(Recycled Post from Martha Reeves 68th birthday)
So, in my ongoing series of celebrating Motown’s 50th anniversary I’ve been spending my Saturday in with Miss Martha Reeves and the various ladies that did the world the pleasure of being the Vandellas, as I wrap up pondering the songs, the context and the times these songs were recorded, it’s the end of Martha Reeves 68th birthday.
I sadly missed her gig here in the Bay Area earlier this year, and haven’t seen her in concert in years (probably 1994ish or so). People often assume me growing up and loving Motown=I love The Supremes, which I do, but Martha & The Vandellas always to me meant more. I can say the Vandellas I have every released LP as an LP and CD, and I can’t say that for The Supremes (nor any other musical act). I don’t think a day of my life has gone by that I haven’t at least spun one of their tunes, to either lift my spirits, accompany my tears, or just make me dance for the hell of it. There’s some marvelous type of emotional dexterity that Martha Reeves conveys on her recordings that combines the fire of a Aretha Franklin or Dusty Springfield (who idolized Reeves) the smooth aloofness of Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick and the utter glee and ability to rave and burn down a tent like Darlene Love.
So when I think of the act that’s been with me in song all my life, what songs do I think of?
1) “Come & Get These Memories” (1963) The awkward send off to ex lovers, and all the crap that they leave behind physically, and also emotionally, psychologically, and it’s always gonna be single, coupled, whatever, my favorite song of all time. Because it reminds me of remembering things fondly, but still packing up and moving onto the future, with the hopes that each new thing is gonna be a good thing, altho with a few time signature changes sprinkled in for good effect, that transition from one point to another won’t be smooth or easy, it’ll be sometimes handled awkwardly but at the same time with innate grace. It also reminds me of shopping in Emporium and I. Magnin as a child with my great grandmother.
2) “This Is When I Need You Most” (1963) I think the obvious follow up to “Come & Get These Memories” that got sidelined on the “Come & Get These Memories” LP when “Heatwave” was laid down. The perfect girl group lament of feeling alone because you are surrounded by a bunch of people that (on the surface) seem to be happily coupled off, and are enjoying the things of “new love”
3) (Love Is Like a) Heatwave (1963) Sometimes I try to dismiss it, but you can’t deny the songs intrinsic fire. It makes lust, sex and desire sound outright inescapable and downright delicious, naughty and nice, and Rosalind and Annette aren’t helping a damned bit by encouraging (you) to go all the way. This is light years away from The Shirelles first songs about sex (‘Tonights The Night’ & “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”) as timidity and worries about respect have gone out the window in favor of wanton sexual fulfillment….”Go ‘head gurl”
4) Spellbound (1963) Smokey Robinson cleverly re-writes a “Heatwave” alike about well, being kinda fucked psychologically once you come up for air from all that wonder “Heatwave” type humping and passion. Every romantic stage and action that you try to do for someone doesn’t work, and they leave you, panting, sweaty and devastated. Spellbound indeed.
5) In My Lonely Room (1964) The facade of a transitioning deliriously up-tempo jazzy Holland-Dozier-Holland song masking the fact that this is really a sad song about the cruelty of being laughed at in the public eye for being attached to a cheating, flirting lover. I’ve always liked that melodically it’s a sad song, but the fact that it’s so uptempo reminds me that you have to dance through life at an accelerated pace, no matter what realties you are facing externally
6) Wild One (1964) it sounds logically like what it was, the the moderate hit single that occupies space in between “Dancing In The Streets” and “Nowhere To Run” in the 23 times Martha & The Vandellas hit the Billboard Hot 100, somewhat disappointingly peaking at #34. And yes, it’s lyrically the same story as The Crystals “He’s A Rebel” but, then again it isn’t. Defending your man to the public, but a song of devotion. And then there’s the miracle that it just doesn’t fly in a million pieces everywhere, as an brilliant show of work of how tight the Funk Brothers were at their peak (since, to be honest “Baby Love” isn’t all that hard to play).
7) Too Much Pressure On My Heart (1965) Cause I like to pretend that I’m totally hip, a bad ass, and can do without love and affection, this one playfully hits home about how you can logically deny someone a pass, or re-entrance back into your heart, until they triple up on their efforts and you just relent. As strong as I would like to think I am, but at the end of it, I’m a big ole softie.
8) Keep It Up (1966) Smokey Robinson writes a hitchcock script. All of the major slights someone might look at as minor, because you don’t make a big deal about it will eventually, one day, someday, even up with your testicles in a jar (this is the subtext to the song, it’s not like the last verse says, Keep It Up, and you’ll lose your balls…..it comes close tho).
9) No More Tear Stained Make Up (1966) To me, no other pick yourself up, dust yourself off song comes close. “my eyes have natural shadows from the crying that I’ve done so much of lately cause it really hurt me greatly when I found the love you vowed was only lying” is such a devastatingly accurate way to portray the discovery of betrayal. But to remember that your are somehow of spirit young, and full of chances to experience life, and there’s no need to hide underneath artifice, is the real message, a real strong important message I think we all need to learn, or remember. I always keep this song close at hand just in case
10) Jimmymack (1967) Cause it’s fun, and cause since it’s delayed release (it was originally recorded in 1964) made it extra poignant at the height of the Vietnam War makes it sound like a time capsule into the hearts of someone lonely, and honestly, horny, not know if or when their boyfriend/fiance/husband might return, or if they actually would return alive from that war across the sea.
11) A Little Bit of Heaven (On A Patch of Earth) (1968) So, this is the absolute downer never released song that continues the dark undercurrent of “Jimmymack” being released in 1967. The dream cottage that was part of a “Rodgers & Hart” fantasy of all american coupledom has turned gray, haunted, the flowers are dying, because the relationship is gone that brought life to a section of earth. I always thought at the end of this song the casket returns from Vietnam. A sad little gem
12) Sweet Darlin (1968) A lil happiness why don’t we…. metaphor city, and burbling guitar, and nothing but ummmmhmmms satisfying as Pecan Pie and Peach Cobbler.
13) I Hope You Have Better Luck Than I Did (1969) Because sometimes you just have to have no regrets about letting go, and let some other ill advised fool take on your burdens of some marvelous idiot that, really you’d allow to get back into your hair if you had the chance.
14) Bless You (1971) Because, with Martha & The Vandellas being such a relic of the mid 1960s by 1971, why not give them a song that was a Jackson 5 rejection? Some people look at it as a travesty compared to “Heatwave” but it’s one of Martha’s best later performances,a nd you can’t deny you feel a little bit uplifted by the concept of undying, divine love between two people.
15) Goes out to every other special song, from “Quicksand” and “Nowhere to Run” “Motoring” “I’ll Pay The Price” “My Baby Loves Me” “I’m Ready For Love” “Honey Chile” “It’s Easy To Fall In Love with A Guy Like You” and hundreds of others that have kept me company for so many years, so many hours…so many tears and smiles…. Thank You Miss Martha….Happy 68th