Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Song #191 of 9999 - (Love is Like a) Heat Wave by Martha and the Vendellas

Song #191 of 9999

Title: (Love is Like a) Heat Wave
Artist: Martha and the Vendellas
Year: 1963
Album: Heat Wave

Man, Holland-Dozier-Holland (not a law firm, I swear) knew how to write some songs. Need proof? Here's a partial list of the songs Brian-Lamont-Edward (respectively) wrote for Motown in the early 1960s:
  • Where Did Our Love Go? - Supremes
  • Baby Love - Supremes
  • How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) - Marvin Gaye
  • Stop! In the Name of Love - Supremes
  • I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) - Four Tops
  • You Can't Hurry Love - Supremes
  • Reach Out I'll Be There - Four Tops
  • You Keep Me Hanging On - Supremes
And all of these were written and recorded during a three-year span from 1964-1966! Like Leiber and Stoller, Holland-Dozier-Holland were geniuses at writing records tailor-made for other people.

"Heat Wave" was their first top ten single, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It has some special significance in my life because I heard my uncle Ed sing it from behind the drum kit with his band during a family picnic when I was quite young and it opened my eyes to what was possible with the male voice. I was just starting to get interested in performing rock music at that time and I never felt limited as a singer after hearing him sing this song. It was pretty cool.

So is this song. It actually has quite an unusual chord progression, one that emphasizes minor chords in an upbeat setting that I think is pretty rare. After a false start in Bb, the song finds its true center (Eb) through an exploration of the minor chords available to the key—ii (Fm)  iii (Gm)  vi (Cm). My favorite moment of the tune is the line right before the chorus when a switch is flipped and the major chords are revealed through an ascending line—ii (Fm)  iii (Gm)  IV (Ab)  V (Bb)  I (Eb). It's such a simple idea but it's brilliant nonetheless. Props to Martha Reeves also for delivering a killer lead vocal track. Stay until the end to hear the fantastic ad libs on the fade.

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