February 10: Martha and the Vandellas release “Nowhere to Run”

Of the 537 singles Motown released during the ’60s, 75 percent made the charts, and 79 were Top 10 Billboard pop hits. The key was a relentless, pounding beat. Songwriter-pianist from the rival label Stax named Isaac Hayes said, “Now it was a standard joke with blacks, that whites could not, cannot clap on a backbeat. What Motown did was very smart. They beat kids over the head with it. That wasn’t soulful to us down at Stax, but baby it sold.”

In February’s “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas, the Funk Brothers accentuated the drums and tambourine by hitting snow chains. Written and produced by the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the song is a variation on the storyline that ran through many of the producers’ hits: the singer knows she’s in a bad relationship but is unable to forget her lover and move on. But its foreboding groove turned it into a theme song for both Vietnam soldiers and inner-city rioters in the second half of the year, and partially inspired the riff to the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.”

Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland wrote the music and produced the sessions, while Brian’s brother, Eddie, wrote the lyrics and arranged the vocals. Dozier recalled, “We would listen to John (Lennon) and Paul (McCartney) and Brian Wilson and see what everybody was doing. They probably inspired us to be better than we even felt we could be. When they got hot, we tried to get hotter. When they did something spectacular, we tried to be even more spectacular. In that regard I think we were doing the same thing for them. When I talked with John Lennon, he said, ‘You guys inspired us to do things.’ I said, ‘That’s funny, you guys did the same thing for us.’”

 

REFERENCES:

1. Moon, Untold Tales, Unsung Heroes, 241.

2. Smith, Dancing in the Street, 14.

3. Echols, Hot Stuff, 14.

4. Ibid., 13.

5. Ken Sharp, “Holland-Dozier-Holland on Some of the Hits,” Metro Times, Nov. 21, 2007.

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