Prolific singer-songwriter Lamont Dozier penned hits for the Marvelettes, the Supremes, <a href="Marvin Gaye">Marvin Gaye</a>, Martha and the Vandellas, the Four Tops, the Isley Brothers and many more over his decades-long career. Dozier helped define the signature sound of Motown Records — one which has been covered, sampled, interpolated and used in soundtracks for generations.
Through his musical collaboration with brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, Dozier co-wrote, arranged and produced a string of classic hits in the 1960s. Among his extensive canon are songs like "You Keep Me Hangin' On," "Heat Wave," "I Can't Help Myself," and "Nowhere to Run." Without Dozier's ability to craft catchy hooks and grooves, Motown may have never become the powerhouse label that changed the course of music history.
Dozier's creative offerings inspired artists across many genres, so when his publicist announced news of his passing at the age of 81, social media was flooded with heartfelt tributes from notable collaborators and admirers of his work, including Brian Wilson, Mitch Hucknall of Simply Red, Paul Stanley of KISS, and singer-songwriter Carole King.
Diana Ross — who first met Dozier in the '60s when he co-wrote 10 No. 1 singles for the Supremes, including "Baby Love" and "Come See About Me" — paid tribute to the late songwriter on Twitter: "He will always be remembered through all the beautiful songs that he wrote for me and the Supremes, and so many other beautiful songs."
Motown Records founder Berry Gordy played a major role in getting Dozier's career off the ground. "Lamont was a brilliant arranger and producer who balanced the talents of the great Eddie and Brian Holland, helping to pull it all together," Gordy said in a statement. "H-D-H, as we called them, gave the Supremes not only their first No. 1 record, ‘Where Did Our Love Go,' but they followed that with multiple No. 1s over the next three years. Unheard of…In the 1960s, their sound became synonymous with the 'Motown Sound.'"
(L-R) Diana Ross, Lamont Dozier (at piano), Mary Wilson, Eddie Holland, Florence Ballard (seated) and Brian Holland in the Motown studio circa 1965. | Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Dozier's journey to the top of the charts began in Detroit, where he was born and raised in the Black Bottom district. Raised by a single mother who worked hard to provide for him and his siblings, Dozier was a creative, ambitious kid and a bit of a romantic — he was known as "the love doctor" at his junior high where he sold love letters to classmates. He knew he wanted to make music, so he began writing songs as he figured out his next moves.
In high school, Dozier took a major step toward achieving his music dreams when his interracial doo-wop group, the Romeos, stumbled into a recording contract with a newly formed independent label. The group's single "Fine, Fine Baby" soon caught the attention of Atlantic Records, which bought the song from them. Dozier viewed the sale as a sign of good things to come and promptly dropped out of high school to devote all of his time to making music, much to the dismay of his mother. But the Romeos' success was short-lived — Dozier overplayed his hand during negotiations with Atlantic, abruptly ending the group's collaboration with the label. They disbanded shortly thereafter.
After the group split, Dozier set out to earn a living as a solo artist. In 1960, Dozier recorded his first solo project with Anna Records, a label co-founded by Gordy's sister Gwen. He recorded two tracks for the label, a midtempo ballad and a funky B-side called "Popeye." A young Marvin Gaye played drums on "Popeye," which became a regional hit before the label was forced to pull the record because of its references to the trademarked spinach-loving cartoon character.
When Gwen and her husband sold Anna Records to Motown and in 1962, Gordy came a-knockin.' After years of circling each other, Dozier agreed to join Motown as a songwriter/performer and partnered with songwriter Brian Holland to pen tracks for the Contours and the Marvelettes. They soon recruited Holland's brother Eddie, and each H-D-H member had a critical role: Eddie would be the lyricist; Dozier, the idea man who created the lyrical concepts, and Brian would write the music.
According to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, H-D-H composed over 400 songs, 70 top 10 singles, and 40 No. 1 hits for Motown before leaving due to contract disputes in 1972. (The trio has since been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)
Though the trio continued working together infrequently under a different moniker, Dozier's focus was on his burgeoning solo career, during which he released 12 albums. While he could not replicate H-D-H's success with his own pursuits, the hitmaker earned accolades for his solo efforts and other collaborations, including an Academy Award nomination and a GRAMMY win for his work on Phil Collins' 1988 song "Two Hearts."
Alongside his creative pursuits, Dozier was heavily involved in music education throughout his career. The veteran songwriter helped develop the Pop Music Program at USC Thornton School of Music and worked closely with emerging young artists as the school's Artist-in-Residence. "I discovered that I draw a lot of energy and inspiration from working with students who love music and are hungry to learn the craft," he wrote in his 2019 memoir, How Sweet It Is.
When he wasn't composing, teaching, or spending time with his family, Dozier held multiple leadership positions within the Recording Academy and left an indelible impression on those who crossed paths with him. "Lamont poured his heart and soul into his craft, shaping the sound of Motown and eternally influencing the art of songwriting," wrote Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. "We will remember his natural ability to pen legendary music that connected people across the world."
"Lamont was a national treasure and wrote some of the most iconic songs of any generation. He was kind, humble and a leader in the Recording Academy family," adds Susan Stewart, Managing Director of the Songwriters & Composers Wing. "Most recently, he served as an Honorary Chair for the Songwriters & Composers Wing, a role that honored his love and respect for his fellow writers. He will be so deeply missed by all of us."
Over his six-decade career, Lamont Dozier helped craft a unique blend of R&B, gospel and pop music that not only defined the Motown Sound but took flight for artists beyond Motor City f. Here are some essential tracks produced, co-written and arranged by the prolific hitmaker.
"How Sweet It Is" - Marvin Gaye
Released in 1964, "How Sweet It Is (to be Loved by you)" was an instant hit for Marvin Gaye, who recorded the song in one take. The love song hit No. 6 on the singles charts and became Gaye's most successful song to date.
The single's success was bittersweet for Dozier, who had intended to record the song for his solo career. "Once Marvin had his hit with [‘How Sweet It Is'], I accepted that an artist career just wasn't in the cards for me," Dozier wrote. "I still wanted it, but I was constantly bombarded with demand for more songs, and more productions for [Motown's] growing roster of artists."
After penning countless tracks for other artists, Dozier was eventually able to make his dream come true — he released a dozen solo albums throughout his career.
"Where Did Our Love Go?" - The Supremes
The Supremes' first No. 1 hit charted for 14 weeks, but without Dozier's persistence, the group may have never recorded it. H-D-H had originally penned the track for the Marvelettes, who rejected it, which led Dozier to bring it to Diana Ross and The Supremes, who were also not fans of the sound.
The songwriter was caught between a rock and a hard place: if he couldn't sell the single, the label would make H-D-H absorb the production costs, so giving up was not an option. Luckily for H-D-H, the Supremes had yet to score a hit single, so they were in no position to pass on the song. Thanks to Dozier's tenacity and Berry Gordy's stamp of approval, the trio gave in and agreed to release the star-making hit that would launch them into the mainstream.
"You Keep Me Hangin' On" - The Supremes
A sound effect from a radio news bulletin inspired the attention-grabbing foundation of this hit song. "I remembered that staccato effect that preceded the news," Dozier wrote. So he employed a guitarist to recreate the news alert on the track. "I thought that would be a cool way for us to sonically say, ‘Hey, pay attention.'" And the world did.
The song topped the charts and inspired new iterations from artists across various genres and generations including Vanilla Fudge, Kim Wilde, Rod Stewart and Reba McEntire.
"I think that's probably one of my favorite songs in our catalog because of the way it has continued to resonate with different people through different versions for different generations over all these years," Dozier wrote.
"Baby I Need Your Loving" - The Four Tops
What came first: the music or the lyrics? In the case of "Baby, I Need Your Loving," the music came three years before the lyrics.
Dozier and Brian Holland arranged and composed the music for this hit song during a three-hour creative session, but Dozier wouldn't crack the lyrical concept until a year later when the muse deposited a couple of lines into his creative bank: "Baby, I need your love. Got to have all your love." The two iconic lines helped introduce the Four Tops to a wider audience, garnering them their first Top 20 hit. (The song peaked at No. 11.)
"Stop! In the Name of Love" - The Supremes
This classic track was inspired by an argument that Dozier had with a woman he was seeing. "I was trying to defuse the argument, and it came out, ‘Stop in the name of love,'" Dozier told Rolling Stone.
"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."
"Two Hearts" - Phil Collins
"Phil Collins and I became friends and admirers of one another from the first time we met," Dozier wrote. The songwriting vet partnered with the drummer-turned-solo superstar to produce this track for the 1988 motion picture "Buster," which earned the duo a GRAMMY Award, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award nomination.
This wasn't the first collaboration between Collins and Dozier — the duo had worked on tracks for Eric Clapton's "August" — and it wouldn't be the last. Both Collins and Clapton made guest appearances on Dozier's "Inside Seduction" album.
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