventually formed their own record labels, Invictus and Hot Wax, which had hits for Freda Payne (‘Band of Gold’) and Chairmen of the Board (‘Give Me Just A Little More Time’), but in 1973 both labels would fall.
Dozier eventually went out on his own and found success as a singer-songwriter for ABC, Warner and Atlantic labels, while the Holland brothers went back to Motown and produced hits for Michael Jackson, the Supremes, and others.
In 1988, Holland-Dozier-Holland were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame two years later. In 2009, they received the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame, while in 2015, they were recognised with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
‘Heat Wave’, Martha and The Vandellas (1963)
‘Where Did Our Love Go’, The Supremes (1964)
‘Baby Love’, The Surpemes (1964)
‘Come See About Me’, The Supremes (1964)
‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’, The Supremes (1965)
‘Back In My Arms Again’, The Supremes (1965)
‘I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch), The Four Tops (1965)
‘I Hear A Symphony’, The Supremes (1965)
‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, The Supremes (1966)
‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’, The Four Tops (1966)
‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’, The Supremes (1966)
‘Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone’, The Supremes (1967)
‘Jimmy Mack’, Martha and The Vandellas (1967)
‘The Happening’, The Supremes (1967)
‘Band of Gold’, Freda Payne (1970)