As it happens, both groups enjoyed their first substantial US hits a year earlier, Martha & the Vandellas with ‘Heat Wave’ and the Supremes with ‘When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes.’ These gut-busting ’63 sides were early evidence of the talents of another young threesome, who were to become the most celebrated acronym in pop music history: HDH.
Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland went on to write, produce and bulls-eye many of Martha & the Vandellas’ signature hits, including ‘Nowhere To Run,’ ‘I’m Ready For Love’ and ‘Jimmy Mack.’ As for ‘Dancing In The Street,’ it was the creation of two leading men in Ms. Reeves’ life story, William “Mickey” Stevenson and Marvin Gaye (Ivy Jo Hunter was its third writer).
Adding to Martha’s mythology is the fact that the song was a UK Top 10 success for her group more than four years after its first release. It was also a transatlantic smash in 1985 when repurposed by two leading men of rock ‘n’ roll, Mick Jagger and David Bowie. And in 2011, ‘Dancing in The Street’ topped a poll of songs which Britons said they would choose for street parties to celebrate the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
But let’s be clear: beyond this anthem, Martha & the Vandellas boast an enviable inventory across the years and the group’s various line-ups. ‘Third Finger, Left Hand,’ for instance, was the 1967 flipside of ‘Jimmy Mack,’ but it’s since been played at more weddings than any performing-right society could account for.
‘I Should Be Proud,’ from the group’s 1970 album, Natural Resources, is a provocative reminder of emotions felt by every partner, parent or offspring of a soldier fighting in a contentious conflict. “It was,” Martha explained in her 1994 autobiography, “a song with a strong anti-Vietnam War message, a narrative…about a soldier coming home in a pine box while the girl singing the song questions the sense of it all.” She contends that she was the first Motown artist to record such a protest.
And on 1972’s Black Magic, the last studio album by Martha & the Vandellas, there is ‘No One There,’ vividly and timelessly capturing the paranoia and loneliness of lost love. When she was given demos for Black Magic, Martha said that most of the tape cases had Diana Ross’s name on them. “She evidently didn’t like the songs, but I did.”
“HDH had worked up some new tunes, including ‘Where Did Our Love Go,’ ‘Come See About Me’ and ‘Baby Love,’ but we were quite upset when we heard them…we wanted to do something soulful, something with spirit, like the songs Martha Reeves was doing.” – Mary Wilson, The Supremes
Martha Reeves was born in 1941 in Eufala, Alabama; her parents later moved to Detroit. As a teenage would-be singer, she joined a group, the Del-Phis, performing in and around the metropolis. Success in a talent contest drew her to the attention of Mickey Stevenson, head of A&R at Motown. His business card in her pocket, she dropped by its HQ on West Grand Boulevard—on the wrong day for an audition. Preoccupied, Stevenson asked Martha to cover the office while he stepped away. Proving her value that day by handling phone calls and grumpy musicians looking to be paid, she was offered a fulltime job as A&R secretary.
Another day, while responsible for booking recording sessions, Martha called her fellow Del-Phis (Rosalind Ashford, Annette Beard, Gloria Jean Williamson) to do back-up vocals on a Marvin Gaye track produced by Stevenson: ‘Stubborn Kinda Fellow.’ This led to the offer of a Motown contract for the group, although Williamson left. Martha, Annette and Rosalind signed up, stitching together the name Vandellas from Reeves’ admiration of Della Reese and the name of her parents’ street, Van Dyke.
Come And Get These Memories was the group’s debut LP for Gordy Records in 1963, with soulful covers of non-Motown hits and several new HDH copyrights. One of them, ‘A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Every Day,’ was memorable enough that it was sound-walled by ace producer Phil Spector several years later for Ike & Tina Turner.
But it was ‘Heat Wave’ which really burned Martha & the Vandellas into America’s hearts and charts, pacing the trio alongside the Marvelettes and the Supremes as Motown’s distaff cheerleaders. “It was a beehive of talented people making wonderful music,” Martha told the Financial Times in 2009, when she was a Detroit city councilwoman.
‘Heat Wave’ and its accompanying album was followed a year later by ‘Dancing In The Street.’ Barriers were broken down by the song, Martha has said, and when race riots hit America, it took on an extra resonance. “I’m sure our intention with ‘Dancing In The Street’ was to calm people and have them stop rioting and looting stores. It’s all about people coming together. The lyrics say just that.”
Martha & the Vandellas consolidated their popularity by touring the US as part of the multi-artist Motown Revue, and gaining international recognition. When ‘Nowhere To Run’ was released, the group joined the one-and-only Tamla package tour of the UK; there, Martha became a devoted friend of Dusty Springfield. An early and influential Motown admirer, Dusty hosted a TV special built around the ’65 roadshow, and also featured versions of the company’s hits in concert and on her BBC-TV series.
She wasn’t the only one validating the Vandellas’ work. Aside from the Jagger/Bowie fusion, there have been ‘Dancing In The Street’ remakes by artists ranging from the Everly Brothers and Neil Diamond to Petula Clark and the Grateful Dead. The Who and the Jam have each rendered ‘Heat Wave,’ while a laid-back California interpretation by Linda Ronstadt in 1975 was a Top 5 US success. Laura Nyro, paying tribute to early R&B influences on her 1971 Gonna Take A Miracle album, sang ‘Nowhere To Run’ and ‘Jimmy Mack.’ More recently, Jennifer Hudson featured ‘Heat Wave’ on “American Idol.”
Martha & the Vandellas’ original of ‘Jimmy Mack’ was recorded in 1964, a little earlier than ‘Dancing In The Street,’ but consigned to the shelf by Motown’s quality control head, Billie Jean Brown. “I don’t know whether [Brown] didn’t like the song,” Lamont Dozier later recalled, “or whether she just didn’t feel it was worth anything.”
Two years later, ‘Jimmy Mack’ was dusted off for the group’s Watchout! LP, where it caught the ear of radio programmers in Boston and Cleveland. The result was an American No. 1 R&B smash and a Top 10 pop hit. Lamont said he was gratified because the song was “my inspiration and my original idea,” written after he met the mother of another successful writer, Ronnie Mack, who had died.
There were other Vandellas alongside Martha during the glory years, including her sister Lois, Betty Kelly and the late Sandra Tilley. Betty replaced Annette Beard (Sterling), Lois succeeded Betty, and Sandra replaced Rosalind, while Martha’s distinctive lead vocals remained the centrepiece of such albums as Dance Party (1965), Live! (1967), Ridin’ High (1968) and Sugar ’n’ Spice (1969).
Recording a live album at Detroit’s Twenty Grand nightspot (some of it was also cut at the Roostertail club) would have been sweet for Martha. It was there that she first met her “knight in shining armour,” Mickey Stevenson, after performing a two-song set which was her talent contest prize in October 1961. She remembered “a nice response” from the audience.
A larger crowd responded to Martha on November 8, 2005, when she received more than 89,000 votes in her drive to become a Detroit city councilwoman. During her four-year tenure, she worked hard on behalf of the city’s deprived young, especially in education. Typical was her intervention in a high school dispute where Arab-American and African-American children were fighting. Conflict apparently continues, even as radio stations worldwide still play ‘Dancing In The Street.’
Martha continues to perform, too, regularly playing shows at home and abroad. “People have asked me when I’m going to retire and I just can’t imagine it,” she (at age 70) told a Yorkshire newspaper before appearing at a club there. “There’s no part of me that can imagine retiring. Music is what I love to do and I love honouring the Motown legend.”
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For the first time ever, on the occasion of the group’s 50th anniversary of their first hit, every single from Martha Reeves & the Vandellas is now in one package—the 3-CD box set 50th Anniversary: The Singles Collection 1962-1972, featuring all A- and B- sides, and much, much more.
Featured among the set’s 82 tracks are the group’s 10 top ten Pop and R&B hits, including the everlasting “Come And Get These Memories,” “Dancing In The Street,” “Heat Wave” and “Nowhere To Run”; also included are the Vandellas’ Spanish language versions of “I’m Ready For Love” and “Jimmy Mack.” Martha Reeves first arrived at Motown to audition; she ended up becoming the company’s first A&R secretary, and then a star, when she filled in to sing at a session and brought her background singers along. Along with the Miracles and the Marvelettes, she and the Vandellas were Motown trailblazers, who helped develop what was to soon become the world-famous “Motown Sound.”
In addition to the group’s singles, this collection has an incredible bonus: a full disc of 27 unreleased tracks from the legendary Motown vault. It’s a big sampling of lost treasures Motown fans will devour, produced by some of Motown’s greatest creative forces, including Berry Gordy, Mickey Stevenson, Stevie Wonder, Ashford & Simpson and, before his days leading The Corporation, Deke Richards. Mr. Richards mixed exclusively for the set the 6 songs he produced, including an extraordinary find: the original take of “I Can’t Dance To That Music You’re Playin’,” a single that ended up featuring Syreeta Wright in the chorus. While the set includes the original single, Richards’ new mix restores Martha Reeves’ chorus vocal and this discovery is a part of the “Lost & Found” tracks on Disc 3. Audio engineer Obie O’Brien mixed the rest of the unreleased material, working on vintage gear in Jon Bon Jovi’s Sanctuary Studio. Another bonus: O’Brien’s first-ever stereo single mix of “Jimmy Mack.”
Martha Reeves & The Vandellas: 50th Anniversary: The Singles Collection 1962-1972 is housed in a hardcover book format filled with detailed information about each single, reproductions of spectacular-looking picture sleeves from around the world, and classic and rare photos of Motown’s first true superstar group.
Martha Reeves started her career with Motown as an assistant in the A&R department and as the story goes when some background vocalists were needed quickly for a session she seized the moment and made herself available. They loved her and the rest as they say is history. This 2CD anthology is a chronological view of the career of Martha Reeves and has unearthed a number of gems from the vaults.
They include two early Stevie Wonder compositions - 'Talking Bout Love' and 'Let Me Fall In Love With You' plus two from Smokey Robinson 'That's How Bad' and the ballad 'You Neglect Me'. Holland, Dozier and Holland were of course well to the fore and contributed their songwriting talents with 'All That Glitters Isn't Gold' and 'If You Don't Want My Love'. Spellbound is a fine representation of one of Motown's most influential and popular legends.
Released in 2009 this 18 track compilation contains many of the most popular tracks from this gritty gospel influenced Motown group. 'Come And Get These Memories', 'Nowhere To Run', 'Heatwave', Quicksand' and the classic 'Dancing In The Street' provide the backbone to this worthy and well compiled collection.
This extremely popular collection released in 2008 contains many of the hits but also some great rarities.
The B - side of 'My Baby Loves Me' - 'Never Leave Your Baby's Side' was covered by the British Tony Jackson Group. Also here is the B- side of 'Jimmy Mack' - 'Third Finger Left Hand'. So all in all with the addition of the timeless 'Dancing In The Street','Nowhere To Run' and twelve other great tracks' the Tamla Motown Collection is a strong compilation.
Love' This was one of the last albums to feature the songs of Holland Dozier and Holland who were to soon leave Motown. The title of the album 'Watchout' was derived from a song featured on the flip side of the hit single 'My Baby Loves Me' entitled 'Never Leave Your Baby's side' (never released on an album). That song featured a chorus which warned girls to Watchout!' for other girls who could steal your man.
This eleven track compilation includes two of their best known hits, the astounding, 'Jimmy Mack' and '(Love is like a) Heat Wave', that were a staple of 1960s AM radio in America and pirate radio in Britain. As with everything that Motown did it sounds as fresh today as the day it was recorded. The remaining tracks are the pick of their album tracks and b-sides.
This collection contains the majority of their hits recorded in the 60s for Motown. Among the 17 Tracks are radio classics 'Come and Get These Memories', 'Dancing In The Street', 'Nowhere To Run','Jimmy Mack' and 'Heatwave'
Martha Reeves and The Vandellas certainly helped mould the Motown sound with many of their hits and this 42 Track Gold selection is one of the best and thorough collections of their work. Gold works its way through their career chronologically but with one of their finest tracks 'Heatwave' as the third track it gets off and running quickly. All of the other biggest hits are here and the glorious b-side, There He Is (At My The Door) of the smash hit 'Dancing In The Street.' It also includes a selection of Martha's solo work in the seventies including a great cover of Van Morrison's 'Wild Night' which helps make this a 'must have' compilation for anyone interested in discovering this marvellous group.
Released in 1998 this 25 Track compilation was totally remastered from the original recordings. It includes their first hit 'Come And Get These Memories', 'I'm Ready For Love' which in fact was turned down by Diana Ross and the fabulous ballad 'A Love Like Yours'. The voice of Martha Reeves has been compared to Ross but in many peoples opinion she had more overall appeal and this is nowhere more noticeable than on 'Nowhere To Run'.
Generally regarded as musically equal, if not better than The Supremes - certainly with some of their recorded material - Martha Reeves And The Vandellas were one of the finest Motown girl groups. They better captured the sprit of Detroit than many of their contemporaries. The infectious 'Jimmy Mack,' Nowhere To Run' an irresistible dance hit and the Marvin Gaye written classic 'Dancing In The Street' are all included on this 17 Track release from Universal in 2005 and part of their Masters series.