Destiny had a different agenda for Eddie Holland. He was a very good singer, but never achieved much success as one. In 1957, Berry Gordy hired the 18-year-old Detroit native, whose vocals bore a strong resemblance to the more seasoned 23-year-old Jackie Wilson, to make demonstration recordings of the songs he'd written for Wilson. Eddie and his younger brother Brian Holland, who'd both performed briefly with a local group called The Fidelatones, would later be a part of the development of the Motown family of record labels...accent on the word "family," as founder Gordy treated Motown's singers and staffers as such, regardless of blood relation. Only one bona fide hit was in Eddie the singer's future, though later he reached unbelievable heights as a songwriter with brother Brian and one other Motown regular, Lamont Dozier.

In early 1958, after Gordy concocted Wilson's first solo hit ("Reet Petite"), he produced Eddie on a version of "Little Miss Ruby," a pop-rock tune written by Neal Matthews, Jr. of The Jordanaires. The single on Mercury Records designated it as being featured in the film Country Music Holiday, though it's unknown who would have actually performed it onscreen, since it didn't make the final cut. An unusual guitar-based tune on the Kudo label, "(Where's the Joy?) In Nature Boy," carried an odd artist credit to Briant Holland, a possible misspelling, while it was Eddie (not Brian) who did the vocal.

By the spring of '59, Gordy and songwriting partner Tyran Carlo had written seven consecutive singles for Wilson (some of them demoed by Eddie), five of which were high-charting hits. Frustrated by the lack of control and some verbal abuse he'd taken from Nat Tarnopol, the head of Brunswick Records, he decided to start his own label. The first two releases on Tamla Records were "Come to Me" by his latest discovery Marv Johnson (it became a hit after United Artists picked it up for national distribution) and "Merry-Go-Round" by Eddie (not a hit after going through the same process). Getting him signed to United Artists was simple enough after Gordy had done so well with Johnson and Wilson, but while Marv enjoyed a nice run, Eddie's efforts faltered; "Because I Love You," "Magic Mirror" and a Holland-Janie Bradford original, "The Last Laugh," were perhaps lacking some intangible ingredient. With the UA contract dissolved by late 1960, Gordy took Eddie to Motown, along with Brian, who was part of the team that produced the company's first number one pop hit the following year: "Please Mr. Postman" by The Marvelettes.

Eddie was paired with producers Barrett Strong and Mickey Stevenson, who were responsible for his first of his ten 45s on Motown's famous "map" label. His vocal performance on "Jamie" was closer to Jackie Wilson's sound than before; so similar that many listeners, most of them unfamiliar with Holland, mistakenly thought it was Wilson, which may have worked in his favor, as the single reached the pop top 30 and R&B top ten in March 1962. Hopes were high for successive releases, dashed each time (the best shot may have been "Take a Chance on Me," hidden on the flip of "Jamie"). The Holland brothers composed the ballad "You Deserve What You You Get," shelved quickly in favor of an exotic Andre Williams-Gordy-Stevenson tune, "If Cleopatra Took a Chance." Then came a peppier summer offering, "If it's Love (It's Alright)."

Once Lamont Dozier got involved in early '63, it wasn't long before the entire game plan changed. He'd been a member of The Romeos at age 16; the group had two singles on the local Fox label in 1957, "Gone Gone Get Away" and "Fine Fine Baby," the latter issued nationally on Atco. later, Lamont joined The Voicemasters, a quartet that had two releases on Anna Gordy's Anna label in '59, "Hope and Pray" and "Needed." Then, as Lamont Anthony, he waxed a couple of solo discs for Anna and one for the Check-Mate label. While none of these had much traction, it gave him valuable experience; he joined "Hitsville" in '62 as a singer, songwriter and/or producer. Brian, Lamont and Freddie Gorman collaborated on a two-sided Marvelettes hit ("Someday, Someway" and "Strange I Know"), then without Gorman came up with "Darling I Hum Our Song," Eddie's fifth Motown single and fourth to falter.

In March, the brothers and their new partner began working almost exclusively as Holland-Dozier-Holland, a triad of surnames that fused together into a trademark of sorts. Eddie continued singing ("Baby Shake" and the stronger "I'm on the Outside Looking In," discs six and seven, unfortunately stiffed). The H-D-H team got things going with a mid-chart Marvelettes 45 ("Locking Up My Heart") and a top 30 hit, "Come and Get These Memories," the breakthrough Martha and the Vandellas had been craving. While all three wrote together, producing duties were handled mainly by Brian and Lamont. Two hot ones developed that summer; in September, Martha's "Heat Wave" made the top ten and The Miracles' "Mickey's Monkey" joined it there two weeks later. Suddenly Gordy needed three arms to pat his savvy new team on their backs.

While they cranked out hits in '63 for Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas ("Quicksand" went top ten) and even the previously joked-about "No-Hit Supremes" ("When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" was their first top 40 hit), Eddie's eighth Motown single "Leaving Here" arrived with a production matching the trio's high-caliber enthusiasm; the song placed him on the charts for the first time since "Jamie." H-D-H continued applying the winning formula to Eddie's recordings, charting again with "Just Ain't Enough Love." While these efforts only managed mid-chart positions, they were a few steps up from Eddie's drought of the previous two years.

Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland, Brian Holland

Then as they were readying another uptempo track, "Candy to Me," for his tenth single, something extraordinary happened. In July '64, their production of the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go" unexpectedly seized the number one spot while the former hard-luck girl group was touring with Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars tour. Had anyone seen it coming? Certainly not H-D-H. Then, recent signees the Four Tops scored their first hit (of a nearly decade-long non-Motown career to that point), "Baby I Need Your Loving"...written and produced by Holland, Dozier and Holland! To top it all off, "Baby Love" landed the Supremes at number one...second time in two months! Meanwhile, Eddie's "Candy to Me" made a slightly stronger showing than the previous pair. He'd entered his heyday, but not in the way he'd imagined. Three minor hits in one year was a nice turn of events, but it couldn't compare to the blockbusters he'd been creating with Brian and Lamont. So he quit singing. For good. Never to make another attempt.

For the next few years, songs by Holland, Dozier and Holland dominated the charts at a level surpassed only by The Beatles and their many John Lennon-Paul McCartney-penned smashes. From late '64 to late '65, Motown's leading team supplied the Supremes with four more chart-topping hits ("Come See About Me," "Stop! In the Name of Love," "Back in My Arms Again" and "I Hear a Symphony") and the first of two Four Tops number ones ("I Can't Help Myself"), plus top tens for Marvin ("How Sweet it Is to Be Loved By You"), Martha ("Nowhere to Run") and a big R&B hit for Kim Weston ("Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)").

They kept busy in '66 and '67, adding The Isley Brothers, Jr. Walker and the All Stars and pet project The Elgins to the list of acts benefiting from their expertise. The Supremes saw four more of their H-D-H productions climb to number one, bringing the total to ten.(at which time, in the spring of '67, they had only three less U.S. chart-toppers than the Beatles). Other acts started to make a splash with covers of H-D-H songs: Johnny Rivers put out a top-selling remake of the Four Tops' "Baby I Need Your Loving," Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass did well with an instrumental version of the Supremes' "The Happening" and psychedelic band Vanilla Fudge experimented freely with the arrangement of Supremes smash "You Keep Me Hangin' On," getting a top ten ranking for their effort.

Motown had progressed from being a small independent label working out of a house on Grand Avenue in Detroit to a major operation (still in the house), one of the record industry's most successful. Holland, Dozier and Holland were a key component in that success. Then suddenly they were gone, unhappy with a situation where they felt undercompensated for their contributions. The ensuing legal battle wasn't pretty. They started their own labels, Invictus and Hot Wax, and built a roster of hitmaking acts: The Flaming Ember ("Mind, Body and Soul"), Chairmen of the Board ("Give Me Just a Little More Time"), Freda Payne ("Band of Gold"), 100 Proof Aged in Soul ("Somebody's Been Sleeping"), The Honey Cone ("Want Ads") and others. Eddie Holland thrived as a writer-producer and major player. As far as his singing career was concerned, he never looked back. "Jamie" and his other few dozen recordings from 1958 to 1964, both with and without input from Berry Gordy or Dozier-Holland, remain accessible, worthy of a listen whenever we care to indulge.

- Michael Jack Kirby


Jamie If Cleopatra Took a Chance