on 3 May 2006
Martha Reeves And The Vandellas were rather over-shadowed by Diana Ross And The Supremes. It really isn't possible to compare Reeves voice with Ross as both had unique and individual qualities of their own. But it's not unfair to say that Martha Reeves could have had the same extravagently successful career as Diana Ross, had she ever really been given the chance.
Martha and the Vandellas were actually pumping out hits before Diana Ross and the Supremes had began their long series of million-selling chart toppers and top 10 smash hits. Whilst they were dubbed as "the no-hit" Supremes by fellow Motown colleagues at that time due to their lack of chart success, Martha and the Vandellas were recording classic after classic.
Come And Get These Memories was the groups first major hit, released in 1963. The pace of the song was set by Martha's gospel-and-blues, feverish vocal style that was strikingly unique. It also encapsulated a cross between R&B and Pop and therefore enjoyed success on both charts.
However far more adventurous and challenging was the stomping rhythm and blaring brass on the unforgetable, Heatwave. This was perharps one of the songs that defined that ultimate Motown sound. Reeves burning passion is backed by honking saxes, handclap rhythms and joyous call-and-response vocals which harks back to the traditional sound of gospel.
Holland Dozier Holland were responsible for these classics and after Heatwave they came up with the soundalike, Quicksand, which surprisingly emerged as equally infectious. Marthas voice is just so rip-roaring on here and is much in the style of the great Aretha Franklin.
However Holland Dozier Holland milked the formula too much when they came up with another recording in vastly the same format as Heatwave with the rather nondescript, Live Wire. Still, Marthas raw, earthy delivery easily gave startling ignition to the otherwise average recording.
They scored a minor hit in 1964 with the grooving, In My Lonely Room, which deserved fr greater recognition than it ever received but then in the summer of that year they set radio airwaves and parties ablaze with one of the all-time soul classics, Dancing In The Street. Dancing In The Street was co-written by Marvin Gaye, Ivy Jo Hunter and Mickey Stevenson. Containing a boisterous rhythm, Martha's explosive vocals and glorious backing vocals are neatly captured on what is possibly their greatest achievement. The civil rights wars were continuing around America at that time and this song was perceived at the time as a song trying to entice riots, which of course is clearly ridiculous when you hear the joyous lyrics and if anything this was an infectious reflection of the pride blossoming in the African-American community at the time. No one has ever come remotely close to re-creating the magic that Martha Reeves made on this classic!
Surprisingly, Martha and the Vandellas never quite made superstar level though they stil made a river of classics through the 60's. Nowhere To Run is another one of my own favourite recordings and is simply jamming and infectious with Marthas sassy, fiery performance, neatly blending into the stormy, complex musical arrangements.
I'm Ready For Love, was actually turned down by Diana Ross who was Motowns top priority and was therefore handed down to Martha Reeves. Martha does this in her own unique, fabulous vocal style, whipping along the verses with such utter conviction.
Jimmy Mack, was another definitive Motown classic, released in 1967, paced by Marthas gospel-influenced delivery. They scored a few other great classics, the magnificent Forget Me Not and Honey Chile but after this they were unfairly handed inferior material and gradually faded from view, disbanding quietly in 1972.
Other notable tracks on this compilation include My Baby Loves Me, Love Makes Me Do Foolish Things, You've Been In Love Too Long and the sensational ballad, A Love Like Yours. Their material from 1969 onwards were all minor affairs with Reeves voice being their only saving grace but with such a range of all-time classics on here, this is defintely the definitive collection of Martha Reeves And The Vandellas.
All the essentials and more from Martha and the Vandellas can be found on this excellent CD. I decided this was so good that I eventually bought four twofers containing eight of their original albums plus extra tracks, but this collection will be enough for most of you.
Dancing in the street is, of course, by far their most famous song, but there is much more to their music than that. Among their other big American hits were Come and get these memories, Heat wave (superbly covered by Linda Ronstadt on her Prisoner in disguise album in the seventies), Quicksand, I'm ready for love, Nowhere to run, Honey chile, Jimmy Mack and My baby loves me. Some of these were also hits in Britain and other countries.
Forget me not (a song inspired by the Vietnam conflict) was a hit in Britain, although it was only a B-side in America. Another Vietnam-inspired song, I should have been proud, appears to have been too sensitive for radio stations when it was released in 1970, so it was withdrawn and was therefore not a hit.
I've only mentioned a few songs, but there are plenty of minor American hits and B-sides, which show that Martha and the Vandellas were capable of singing the slower songs, but that what they were really good at was singing danceable, upbeat sixties pop music. If Martha can't inspire you to get up and dance, who can?