The legendary Motown songwriter, singer and producer leaves behind a legacy that will linger forever
It’s often said that when a distinguished individual dies, they’ll live on in our memories.
That’s a decidedly poignant perspective, and one which is clearly meant to console the living.
However in the case of singer, songwriter and producer Lamont Dozier, who passed away Monday from unknown causes at the age of 81, those words resonate with truth and conviction. Dozier, who as part of the writing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland along with brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, wrote some of the most memorable song in the entirety of the popular music canon, will in fact be long remembered, given that the trio’s work remain an indelible part of the musical soundtrack of the ‘60s, ‘70s and beyond.
Indeed, classic and contemporary radio would not be nearly as engaging or effusive without the trio’s contributions. Their songs represented the new sound of the ‘60s, and with a steady string of massive hits — “Baby Love,” “Can I Get a Witness, “Where Did Our Love Go,” Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Come See About Me,” “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” “Bernadette,” “Back In My Arms Again, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “You Keep Me Hanging On,” “This Old Heart of Mine,” “I Hear a Symphony,” and “Stop! In the Name of Love,” among the many — they brought Motown Records to international prominence and helped instigate a shift in America’s cultural awareness, bringing down the walls of separation between White America and Black America through a common sense of celebration.
VIDEO: The Supremes “Stop! In The Name Of Love”
Dozier’s first attempt at writing verse occurred when he was only eleven years old, when he penned a poem, titled, appropriately, “A Song.” Although his first tries to establish his professional credence were unsuccessful, once he connected with the Holland brothers in 1962, he was off and running. They initially produced and recorded Martha and the Vandellas, scoring early on with “Come and Get These Memories,” “Heatwave” and “Quicksand,” before being assigned to the Supremes and bringing them ten number one hits in a row. The trio left Motown in 1968, but not before playing a major role in launching the careers of not only Martha and the Vandellas and the Supremes, but also the Four Tops, The Temptations, The Miracles, Mary Wells and The Isley Brothers as well.
They also could claim a total of 25 Top Ten singles from 1963-67, including a dozen songs that reached number one spot. Overall, of the 400 songs they wrote as a trio, 130 made major impacts on the pop charts and of those, 70 became top ten hits, and 40 of them hit number one.
The three men then launched their own labels, Invictus and Hot Wax, and Dozier turned to producing records for Freda Payne, Chairmen of the the Board and 100 Proof Aged in Soul, among others. He also established himself as a recording artist. When he he split from his former compatriots in 1973, he delved deeper into performing, releasing a number of albums and singles under his own aegis and scoring success well into the ‘80s. He reclaimed the limelight when he shared a songwriting credit with Phil Collins on the number one hit “Two Hearts,” which also garnered a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song for its inclusion in the feature film Buster, a Grammy Award for Best Original Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television and an Academy Award Nomination for Best Original Song.
VIDEO: Phil Collins “Two Hearts”
In 1984, he penned the song “Invisible” for British singer Alison Moyet and collaborated with Mick Hucknall on a pair of songs for Simply Red’s second album, Men and Women. The pair reconnected for another two tracks on the band’s follow-up LP, A New Flame, in 1989.
His last major work involved creating the music for the stage version of the film First Wives Club in 2009. In his later years, he also taught a course on popular music at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music.
Dozier’s work has been well recognized by succeeding generations. In 1987, the National Academy of Songwriters awarded Holland-Dozier-Holland its Lifetime Achievement Award. Three years later, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Then, in 2015, the trio received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
With a sad sense of irony, Dozier’s death coincided with the completion of the first two phases of the Motown Museum’s expansion on the grounds of the label’s original Detroit location. A number of the company’s alumni artists were there, including those that benefitted from Holland-Dozier-Holland’s talents.
“Lamont was a good friend and will b e missed by the entire Motown Family,” label founder Berry Gordy said in a statement quoted by CNN.
Nevertheless, like his music, Dozier shared the final word. In his 2019 memoir, How Sweet It Is: A Songwriter’s Reflections on Music, Motown and the Mystery of the Muse, he noted the following:
“There’s a way to grow and improve,” he suggested. “To live up to your full potential, you have to approach writing and life with humble awe.”
It’s obvious that his millions of fans and followers will continue to share their admiration and affection for him with the same sense of wonder.
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