cream of the crate: album review # 132 – martha and the vandellas: greatest hits
cream of the crate: album review # 132 – martha and the vandellas: greatest hits
Album cover – [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.

 

 

 

"Against a backbeat that cracks like a gunshot, Reeves reinvents the world as a giant block party” - (Rolling Stone reviewing "Dancing In The Street") . . . "They were one of the most successful groups in the Motown roster during the 1960's" - (Motown.com)

This is album retro-review number 132 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!

When it came to girl groups in the 1960’s this weeks group were among the top when it came to Motown artists, and it could be argued, they were among the best of both the female and male groups!

The artist is the fantastic Martha Reeves who along with her two female backing singers were known as Martha and the Vandellas.

The album is the 1966 vinyl album- Martha and the Vandellas Greatest Hits. The album was released on the Gordy Label (a subsidiary of Motown Records) M5 204 V 1.

 

cream of the crate: album review # 132 – martha and the vandellas: greatest hits
Album label – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The album has 12 tracks.

 

The story of Martha and the Vandellas is the story of a three female person group who had some absolutely “knock-out” songs that captured the hearts and ears of many listeners.

The group gave rise to a stunning career for lead singer, Martha Reeves – as well as her backing singers who made up the Vandellas, and this success eventually let to her subsequent career as a solo artist.

I am indebted to the biography of Martha and the Vandellas for much of the following information.

The eldest of eleven children, Martha Reeves began singing with the Del-Phis in 1960. She was discovered in 1961 at Detroit’s fabled Twenty Grand Club, where Motown A&R man Mickey Stevenson heard her perform, which was Reeves’ prize for having won a talent contest.

She was invited to drop by the Motown “Hitsville” compound the next day. Initially, she did secretarial work in the A&R department of Motown and sang background vocals on records by the likes of Marvin Gaye, most audibly on “Pride and Joy” and “Hitchhike”.

cream of the crate: album review # 132 – martha and the vandellas: greatest hits
The Del-Phis

 

However, Motown founder Berry Gordy soon offered Reeves’ group a recording contract of their own.

The Vandellas – named by combining Detroit’s Van Dyke Street with the first name of a favorite singer, Della Reese – were Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard (later Sterling), who’d also been in the Del-Phis.

Betty Kelly replaced Sterling in 1964, and Lois Reeves (Martha’s younger sister) replaced Kelly in 1967, which was about the time the group became known as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.

 

cream of the crate: album review # 132 – martha and the vandellas: greatest hits
Martha, Annette and Ros – [CLICK to enlarge]
cream of the crate: album review # 132 – martha and the vandellas: greatest hits
Betty, Martha and Ros – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The trio had their first hit with Holland-Dozier-Holland’s Come and Get These Memories”.

However it was the irresistibly upbeat “Heat Wave” that made Martha and the Vandellas one of Motown’s vanguard acts in the summer of 1963.

Another summertime anthem, “Dancing in the Street” – co-written by Mickey Stevenson, Marvin Gaye and Ivy Joe Hunter, was recorded in 1964, and reached number 2, an amazing result given that this happened in the heat of the British Invasion.

Reeves’ insistent alto cut through the punchy horns, driving bass line and funky rhythms to deliver a timeless message to the youth of America: “Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the street.”

The group recorded throughout the Sixties for Motown’s Gordy label, charting 24 R&B hits, and became one of the company’s most successful touring acts. As female artists at Motown, they were outshone only by Diana Ross and the Supremes, with whom they competed for resources and attention.

When the company moved west in 1971, Martha and the Vandellas parted ways with Motown.

They performed a farewell concert in Detroit, and Reeves embarked on a solo career with the big-budget album Martha Reeves in 1974.

Martha and the Vandellas regrouped toward the end of the Seventies, and the group received a boost when the Motown 25th anniversary TV special aired in 1983.

They continue to perform, enduring as one of the most visible reminders of Motown’s glory days.

The Original Vandellas
  • Rosalind Ashford Holmes (1957-1969, 2000s-present)
  • Annette Beard Helton (1957-1964, 2000s-present)
Former members
  • Gloria Williams (1957-1962; died 2000)
  • Betty Kelly (1964-1967)
  • Sandra Tilley (1969-1972; died 1981)
Current members
  • Martha Reeves (1960-1972, 2010–present)
  • Lois Reeves (1967-1972, 2010–present)
  • Delphine Reeves (2010–present)

 

The group certainly weren’t as prolific as many of their contemporaries when it came to releases.

They had a respectable eight albums in 9 years [1963 – 1972] and eight compilation albums.

The album we are looking at is considered as an original release despite its title, and not as a compilation!

As Martha and the Vandellas they had 15 singles [1962 – 1967] and as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas a further 12 singles [1967 – 1973].

Of the 15 singles released up to the time of this albums production, 10 tracks charted somewhere between number 1 and number 10, and two others reached number 11.

 

cream of the crate: album review # 132 – martha and the vandellas: greatest hits
Rear Cover: Track Listing – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

Tracks on this album

SIDE 1

1. My Baby Loves Me – 3:08
2. Come And Get These Memories – 2:23
3. Love Is Like A Heat Wave – 2:45 *
4. Dancing In The Street – 2:40
5. Quicksand – 2:36
6. Live Wire – 2:38

SIDE 2

1. You’ve Been In Love Too Long – 3:00
2. In My Lonely Room – 3:21
3. Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things) – 2:54
4. A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Everyday) – 2:29
5. Nowhere To Run – 2:51
6. Wild One – 2:44

*Charted #1 on the US R&B charts

Because there are so many memorable tracks on this album, I am moving past track number 1 on side 1 in order to look at tracks 3 and 4 on side 1

This is despite my love of track 5 – Quicksand and track 6 Live Wire, which are the two that might just be the most memorable tracks by the group.

Love Is Like A Heatwave, most often simply referred to as Heatwave [and in fact that is the title on the 1963 single], and is the only number 1 track on this album, and it reached number 1 during the period when the American buying public were almost totally besotted by all things British, when it came to music.

cream of the crate: album review # 132 – martha and the vandellas: greatest hits
Martha and the Vandellas (circa 1974)

 

This track invited and demanded attention. Even today it stands proudly as a track that will still get the feet of anyone who is not dead or who doesn’t have their feet nailed to the floor, dancing.

This is followed by a more down tempo track, In My Lonely Room where the narrator solemnly discusses how her lover’s flirting with other girls leave her so depressed that all she can do was sit by “(her) lonely room and cry”.

Apart from being one of the first songs to proudly wear the “Motown” label, Heat Wave” was one of several songs written and produced by the Holland–Dozier–Holland songwriting and producing team.

It was the second hit collaboration between Martha and the Vandellas and the team, with the first being “Come and Get These Memories“, and the second being Heatwave.

The lyrics of “Heat Wave” feature the song’s narrator singing about a guy who has her heart “burning with desire” and “going insane” over the feeling of his love, and asking, “is this the way love’s supposed to be?”

From the moment the track commences with the strong beat and handclaps, you just feel that this track is going to take you places, and the dance floor is a good place to go.

It reached number 4 on both the US and Cash Box charts, and the coveted number 1 on the US R&B charts.

Heatwave

 

It would be a crime to go past track 4 on side 1 Dancing In The Street.

If Heatwave set up a tempo that takes us to the dance floor, then this track is a musical celebration of all the dance floors where people “got their rocks off”.

Recorded by the group in 1064 it really did become an absolute signature tune for the group, and indeed Motown!

Written by “Mickey” Stevenson, Ivy Jo Hunter and Marvin Gay, the track basically said to the American audiences, “Hey, it doesn’t matter where you are…,” you can dance and have a great time.

Of course having been recorded in Detroit, that city was not left out – hence the reference to “Can’t forget the Motor City!”

Detroit having been the center of American car manufacturing before it fell on hard times. 

There is no doubt about this is a Motown track at its best. The full brass sound, heavy downbeat drum, the oh so sweet harmonies – it’s the complete Motown track.

There have been many versions of this track, but the best known are the versions by the Mamas and the Papas (1966), the Grateful Dead (also 1966), and David Bowie & Mick Jagger (1985).

Strangely, despite it being an utter tip-top track, it never made number 1.

It did reach number 2 in the Billboard Hot 100 and number 4 in the UK Singles charts in the year of its release.

When touring in the UK Reeves was asked if she was a militant black, and whether Dancing In The Street was code for go out and riot!!!

We need to remember that there was a lot of black unrest at the time, and that the black community in Detroit was especially restless.

Martha patiently let the man finish, before snapping back with the retort, “My Lord, it was a party song“!

 

cream of the crate: album review # 132 – martha and the vandellas: greatest hits

 

On April 12, 2006, it was announced that Martha and the Vandellas’ version of “Dancing in the Street” would be one of 50 sound recordings preserved by the Library of Congress to the National Recording Registry.

Martha Reeves said she was thrilled about the song’s perseverance, saying “It’s a song that just makes you want to get up and dance“.

Callin’ out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat?
Summer’s here and the time is right for dancin’ in the street.
Dancin’ in Chicago (dancin’ in the street)
Down in New Orleans (dancin’ in the street)
In New York City

All we need is music, sweet music,
There’ll be music everywhere
There’ll be swingin’ swayin’, and records playin,
Dancin’ in the street

Oh it doesn’t matter what you wear, just as long as you are there.
So come on every guy, grab a girl,
Everywhere, around the world

There’ll be dancin’, they’re dancin’ in the street.
This is an invitation, across the nation,
A chance for folks to meet.
There’ll be laughin’ singin’, and music swingin’
Dancin’ in the street

Philadelphia P.A., Baltimore and D.C now,
Can’t forget the motor city,
All we need is music, sweet music
There’ll be music everywhere
There’ll be swingin’ swayin’, and records playin,
Dancin’ in the street

Oh it doesn’t matter what you wear, just as long as you are there.
So come on every guy, grab a girl,
Everywhere, around the world

They’re dancin’, dancin’ in the street
Way down in L.A., every day they’re dancin’ in the street
Lets form a big strong line, and get in time,
We’re dancin’ in the street.
Across the ocean blue, me and you
We’re dancin’ in the street

Dancing In The Street

 

Turning the album over (remember you do that with vinyl!), Track number 1 starts the side with a good dance number – You’ve Been In Love Too Long.

The next track (In My Lonely Room) is far more down-tempo, where the narrator solemnly discusses how her lover’s flirting with other girls leave her so depressed that all she can do was sit by “(her) lonely room and cry”.

We get to track number 4, A Love Like Yours, and it was the B-side of Heatwave.

It’s not a bad version but personally I think the version Tina Turner knocked out is a better version, and in fact the Turner version is the only version of them all, that charted.

Then we come to track number 5Nowhere To Run.

I love this track!

If Dancing In the Street had never been recorded, then this track may very well have become the group’s “signature track”. Written by the brilliant team of Holland, Dozier and Holland, and with Berry Gordy Jnr at the desk, it tells of the age old story of a woman in a loveless relationship, with a man that she adores!

It reached number eight on the Billboard Pop Singles chart, and number five on the Billboard R&B Singles chart.

It was also declared to be the 358th top track on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Apart from the storyline that many people will identify with, it is another fantastic dance track and again highlights the fantastic harmonies and arrangements on that so many Martha and the Vandella tracks have.

The track just reeks of Motown!

Nowhere to run, baby nowhere to hide
I got nowhere to run, baby nowhere to hide

It’s not love, I’m running from
It’s the heartaches, I know will come
‘Cause I know, you’re no good for me
But you’ve become a part of me

Everywhere I go, your face I see
Every step I take, you take with me, yeah

Nowhere to run, baby, nowhere to hide
Got nowhere to run, baby nowhere to hide ………

Nowhere To Run

 

The final track is in fact the final track on the album, track number 6 side 2 – Wild One.

It’s yet another great dance track.

Sure the girls (and they were girls at this stage of their career), could put out a decent love song come ballad, but these girls really knew how to ‘rock” in an R&B/Soul style. 

This track is another fantastic example of their ability to produce great songs that were great to dance to. The song was another Top 40 triumph for the group as it reached #34 on Billboard ’​s Hot 100 singles chart and #11 on the Hot R&B singles chart.

cream of the crate: album review # 132 – martha and the vandellas: greatest hits
Martha Reeves

 

Possibly inspired by the Shangri La’s Leader Of The Pack, this track was released in 1964 and tells of the narrator’s strong love for her “wild one” who is told he’s “no good” by the narrator’s close circle.

The narrator tells her “wild one” not to listen to what others say and continue to “sav(ing his) love for (her)”.

Yes it is a tribute to what were termed “bikers” at the time, those black leather jacketed rebels that were the “scourge” of society. Lead vocals were by Reeves (of course) with backing vocals by Rosalind Ashford, Betty Kelly, William “Mickey” Stevenson, and Ivy Jo Hunter.

The web site Motown Junkies say this about the track.

“(It’s) a kind of intermission between the brash, Brill Building-tinged pop-rock of the early Vandellas and the more soulful R&B-pop sophistication of the group’s later years, but it’s not really a bridge between the two phases.

The only real indication of what’s around the corner are the drums, which are absolutely huge, even more so than on Dancing In The Street; whatever else it might be, this is dance music first and foremost.”

Wild One



While there is no doubt the Diana Ross and the Supremes indeed reigned supreme when it came to girl groups, both in quality and quantity of music, Martha and the Vandellas ran them a very close second.

In fact for a while, particularly in the period of 1964 – 1967 that this album covers, they were easily as good as the Supremes.

This album really does cover much of their best music in this period with only one glaring omission, that of the 1967 R&B chart number 1 – Jimmy Mack!

But for anyone wanting to add Martha and the Vandellas to their music collection, this is indeed a hard vinyl album to pass by.

It really is not just a collection of fantastic tracks by one of Motown’s premier girl groups, it is a fun album to listen to.

If you are looking for a CD, there are many on the market and the 20th Century “Masters – best of”, is not a bad buy at around $14.00 – and while it has Jimmy Mac on it, this CD fails to provide Livewire.

Seems as though you can’t have it all.

I couldn’t find a vinyl copy on Ebay, but Discogs has quite a few, from around $50.00 (inc postage), so check them out.

But when it comes to girl groups who can punch out the tunes, and do it with passion, fire and class – you don’t go pass Martha and the Vandellas!


VIDEOS:

Let’s hear it for Youtube, who come through in ‘spades” when it came to great clips of Martha and the Vandellas, yet despite that it appears as though there are no live performances capturing them doing some of the greatest tracks such as Quicksand and Livewire, especially from the period when they were recorded.

 

Nowhere To Run

 

Jimmy Mac

 

Dancing In The Streets

 

Heatwave


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –

 

Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward:

#101:  Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley’s Beach Party (Live)

#102:  Les Paul and Mary Ford – The World Is waiting For The Sunrise

#103:  Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica

#104:  Los Fronterizos – Misa Creole

#105:  Bobby Bright – Child Of Rock And Roll

#106:  The  Nylons – One Size Fits All

#107:  Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come [Soundtrack from the film]

#108:  Paul Simon – Graceland

#109.  The Ventures – The Very Best Of

#110.  The Pardoners – Indulgences

#111.  Atlantic R&B: Volumes 1 – 3 [1947 to 1957] 

#112.  Atlantic R&B Volumes 4 & 5 [1957 – 1965]

#113.  Roots of Rock: Vol.12 – Union Avenue Breakdown

#114.  David Fanshawe – African Sanctus

#115.  A Reefer Derci – Various Artists

#116.  Dr. John – Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch

#117.  The Walker Brothers – The Walker Brothers

#118.  Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel

#119.  Curved Air – Airconditioning

#120.  The Delltones – The Best of The Delltones

#121.  Hound Dog Taylor – Hound Dog Taylor and The Houserockers

#122.  Bessie Smith – Queen of The Blues

#123.  The Shadows – The Shadows Greatest Hits

#124.  Gil Scott Heron – Reflections

#125.  The Dingoes – Five Times The Sun

#126.  Bert Jansch and John Renbourn – Bert and John

#127.  Nat King Cole – The Complete After Midnight Sessions

#128.  Various Artists – The Rock and Roll Collection [A Box Set]

#129.  Sam Cooke – 16 Most Requested Songs

#130.  Various Artists – Australian Rock Heritage Vol.1

#131:  Wilson Pickett – The Exciting Wilson Pickett