cream of the crate #25 : rainbow generator – dance of the spheres
cream of the crate #26 – martha and the vandellas – greatest hits
[CLICK to enlarge]

 

 This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

"Driven by Martha Reeves' soulful, brassy lead vocals, the Vandellas became Motown's earthier, more aggressive "girl group" alternative to the Supremes." - [Rolling Stone]

This is number twenty six in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of vinyl albums in my personal collection.

The series is called, “Cream of The Crate”, and they represent vinyl albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because their is something unique about the group or the music.

Yet again I choose from the hundreds of vinyl LP’s that have survived the travails of time, and pull out another compilation.

Now many collectors look down at their noses at compilations, believing that somehow they are second rate compared to original releases. One of the advantages of a great compilation is, that it often contains so many good tracks that it would take 3, 4 or more albums to collect those tracks.

One thing about time is that it is an ‘evener outer’.

Released in 1966 on the “Gordy Label” (MS 204 V1), “Martha and the Vandellas Greatest Hits” has in fact, seven of their most played amazing hit tracks as recorded up to 1966.

cream of the crate #26 – martha and the vandellas – greatest hits
Album label – [CLICK to enlarge]

Martha is Martha Reeves, the lead singer, and her two cohorts were Rosalind Ashford and Betty Keller. After working as a secretary at Tamla Motown, Martha joined Rosalind and Betty to provide backing vocals for both Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye.

cream of the crate #26 – martha and the vandellas – greatest hits
Early photo of Martha (Centre) and the Vandellas

 

Their big break came when the brilliant composing team of Holland/Dozier/Holland provided them with one magic track after another, enough to keep them bubbling along for almost eight years.

Over the years the group membership altered so that Rosalind and Betty were replaced with Annette Beard, Sandra Tilley and Lois Reeves. I have no hesitation in declaring the sound of the original lineup remains the best sound the Vandellas ever produced, with the best years being 1962 to 1967.

If you have already discovered Martha and the Vandellas then you will know the tracks that have made them so famous, but sadly many Motown groups do not get the exposure they rightly deserve anymore and like many contemporaries, much of their music is getting lost amongst the no so insignificant ‘pap’ that passes for music today.

#1 hits:
R&B:

  • “Heat Wave” (1963)
  • “Jimmy Mack” (1967)

Top 10 hits:
Pop:

  • “Heat Wave” (1963)
  • “Quicksand” (1964)
  • “Dancing In The Street” (1964)
  • “Nowhere To Run” (1965)
  • “I’m Ready For Love” (1966)
  • “Jimmy Mack” (1967)

R&B:

  • “Come And Get These Memories” (1963)
  • “Quicksand” (1964)
  • “Dancing In The Street” (1964)
  • “Nowhere To Run” (1965)
  • “I’m Ready For Love” (1966)
  • “My Baby Loves Me” (1966)
  • “Honey Chile” (1968)

Top 10 albums:
R&B:

  • Greatest Hits (1966)

And so it is that on this single album we can find many of those hits.

I remember hearing “Heatwave” for the first time sometime in 1964 and it was such a rocking track with a tempo and swinging beat that was hard to resist.

However it was the voice of Martha Reeves and the soulful backing of the Vandellas this track out from many of the excellent pieces of music that were surfacing then.

We need to remember that by 1963/64 Australia was in the early grip of the fast developing ‘English Beat Sounds’ made subsets of the Liverpool and Mersey beat that in turn was supported by the music coming from the English area of Richmond.

Heatwave

So for a while even great groups like Martha and the Vandellas struggled to be heard in Australia, and it was only Oz bands such as the Roadrunners that featured many wonderful Aussie musos in Melbourne, that were tapping into these Motown groups, and presenting us with this fantastic music.

Another absolutely worthy of mention is “Dancing in the Street“. This reached #2 on the pop charts in the USA and became a ‘Party Anthem’ around the world. Written by “Mickey” Stevenson and Marvin Gaye (a magnificent singer in his own right), the track also took on a more ominous overtone, with inner city blacks taking it up as a ‘call to arms’, to riot in fact.

 

Dancing In The Street

Wikipedia declares of this track:
“Motown records had a distinct role to play in the city’s black community, and that community—as diverse as it was—articulated and promoted its own social, cultural, and political agendas. These local agendas, which reflected the unique concerns of African Americans living in the urban north, both responded to and reconfigured the national civil rights campaign”. The movement lent the song its secondary meaning and the song with its second meaning fanned the flames of unrest. This song (and others like it) and its associated political meanings did not exist in a vacuum. It was a partner with its social environment and they both played upon each other creating meaning that could not have been brought on by one or the other alone. The song therefore became a call to reject peace for the chance that unified unrest could bring about the freedom that suppressed minorities all across the United States so craved.

Strangely for an album marketed as “Greatest Hits”, there is one track on the album that was in fact a new track – My Baby Loves Me”. 

It is the first track on side 1. In fact it is hard to fathom why it is on this album as the Vandellas don’t even sing on it.

Although Martha sings the lead the backing vocals are provided by both the Andantes (the Motown house backing group) and, non other than the legendary Motown group, The Four Tops!

My Baby Loves Me

cream of the crate #26 – martha and the vandellas – greatest hits
Rear cover – [CLICK to enlarge]

 Track listing

SIDE 1
1. My Baby Loves Me
2. Come And Get These memories
3. Love Is Like A Heatwave
4. Dancing In The Street
5. Quicksand
6. Live Wire


SIDE 2
1. You’ve Been In Love Too Long
2. In My Lonely Room”
3. Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)
4. A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Everyday
5. Nowhere To Run
6. Wild One


There were many exciting girl groups on the Motown label in the 1960’s and some of the best include:
* The Supremes
* Gladys Knight & The Pips, and,
* The Mavellettes

Yet somehow Martha and the Vandellas do stand out and I go back to the statement by Rolling Stone that talks of them of ‘earthier’ and ‘ aggressive’.

cream of the crate #26 – martha and the vandellas – greatest hits
[CLICK to enlarge]
They hit the nail on the head. They could sing oh so sweet, but when they belted out their music they did so with an edge that was usually in the domain of the male artists. A great example is “Quicksand“, another ‘Gospel inspired’ dance track, beautifully composed and fantastically delivered by the group.

Quicksilver

This group and this album do reflect the best of those halcyon days of Motown and I highly recommend it. I

It is available on Ebay at around $30 to $40 (including postage) so there is not much excuse for not adding it to your vinyl collection. Not a vinyl collector? Well, it is available as a new CD from the USA for around $40.00.

Just be aware that the more recent non vinyl releases are remastered and whilst having a nice clean sound, they lack that thumping bottom end that the original mono tracks were so well known for.

Finally, Martha and the Vandellas (“Love is like a) Heatwave” and “Dancing In The Street” were inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame and were both included in the list of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.


VIDEOS:

There are some wonderful, if not ageing, videos featuring the group. I have found one live performance of a track on this album that i haven’t provided the music to, and, two great live tracks of music I have discussed and provided.

 

Nowhere To Run

 

Dancing In The Street

 

Heatwave