Martha & the Vandellas

Greatest Hits (Motown 67) Rating: A
Although The Supremes were the dominant commercial force on Motown's talent rich roster, Martha Reeves (famously a Motown secretary before being given a chance to sing) and the Vandellas (at various times Sterling Beard, Rosalind Ashford, Betty Kelly, and Lola Reeves) were probably number two in terms of female vocal groups. Much tougher and r&b-based than the pop-centric Supremes, at the very least they released three of the greatest singles of all-time in "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave" (my personal favorite), "Dancing In The Street," and "Nowhere To Run." Man does "Heat Wave" have a fantastic drum-led groove, along with a great lead vocal and evocative harmonies; this is just a terrific, danceable summertime smash. The much-covered (most famously by Van Halen, most infamously by Mick Jagger and David Bowie) "Dancing In The Streets" is the group's most famous song, and all I have to say about this one is that if you put it on at a party, people will dance, sing along to it, and smile. Finally, "Nowhere To Run" has a great bass line and horns, as well as a tough, anthemic chorus, plus it was accompanied by one of the first promotional rock videos featuring the girls dancing around a General Motors factory plant. Though those are the songs that people remember this group by, they had other enjoyable songs as well, even if there was a certain formula to many of them: great rhythm work from the Funk Brothers, sometimes horns and piano adding that little extra, and Reeves' tough, sassy lead vocals and evocative harmonies from the Vandellas (who were named after Van Dyke Street in Detroit and singer Della Reese). The group weren't averse to ballads, either, and this concise 12-track collection, released at almost just the right time ("Jimmy Mack" and "Honey Chile" are the only significant chart hits that came after it was released), contains a pair of good ones in "My Baby Loves Me" and "Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)." "Come and Get These Memories" and "In My Lonely Room" are also lightly melodic and appealing, while "A Love Like Yours (Don't Come Knocking Everyday)" is a catchy teen drama that recalls the "girl group" sound. However, most of these songs are in a more upbeat vein, including "Quicksand," which is distinguished by its sax solo and more evocative vocals, and "You've Been In Love Too Long," which, though formulaic, is good formula, unlike "Live Wire," which is too close to "Heat Wave" for comfort. None of these songs are quite as great as the big three mentioned above, but I really like listening to most of them, as this group as much as any exemplified Motown's slogan of "The Sound Of Young America." Alas, the group's fortunes declined after their mid-'60s prime for several reasons: the departure of the genius songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, Berry Gordy's obsession with The Supremes at the expense of others, and inter-group fighting. As such, it is these 40+-year old songs that the group is fondly remembered for, and for which they were inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall Of Fame. Those who want to dig deeper, especially since this album is now out of print, should check out The Ultimate Collection.

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