1963 Heat Wave of Detroit

One of the first big hits to come from Martha and the Vandellas was “Heat Wave”–  a key song released in July 1963; a song that helped send this group, Motown, and its songwriters into the realm of big business. At the time, leading-edge baby boomers, with their significant buying power, were moving through their high school years. “Heat Wave” hit the streets precisely as millions of these kids were coming of age.

As well as well as any song of that era, “Heat Wave” — a buoyant, hard-driving rock ‘n roll tune — captured the spirit and optimism of its time, along with the energy of its young listeners. Even to this day, “Heat Wave” is an irresistible dance tune. In 1963, it quickly scaled the pop charts.

The song’s full title is actually “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave,” with lyrics about teen love describing a young girl’s heart burning with desire — “like a heat wave.”  As Martha and her ladies ask: “Has high blood pressure got a hold on me, or is this the way love’s supposed to be?”  Their answer: “Can’t explain it, don’t understand it, ain’t never felt like this before.” But in 1963, the power of this song was not in its lyrics. Rather, this tune aroused its listeners with buoyant hand-clapping, an unyielding drum beat, and pure musical drive. Its “message” was its energy and its vibrancy. “Heat Wave” offered its coming-of-age charges pure possibility. To them, the song’s optimistic musical assessment suggested wide-open horizons with few limitations. Indeed, the times were more innocent and full of hope — those halcyon days of September 1963, prior to JFK’s assassination.

“Heat Wave” became a million seller, and by late September 1963 it had risen to No. 4 on the pop charts and No. 1 on the R&B charts, remaining in those spots for about five weeks. “Heat Wave” was produced by a famous three-person team at Motown — a team consisting of the two brothers, Brian and Edward Holland, along with Lamont Dozier. This talented trio — “Holland-Dozier-Holland” as they came to be known, or HDH — wrote and arranged a number of Motown’s top songs, producing a distinctive sound that helped define American popular music in the 1960s.

During their tenure at Motown, from 1962-1967, Dozier and Brian Holland were the composers and producers, while Eddie Holland wrote the lyrics and arranged the vocals. Thus, “Holland-Dozier-Holland” was the credit line that often appeared on many of the Gordy and other Motown labels during that period.

“Heat Wave” was the second collaborative hit between the Vandellas and HDH. “Come and Get These Memories” had been Martha & the Vandellas’ first hit, released earlier in February 1963. “Memories” rose to No. 29 on the Billboard singles chart, and No. 6 Billboard R&B chart. But it was “Heat Wave’s” success that helped propel the “Vandellas-HDH-Motown” sound to new heights.  The song also garnered the group’s only Grammy Award nomination — Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for 1964.  “Heat Wave” was followed shortly by another song in the same vein, as HDH turned out “Quicksand,” released in October 1963.  

“Quicksand,” like “Heat Wave,” was another very “danceable” tune. In its lyrics, the lover this time was bringing his lady “closer and closer” — into a love that was like “quicksand,” causing her to fall “deeper and deeper in love” with him. This tune rose quickly on the charts, reaching No. 8.  It was the third hit for the Vandellas and the HDH team.


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