b/w Come On Home
(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
And talking of Motown records that don’t make a lot of sense, here’s the one and only Motown single release for Holland-Dozier – that’s “Holland-Dozier” the performing act, as opposed to “Holland-Dozier-Holland” the songwriting team. Be warned: it’s bizarre.
First, a bit of background. Although lagging well behind Edward Holland Jr. as recording artistes in terms of number of releases or commercial success, both Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier had had putative recording careers of their own before becoming full-time songwriters and producers. Brian hadn’t, as is often reported, cut a couple of sides in the late Fifties on Kudo as “Briant Holland” (that, rather confusingly, was his brother Eddie) but he had featured on a number of early Motown records as a backing vocalist (including the official first Tamla single, Come To Me by Marv Johnson); Lamont Dozier had found local success on Anna Records before cutting his one and only solo Motown single, Dearest One. Little did they realise it, but their performing careers were about to be put on hold for the best part of a decade.
Not long after they’d met each other, Brian and Lamont quickly formed a near-telepathic relationship when it came to songwriting and arranging, with very similar ideas on chords and tunes, each supposedly able to continue (or finish) the other’s work when they got stuck; by 1963, they were also in demand as producers, having cut small but not-insignificant hits on the Marvelettes (the so-so Locking Up My Heart) and Martha and the Vandellas (the magnificent Come And Get These Memories). They initially lacked a capable lyricist, but when Brian’s big brother Edward – at this point better known as recording artist Eddie Holland, with seven Motown singles and four more for United Artists already under his belt – joined the team, things really took off.
But however bright their future behind the glass would be (and it would be roughly as bright as fifty exploding suns all going off at once), and however much more lucrative the writing and producing side of the music industry was compared to performing (one reason, supposedly, why Eddie abandoned his performing career for the greater financial rewards of songwriting), both Brian and Lamont apparently still yearned to sneak out from behind the curtain and receive the public adulation that only comes from performing. After leaving Motown in the late Sixties, they’d give it another determined crack without ever quite breaking through to commercial success.
Initially, once they were free from Motown’s legal injunctions, both men would revive this, their performing double act, resulting in a string of minor hit singles on their Invictus/Hot Wax labels, the best of which remains 1972’s lovely Why Can’t We Be Lovers?. This latter record is often mistakenly credited to Lamont Dozier alone (as in that Youtube clip), not least because after Lamont fell out with the Holland brothers in 1973 and decamped, with some small success, to ABC Records (a move which had the unintended effect of hastening the demise of Hot Wax/Invictus – already undermined by poor cashflow and watched vulture-like by the greedy eyes of distributor CBS – as a relevant commercial force), Dozier’s former label tried to capitalise on his new-found recognition by reissuing all of the previously recorded Holland-Dozier material on a compilation album in 1974 entitled Love And Beauty, with the deliberately misleading subtitle The New Lamont Dozier Album plastered across the cover. (The fact that a good number of those recordings are sung by Brian Holland was apparently seen as an irrelevant detail). Love And Beauty sold poorly, but has aged very well and hangs together as an album with surprising consistency.
Once Lamont did leave the fold, both he and Brian embarked on revived solo careers. Although it falls well outside the remit of this blog, if you want my thoughts I’d say that Lamont’s Seventies solo stuff is a joy to hear, the LPs Black Bach (1974) and Peddlin’ Music On The Side (1977) being particularly worthy of attention in my opinion – check out All Cried Out from the former – but that Brian Holland simply didn’t have the voice to go with his obvious songwriting chops. Ironically, Eddie, the one member of the HDH trio who’d actually enjoyed a substantial recording career, hated performing and never took up a mic in anger again after leaving Motown.
But all that was far in the future. Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier were both just 22 and still relatively new to the game when they cut this, their one and only Motown 45. Even then, it’s a throwaway piece of novelty fluff, and it derives much of its charm from the two other legendary names printed on the label – Motown’s unsung studio heroines the Andantes, and none other than the Four Tops, the latter appearing for the first time on a Motown single.
No Motown act was ever as closely linked with the Holland-Dozier-Holland triumvirate as the Four Tops, not even the Supremes. The Supremes could get hits without HDH, because Motown found ways to get them hits, assigning them top writers, big-name producers and bottomless budgets. The Four Tops, by contrast, were utterly lost without their writer-producers, with whom they’d forged something approaching a symbiotic relationship. The Tops’ unique sound – a combination, and this can’t possibly be a coincidence, of the great harmonies of three men (Duke Fakir, Obie Benson and Lawrence Payton) and the great harmonies of three women (Jackie Hicks, Marlene Barrow and Louvain Demps, a.k.a. the Andantes), with the amazing Levi Stubbs soaring over the top of it all – was their defining attribute, done so beautifully under HDH’s guidance that not one other producer or writer ever managed to quite get the mix right again after their departure. It was HDH that first put the boys and the girls together behind Levi. And they first did it here.
Quite a lot of historical significance to be attached to this, then – which makes it all the more likely you’ll be disappointed on actually listening to it, as it’s little more than a nonsensical vaudeville sketch, the same four bars of music repeated over and over again for two minutes, with Lamont Dozier intoning an apparently ad-libbed monologue over the top of it.
Listening to Dozier’s vast and varied recorded output – from this all the way through to the Airpushers’ awe-inspiring Hold the Onions – he has quite the repertoire of silly voices in stock, and this is no exception. Playing a grizzled old semi-literate showbiz veteran whose ex-girlfriend dumped him to pursue a movie career, only to come crawling back when things went wrong, he spends the whole record “in character” doing a ridiculous accent to deliver his spoken-word narrative.
(Nowhere else on the Internet is ever going to list this, so, in a Motown Junkies first, here are the complete lyrics to What Goes Up, Must Come Down: I told ya, I told ya. What goes up must come down! Got yo’ face, you got yo’ face all over the magazines. And I see’d ya, I see’d ya all across the movie screen. And they tell me, they tell me you was hailed in Hollywood as one of the most glamorous, most beautifullest movie queens. Huh! But look at ya now. Look at ya, girl, you’re fallen, fallen, fallen. But like a fool, I’ll be there to pick you up, because my love has always been blind to your cheatin’, sneakin’ and lyin’. I guess I just didn’t wanna see the wrong you was doin’ to me. But I always had some sweet memory to remind me of what you used to be. That’s why I’m pickin’ you up, I’m takin’ you back. Don’t ya get happy yet – because before I do, you got to vow, promise and do everything to prove to me that you gonna be true, you little sweet sunflower you! I seen it, I knew it, I knowed you’d be back my way, I knew it just a matter o’ time before you say “I’m sorry darlin’, so sorry”! But I’m goin’ pick ya up, I’m taking ya back girl, because I know, I know you done learned your lesson – and you know what goes up, must come down. I said you know girl, that what goes up, it really, really got to come down!)
This baffling exercise was apparently the result of Lamont and Brian messing around in the studio, letting off steam between sessions, Holland pounding away at the piano and Dozier making up pompous-sounding nonsense over the top of it as a joke; according to the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 3, label boss Berry Gordy and “a DJ friend” happened to be walking past while this was going on, and the unknown DJ remarked that the conconction actually sounded like a possible hit single. Thus encouraged, Gordy needed no further prompting; almost before Brian or Lamont could object, they were cutting the record in the studio.
The DJ in question was wrong – this was a commercial flop of the highest order – and so despite writing literally dozens of charting records for other artists, Brian and Lamont would have to wait almost ten years to score a hit as a performing duo. The mystery, really, is why anyone thought this might have potential – I know Berry Gordy was always keen to latch on to a possible trend, but surely the chances of a sudden surge in demand for records featuring “unknown producers doing improvised Vaudeville sketches in silly voices” were too implausible even for him?
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)
You’re reading Motown Junkies, an attempt to review every Motown A- and B-side ever released. Click on the “previous” and “next” buttons below to go back and forth through the catalogue, or visit the Master Index for a full list of reviews so far.
“(The Man With The) Rock And Roll Banjo Band”
“Come On Home”
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