Born and raised in Detroit, Holland, Dozier and Holland cranked out hits with the regularity of the auto plants they grew up surrounded by. Yet however machine-like they were in their songwriting, at the core of each hit is a throbbing, aching, unmistakably human heart.
Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland wrote and produced many of the songs that are most closely identified with Motown.
These include “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “You Can’t Hurry Love” (the Supremes), “Heat Wave” and “Jimmy Mack” (Martha and the Vandellas), “Reach Out I’ll Be There” and “Baby I Need Your Loving” (the Four Tops) and “Can I Get a Witness” and “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You” (Marvin Gaye). These classics are only the tip of the iceberg, insofar as Holland-Dozier-Holland’s ten-year output at Motown is concerned. In their behind-the-scenes roles as staff producers and songwriters, Holland-Dozier-Holland were as responsible as any of the performers for Motown’s spectacular success.
Holland, Dozier and Holland were all born in Detroit: Brian Holland on February 15, 1941; Lamont Dozier on June 16, 1941; and Eddie Holland on October 30, 1939. Their relationship with Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. dates back to 1958, before he started the label. Eddie Holland’s 1958 Mercury single, “You,” was one of Gordy’s earliest productions. Gordy also produced some sessions for Brian Holland. In 1961 Lamont Dozier began recording for Anna Records, owned by Gordy’s sister Gwen.
Holland, Dozier and Holland inaugurated their collaboration in 1962, with the single “Dearest One,” released under Dozier’s name on the Mel-O-Dy label, a Motown subsidiary. The formation of the team was the logical outcome of the assembly-line methods that characterized Motown. “Yes, it was a job, but we loved the job,” Brian Holland said. “We really did sit there and work all day at coming up with this song, that melody.” In fact, the trio literally had to punch the clock when they arrived for work at nine o’clock each morning. Their workplace was a cinderblock recording studio in Motown’s “Hitsville” offices.
In short order, Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote and produced the first of many hits, Martha and the Vandellas’ “Come and Get These Memories,” which went to Number Three on the R&B chart and Number Twenty-Nine on the pop chart in 1963. That same year, the trio also wrote and produced Marvin Gaye’s “Can I Get a Witness,” the Marvelettes’ “Locking Up My Heart” and “Forever,” the Miracles’ “I Gotta Dance to Keep from Crying” and “Mickey’s Monkey,” and Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave” and “Quicksand.”
All of those songs preceded the trio’s record-breaking success with the Supremes. In June 1964 “Where Did Our Love Go” became the first of six consecutive Number One singles for the Supremes and Holland, Dozier and Holland.
The trio epitomized the Motown sound: a fluid, up-tempo style that combined catchy lyrics with the fervor of gospel, the groove of R&B and the polish of pop. More than fifty of Motown’s most memorable songs can be attributed to Holland-Dozier-Holland. They produced hits for nearly every act on the Motown family of labels.
In 1967, H-D-H, as they were familiarly called, entered into a dispute with Berry Gordy Jr. over profit-sharing and royalties. Eddie Holland had the others stage a work slowdown, and by early 1968 the trio had left the label. The founded the Invictus/Hot Wax label, where they continued their hitmaking ways with Freda Payne (“Band of Gold”), Chairman of the Board (“Give Me Just a Little More Time”) and the Honey Cones (“Want Ads”). The sound of those records—with the syncopated rhythm guitars and gospel-inflected vocal arrangements purveying catchy lyrics—was as distinctive as their Motown classics.
After Invictus/Hot Wax folded in 1973, Dozier resuscitated his performing career, and the Hollands wrote and produced for a number of artists, including the Supremes and Michael Jackson. In the Eighties, Dozier co-wrote hits with Phil Collins, Boy George and Mick Hucknall of Simply Red. In 1988 the Holland brothers founded the Holland Group production company and revived their label Music Merchant.
Holland, Dozier and Holland are mentioned (along with the Four Tops and their vocalist Levi Stubbs, as well as Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong) in the lyrics of the song “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” from the 1986 Billy Bragg album, Talking with the Taxman about Poetry (1986); and also in the lyrics of The Magnetic Fields’ song “The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure,” from their 1999 album, 69 Love Songs (1999).
For a “one-time-only reunion,” the three composed the score for the musical production of The First Wives Club (1996), based on the novel by Olivia Goldsmith and a later hit film. The musical included twenty-two new songs from the songwriting trio.
Holland, Dozier and Holland were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. They were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988. Finally, in 2003, they were named BMI Icons at the fifty-first BMI Pop Awards.
Inductees: Lamont Dozier (born June 16, 1941), Brian Holland (born February 15, 1941), Eddie Holland (born October 30, 1939)