Legendary Motown songwriter-producer Lamont Dozier dead at 81


Lamont Dozier, the middle name of the celebrated Holland-Dozier-Holland team that wrote and produced “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Heat Wave” and dozens of other hits and helped make Motown an essential record company of the 1960s and beyond , has died at age 81.

Dozier’s death was confirmed Tuesday by Paul Lambert, who helped produce the stage musical “The First Wives Club” that Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote for. He did not have additional details.

In Motown’s historic, self-defined rise to the “Sound of Young America,” Holland-Dozier-Holland stood out even compared to such gifted peers as Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Barrett Strong. Over a four-year period, 1963-67, Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland crafted more than 25 top 10 songs and mastered the blend of pop and rhythm and blues that allowed the Detroit label, and founder Berry Gordy, to define boundaries between Black and white music and rival the Beatles on the airwaves.

For the Four Tops, they wrote “Baby I Need Your Loving” and “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” for Martha and the Vandellas they wrote “Heat Wave” and “Jimmy Mack,” for Marvin Gaye “Baby Don ‘t You Do It” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You).” The music lived on through countless soundtracks, samplings and radio airings, in cover versions by the Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and many others and in generations of songwriters and musicians influenced by the Motown sound.

“Their structures were simple and direct,” Gerri Hirshey wrote in the Motown history “Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music,” published in 1984. “Sometimes a song barreled to number one on the sheer voice of repetitive hooks, like a fast-food jungle that lurks, subliminally, until it connects with real hunger.”

The polish of HDH was ideally suited for Motown’s signature act, Diana Ross and the Supremes, for whom they wrote 10 No. 1 songs, among them “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Expectations were so high that when “Nothing But Heartaches” failed to make the top 10 in 1965, Gordy sent a company memo demanding that Motown only release chart toppers for the Supremes, an order HDH obeyed with “I Hear a Symphony” and several more records.

Holland-Dozier-Holland weren’t above formulas or closely repeating a previous hit, but they worked in various moods and styles: the casual joy of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You),,” the escalating desire of “Heat Wave,” the urgency of “Reach Out (I’ll Be There).” Dozier’s focus was on melody and arrangements, whether the haunting echoes of the Vandellas’ backing vocals on “Nowhere To Run,” flashing lights of guitar that drive the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On,” or the hypnotic gospel piano on Gaye’s “ Can I Get a Witness.”

“All the songs started out as slow ballads, but when we were in the studio we’d pick up the tempo,” Dozier told the Guardian in 2001. “The songs had to be fast because they were for teenagers – otherwise it would have been more like something for your parents. The emotion was still there, it was just under cover of the optimism that you got from the up-tempo beat.”

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