/ 23 August 2022

Celebrating Motown producer and songwriter Lamont Dozier

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Lamont Dozier churned out 25 number hits

On 8 August 2022, the world of music lost one of the pillars of black music with the death of legendary songwriter, producer and artist Lamont Dozier. At age 81, the prolific artist had lived a full life and perhaps one of his greatest honours was helping craft one of the most enduring musical enclaves in black music — the Motown sound.

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan in the United States, Dozier started from humble beginnings as a cleaner (all the while harbouring a desire to be a singer and songwriter) at a record label in the early 1960s. 

Dozier was then introduced to the owner of Motown Records, Berry Gordy Jr. where he met the songwriting duo of the Holland Brothers. 

He would later join forces with the brothers — Brian and Eddie Holland — and the three of them formed a songwriting trio responsible for scores of era-defining Motown songs. Their partnership, known as Holland-Dozier-Holland, churned out a staggering 25 No. 1 hits, with Lamont and Brian handling most of the compositions and arrangements, while Eddie did the writing. 

So prolific was the trio that they are credited with perfecting the Motown Sound through their classic production for artists such as The Supremes, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, The Miracles and a host of other legendary acts from that era. 

The trio enjoyed a decorated career, even past their prime, as their music found a second life by being covered and reimagined by later artists such as Phil Collins and Rod Stewart. They are also one of the most sampled production teams in hip hop, along with being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and they received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2015.

In honour of the life of the legendary Lamont Dozier, we have selected the six  greatest songs that he contributed to as either a singer, songwriter and/or producer.

The Supremes – Baby Love (1964)

There isn’t a group that Holland-Dozier-Holland had a more successful working relationship with than The Supremes. The trio gave The Supremes most of their No.1 Billboard-charting songs, making it a hard task to pick just one song, since they’ve put out so many classic and well-received songs. Baby Love was the second No.1 for The Supremes after Where Did Our Love Go and it’s the single that spent the longest period atop the charts — two weeks. It was released in 1964 off The Supremes’ sophomore studio album Where Did Our Love Go. It is considered one of the most popular songs of the late 20th century. Baby Love was ranked #324 on the Rolling Stone list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Marvin Gaye – Little Darling (I Need You) (1966)

When recording his seventh studio album, Moods of Marvin, Marvin Gaye was attempting to re-establish himself as a strong album-oriented artist, as well as a hit maker. He was reportedly uncomfortable, however, with performing strictly R&B and so he and his team reached out to a diverse group of songwriters, including Smokey Robinson as well as the trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland. The trio contributed to the album with three out of the 12 songs on it and one of the songs was Little Darling (I Need You). They gave Gaye a funky Motown swing on which he sang about being hopelessly in love. It has all the sensibilities of the early Motown records, perfect for a swing and a step, accompanied by Marvin’s bellowing of sweet declarations of love.

The Four Tops – I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch) (1965)
Fewer opening lines in a song are as popular as “Sugar pie, honey bunch/  I’m weaker than a man should be!/ Can’t help myself/ I’m a fool in love, you see.” Sung by The Four Tops lead singer Levi Subbs, the words are almost as immortal as the song composition itself. The signature saxophone riff is known to be an instant earworm. One of the best and most popular Holland-Dozier-Holland productions, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song #415 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It’s a song that has also been covered extensively since 1965, including versions of it done for several television commercials.

Phil Collins – Two Hearts (1988)

Illustrative of his enduring talents, Dozier was a success even when he moved on from Motown and branched out into other genres. In 1988, the songwriter linked up with British virtuoso drummer and singer, Phil Collins and the two created magic in the form of Two Hearts. The song was part of the soundtrack for the crime comedy film Buster (1988) in which Collins had a starring role. It went on to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and the Grammy Award for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television in 1989. It’s an uptempo, joyous love song that encapsulates the mood of the 1980s, testament to the versatility of Dozier’s writing prowess. 

The Isley Brothers – This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You) (1966)
Before establishing themselves, The Isley Brothers had a short stint on the Motown label Tamla, and like other acts on the label at the time, they made uptempo soul records. This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You) is one such song. Helmed by the Holland–Dozier–Holland trio, it served as the group’s only major hit during their time on Motown. As with most Isley Brothers’ songs, the incomparable Ronald Isley is on lead vocals, singing his heart out about his love to his muse. It’s a beautiful song that captures the spirit of the 1960s as well as the early days of The Isley Brothers. In addition to charting decently, it was also covered by The Supremes, Rod Stewart and Tammi Terrel.

Joss Stone – Spoiled (2004)

Perhaps a song that millennials may recognise that Dozier had the pleasure of penning is by English singer-songwriter Joss Stone from her second studio album, Mind Body & Soul (2004). Underscored by her signature soulfulness, it is a slow tempo with a classic sound and contemporary verve. Stone laments on how spoiled she is by the love she received from a previous lover, which now renders her unable to love any other man. 

Lamont Dozier’s penmanship transcended time, genres and demographics. He was a legend and touched many lives with his contributions. May his soul rest in peace!