Monday, December 31, 2007

Heat Wave, Martha and the Vandellas (1963)

It's not so much irony as justice that, on the first Motown song I'm selecting, the first 29 seconds featured neither Martha nor the Vandellas, but rather the funky-fabulous backbeat and stylings of the then-uncredited Motown house band we only now know to be the Funk Brothers. Just try to remain inert in the face of drummer "Pistol" Allen's four on the floor drum rhythms. (See Allen's obituary in the Independent for some priceless background on him and life as a session musician under Berry Gordy.) It can't be done!

Any Motown enthusiast who hasn't seen the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown is missing a real treat; it's a labor of love by writer Allan Slutsky and director Paul Justman, who dedicated themselves to telling the story of "this unheralded group of musicians (who) had played on more number one hits than the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles combined - which makes them the greatest hit machine in the history of popular music."

Heat Wave was one of the first Motown songs to chart big, and deservedly so. Martha Reeves had worked for peanuts as a secretary at Motown hoping for the day when she could bust out into the limelight with her gritty, ebullient take on life and love. Far less sugar-coated and more soulful than most of the other girl groups, Martha and the Vandellas put all the cards on the table: "is this the way love's supposed to be ... it's like a heatwave burning in my heart ... can't keep from crying ... it's tearing me apart."

According to Gerri Hirshey's seminal history of soul music, "Nowhere to Run," the entire Heat Wave album was cut in a few hours. Says Reeves, "We flew in from Baltimore after doing five shows. We got in around midnight and went right into the studio. Recorded that whole album, then did three songs, backup, for Marvin Gaye. We all had to get shots for our throats because they were suffering from overuse. Understand, I'm not complaining. If I were that age, and the circumstances were the same, I'd gladly do it again. You know how it is. You do stupid, dangerous things when you're really in love. And if you're swept away by it, you don't stop for one minute to think. You say, 'Go get it, girl,' and you don't look back."

1 comment:

BarryF said...

Wendy -- I'm really enjoying this blog. I jumped from Rex's first paragraph straight to here. Having read this, I would like to share some info...but can't find how to email you. Let me know how if you like. Thanks.

BarryF (Djibouti) / Karmasartre / Myron Poindexter and points west