This new book tells you all you need to know about the impact and influence of brothers Eric and Brian Holland and their partner in music Lamont Dozier. From their early days working with Berry Gordy and the Tamla Motown label, through to their later careers both together and solo, it is a fascinating insight into the world of soul music.
With Love Factory Howard Priestley has written a book that is a real labour of love. As an artist, he has worked as an illustrator for fanzines and Marvel Comics’ graphic novels. He has also designed artwork for CDs and compilations for some of the artists mentioned in this book, including Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, Harrison Kennedy and Ruth Copeland. His artwork illustrates this publication, replacing photos of the artists mentioned.
This is a book written by a fan of the music, for fans. I’m lucky. For much of the book, I could picture the artists who make up the complicated story and I could hear the songs in my head. For those who are unfamiliar with early Motown recordings and later Northern Soul discoveries, it would make sense to look at the final sections of the book first. There you will find a list of recordings by Brian Holland, Eric Holland and Lamont Dozier from the fifties and early sixties, before they became the powerful songwriting and production team that gave Motown its distinctive sound and success.
There’s also an exhaustive list of their songs and collaborations in the A – Z section that covers the years 1959 -1977, which runs to 33 pages! Alan Warner has then collaborated with Howard Priestley to create a list of artists who have covered their best known songs. If you aren’t familiar with their songwriting credits you will be sure to recognise the hits.
I particularly enjoyed the short opening piece based on lines from songs I knew and loved in my teenage years, including Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, Put Yourself in My Place, Reach Out and Nowhere to Run. This reads as a reference book rather than a narrative. Along the way, we learn about the slow beginnings of the Motown label and sound, based in Detroit, the Motor City. Within a few years, it was to have huge success in the UK, introducing new audiences to this type of soul music. Priestley describes the ‘revolving door ‘of musicians, singers and artists, all creating and moving between different small independent record labels. There were rivalries and power struggles. There were recordings and songs that were not credited to the people who wrote or recorded them for a range of reasons, including contractual. It was a fiercely competitive environment with potentially huge rewards and harsh disappointments. Eventually, Holland Dozier Holland left Berry Gordy’s Tamla Motown label and set up their own, Hot Wax and Invictus. Here they found themselves playing the same music business games as Gordy had done, sometimes not giving artists and writers the recognition and financial reward they deserved. As the Motown sound took over pop music, with the Supremes, the Temptations, The Four Tops and Marvin Gaye leading the way, other record companies were keen to emulate the sound. At one point Gordy issued fines to musicians contracted to Motown for moonlighting on sessions for other artists.
1967 was a pivotal year. On the back of his commercial success, Berry Gordy hoped to move into films and set up offices in Los Angeles. In July major riots in Detroit broke the city and left a lasting and negative legacy. Holland Dozier Holland and Gordy sued and countersued each other in 1968 and Motown’s monopoly was broken. In the decades that followed there were hits and misses. Dave Godin who had started the British Tamla Motown Appreciation Society gets more than one mention, and the rise of Northern Soul meant that some artists and their recordings became important and sought after collectors’ items. I was intrigued to learn that Nowhere To Run, a hit for Martha and the Vandellas, had been written in response to seeing the army tanks come rolling in during the Detroit riots.
As the sixties became the seventies, many soul singers became more thoughtful of the environment and politics of the day, including the anti Vietnam war movement. Chess in Chicago became a rival, as did the Philadelphia sound of Leon Huff and Kenny Gamble. Eventually, the Holland brothers and Lamont Dozier rejoined Motown on separate projects. In the 1980s Lamont Dozier moved to the UK with his family and worked with Alison Moyet, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Simply Red. I had tickets to see him talk in Manchester in 2019. Ill health meant a rescheduled date and then the pandemic hit and the event was cancelled. It would have been fascinating to hear him talk about his career and time as Holland Dozier Holland, for as Priestly says: it was their creativity that would form, re-form and, eventually, dissolve the sound of Motown.
The book can be purchased at all good booksellers, Waterstones, Smiths, Amazon or New Haven LTD direct.
All words by Nicky Crewe. More writing by Nicky on Louder Than War can be found at her author’s archive