The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #216: Heat Wave by Martha and the Vandellas (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #216: Heat Wave by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.

Martha Reeves was not an original member of “Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. The other members of this singing group were not originally known as “The Vandellas”, either. The story of this group goes way back into the mid-1950s and begins with a trio named the Del-Phis, who were comprised of Annette Beard, Rosalind Ashford and Gloria Williams. These three young ladies grew up, in and around, Detroit and got their start singing in Church basements and at local community gatherings. Eventually, after coming to the attention of executives at the fledging Motown Records company, they were signed to a standard recording contract. As demands grew on the trio to make records and perform at concerts and functions, Gloria Williams (who was acting as lead singer) felt the pressure of it all becoming too much and she decided to step away and retire. Her replacement was a singer named Martha Reeves. With a new singer on board, it was suggested by Motown head, Barry Gordy, that the group be re-christened. Shortly thereafter, “The Del-Phis” became “The Vandellas”. The group recorded under that name for five years and then, in what became a tradition at Motown under Barry Gordy, the lead singer was pushed into the spotlight and the group name changed again to, “Martha Reeves and the Vandellas”.

As we have seen many times during this countdown list, Motown Records worked in a very systematic way. There were singers (whose sole job was to sing the songs they were given), writers (whose sole job was to churn out songs for the stable of singers to sing) and there were session players (whose sole job was to provide the background music for all of the songs). It was all very compartmentalized. So, in the case of The Vandellas/Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, they were singers of songs. The songs they recorded, and became famous for, were written, by and large, by a songwriting team known as Holland, Dozier and Holland. These three men churned out dozens of Top Ten hits for Motown singers such as The Vandellas, The Supremes, The Temptations and many more. In the case of The Vandellas, their first combined success was with a song called, “Come and Get These Memories” (which cracked the Top 40). This was an important milestone for Motown Records because it was the company’s first Top 40 hit. Hot on the heels of that success came, “Heat Wave”, which made it to the Top Ten and really signalled to the rest of the music industry that Motown Records was becoming a force to be reckoned with. It, also, helped usher in a type of music that had a certain sound that was fresh and new and that, today, we simply call that “Motown sound”.

With Holland, Dozier and Holland writing for them, Martha and the Vandellas had a string of success with songs such as the afore-mentioned, “Heat Wave” and then, more Top Ten success with “Jimmy Mack”, “Nowhere to Run To” and “Dancing in the Street”. These songs ended up being inducted into the Song category of The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, along with all four members of the group (including Gloria Williams, who helped the group get their start). The song, “Dancing in the Street” has been made a part of the US Library of Congress collection of songs that have made a significant cultural contribution to the country. As well, “Dancing in the Street” was famously covered by rockers, Van Halen when they were first starting out and became a big hit for those guys, too.

Motown Records had a lot of successful artists record under their banner but, the group that started it all off for them was The Vandellas/Martha and the Vandellas. Here they are with Motown’s first Top Ten hit, “Heat Wave”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Dancing in the Street” by Martha and the Vandellas, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Martha and the Vandellas, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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