Over a six-year stretch at Motown Records, Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland wrote the songs that defined an era. Between 1962 and 1968, they rattled off hit after hit for the Supremes, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers and Martha and the Vandellas: "Baby Love," "Where Did Our Love Go," "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)," "Stop! In the Name of Love," "(Love Is Like a) Heatwave," "How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You," "Baby I Need Your Loving," "Reach Out I'll Be There," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" and "You Keep Me Hanging On."
The only songwriters with more modern-era hits to their names are McCartney and Lennon. On May 13th, in Beverly Hills, the music publishing company BMI will honor the songwriting trio with its prestigious Icon Award.
Do you remember the first song you wrote where you felt like you three had a unique chemistry?
Brian Holland: The first song that the three of us collaborated on was "Come and Get These Memories." Lamont came up with the idea and I knew it was a hit when he first started doing it, especially when he said, 'This is your old teddy bear.' I knew the girls were going to gravitate to that. I knew then it was going to be a hit record.
Lamont Dozier: For me, it was when "Where Did Our Love Go" hit Number One. Brian and I used to have lunch at that little walk-up, and once that wheel started rolling with "Where Did Our Love Go," I said, "Man, we've stumbled up into something -- are you feeling this?" He said, "Yeah, I'm feeling it too." I said, "I don't know what this is, but I don't think this thing is going to stop." Do you remember that?
Brian: I remember that.
Lamont: By this time we'd had "Baby Love" and "Stop! In the Name of Love." The wheel was turning, and it was like Bam! It was like being at the carnival and hitting that bell, Bam! Number One! Bam! Number One! Bam! Number One! When we weren't doing that with the Supremes, we were over here with the Four Tops. Bam! It was surreal.
Eddie Holland: I can remember when they had the first BMI Awards dinner and we were up for about three or four awards but we didn't go. The next one, we were up for another three or four awards again, and we didn't go. The next one came around, and we had like eight awards, and I said, "You know, maybe we should go." So we went. I remember sitting at the table and people would come over, look at me and say, "Are you Holland, Dozier and Holland?" and I said, "Yeah," and they would walk away. I didn't know what the heck was going on. One person finally came up and we started talking, and I said, "What the heck is going on?" He said, "We'd never seen you guys. You guys never came. We didn't think you guys existed. We thought it was just a name [Motown Records founder] Berry Gordy was using and writing songs under that name."
Where did some of your bigger songs begin?
Lamont: "Stop in the Name of Love" resulted from an argument I had with a girl. I was trying to defuse the argument, and it came out, "Stop in the name of love." I was trying to be facetious, but the girl didn't think it was that funny. But then I thought about it, and there was a cash register ringing. The next day I brought it into the guys, and Brian was playing this thing that seemed to fit it, and we had it right off the bat.
What were your biggest fights about?
Eddie: I would slave really hard on the lyrics, and Brian would tell me that my lyric was in the way of production and he's got to pull this down, can you get rid of this lyric line. I would say, "No, no, I need that in there." He'd say, "It's in the way, it's in the way, you don't need that there."
Brian: I remember one in particular was "Can't Help Myself." He wrote some lyrics on the bridge or in the instrumental part. I said, "No, no. I'm taking that out. This music is too strong to have lyrics in there messing it up." I cleaned it out.
Do you remember those lyrics?
Brian: [Singing] Sometimes getting a little stronger.
Lamont: [Singing] Getting a little stronger.
Eddie: Man, I love that part. How did you remember that?
Lamont: When the Four Tops did that, they did it on stage.
What inspired that song?
Lamont: "Sugar pie honey bunch" was a thing my grandfather used to say, teasing, when he'd flirt with the women that used to come into my grandmother's beauty shop."
Could you tell right away that artists like the Supremes and the Four Tops would be stars?
Brian: Well, we could tell right away they were going to have hits. Whether or not they were going to become stars would depend on how they would handle the hits, how they groomed themselves, how the company got behind them. That part evolved. If you look at what the Supremes evolved into, and you look at those little girls when they first walked in the door, I don't think Nostradamus could have predicted that. No way.
How good were you at forecasting your own hits?
Brian: I made a lot of money with Berry. I used to bet him on every song, that it would go to Number One. It was six in a row and I bet a thousand dollars every time. After that, he said, "I ain't bettin' no more."