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'Fresh Air' remembers Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, professor of television studies at Rowan University in New Jersey, in for Terry Gross. Lamont Dozier, part of the Motown songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland, died Monday at the age of 81. Along with brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, he helped define the Motown sound. They wrote many hit songs, mostly for Martha and the Vandellas, the Supremes and the Four Tops. Here are just a few.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T HURRY LOVE")

THE SUPREMES: (Singing) I need love, love to ease my mind. I need to find, find someone to call mine. But mama said, can't hurry love. No, you just have to wait.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAT WAVE")

MARTHA AND THE VANDELLAS: (Singing) Whenever I'm with him, something inside - inside - starts to burning, and I'm filled with desire. Could it be a devil in me? Or is this the way love's supposed to be? It's like a heat wave burning in my heart. It's like a heat wave...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STOP! IN THE NAME OF LOVE")

THE SUPREMES: (Singing) Stop in the name of love before you break my heart. Baby, baby, I'm aware of where you go each time you leave my door. I watch you walk down the street.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO")

THE SUPREMES: (Singing) Baby, baby, baby, don't leave me. Ooh, please don't leave me all by myself. I've got this burning, burning, yearning feeling inside me, ooh, deep inside me. And it hurts so bad. You came into my heart.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY I NEED YOUR LOVING")

THE FOUR TOPS: (Singing) Baby, I need your loving. Baby, I need your loving. Although you're never here. your voice, I often hear. Another day, another night, I long to hold you tight.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOWHERE TO RUN")

MARTHA AND THE VANDELLAS: (Singing) Nowhere to run to, baby. Nowhere to hide. Got nowhere to run to, baby. Got nowhere to hide. It's not love I'm running from. It's the heartbreak I know will come 'cause I know you're no good for me. But you've become a part of me. Everywhere I go, your face I see.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I CAN'T HELP MYSELF (SUGAR PIE HONEY BUNCH)")

THE FOUR TOPS: (Singing) Sugar pie, honey bunch, you know that I love you. I can't help myself. I love you and nobody else. In and out my life, come and you go, leaving just your picture behind.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MARVIN GAYE")

MARVIN GAYE: (Singing) How sweet it is to be loved by you. Yes, baby. Ooh, how sweet it is to be loved by you. Ooh, baby, I needed the shelter of someone's arms. And there you were.

BIANCULLI: Holland, Dozier and Holland wrote more than 80 singles that reached the top 40 in the pop or R&B charts, including 10 No. 1 hits for the Supremes. The team was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. We're going to listen to Terry's 2003 interview with Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland. They began with one of their hits for the Four Tops, which, by the way, became part of the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REACH OUT I'LL BE THERE")

THE FOUR TOPS: (Singing) Now, if you feel that you can't go on because all of your hope is gone, and your life is filled with much confusion, until happiness is just an illusion, and your world around is crumbling around, darling, reach out. Come on, girl. Reach on out for me. Reach out for me. I'll be there with a love that will shelter you. I'll be there with a love that will you see you through.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

TERRY GROSS: In the intro, is that almost kind of, like, galloping horse drumbeat (laughter) - was that the idea of one of you?

BRIAN HOLLAND: Well, it was - Lamont and I came up with the - you know what I mean? We thought about that. And - which makes it interesting. You know what I mean? Little different sounds like that makes a record interesting, especially on an intro.

LAMONT DOZIER: The feeling of it, you know - I think there was a broken tambourine. There was a tambourine without the little shakers on it. And we just thought - well, the feeling of the music was - it almost dictated that we have some type of feeling like that going through, that little galloping thing that you mentioned. And in this case, we found this broken tambourine that seemed to match just what we needed for that feeling, you know?

GROSS: Eddie Holland, you were the lyricist on this song. How did you come up with the reach out, I'll be their hook?

EDDIE HOLLAND: I'm not sure. I think that was - Lamont had the idea. Often when Brian and Lamont would work together on the basic melodies in the earlier stages, sometimes, you know, one or two of us, you know, or three of us would come up with an idea, and then they would give me - after they recorded the instrumentation in the studio, they would give me that tape of that, and I would have to write the lyric to it.

GROSS: So you wrote the lyric after it was partially produced?

E HOLLAND: Well, yes. When you say - yeah, I guess you could consider it partially produced. When the instrumentation was basically done, the rhythm of it, then that's when Brian would - because Brian was the engineer also, in many cases, he would give me a copy of it. Sometimes, like I say, it would have a title. Sometimes it wouldn't. And they - but the bottom line is that I had to finish the lyric of it.

GROSS: So that's interesting. So the song already had a feel to it. It had a sound before there was a lyric.

E HOLLAND: Oh, yes.

DOZER: Yeah.

E HOLLAND: Most definitely.

DOZER: 'Cause we cut tracks first, you know, most of the time. It was done with tracks first, and then once we got the feeling, then we gave Eddie a melody to work from, so then he would know some idea about what it is that we were feeling, Brian and I, when we sat down to do these things. In this particular case, "Reach Out I'll Be There," Brian came up with that initial - (vocalizing). And then it went into the funk part, as I call it, and then that's when I join in. And we did a lot of things like that in compiling the track. And then once the track had been established, we would, you know, share our feelings about the melody. And then after the melody and the idea and whatever title we had, then we would pass it on to Eddie so he could complete the lyrics.

GROSS: I just find that so interesting because for so many other songwriters, it's the melody and the lyric that come first. And then the productions conceptualize. Or...

B HOLLAND: You know, funny thing - we never knew that.

GROSS: You - you're hearing all these instrumental hooks first.

(LAUGHTER)

B HOLLAND: No one ever told us that.

(LAUGHTER)

E HOLLAND: That's right.

GROSS: So tell us a little more about how you worked together as a songwriting and production team, how you divided up the responsibilities and what the process was like.

DOZER: Well, it started off, I guess, with sitting at the piano. This is Lamont. Started off at the piano with coming up with an idea first or a feeling of sorts. And then once we established that, Brian and I would work out a track that we wanted to cut, a feeling for a track, and we would go in and cut. Brian was the engineer. We both would put our feelings about the track and the music that we wanted to inject in the track and relay that to the musicians. Like, say, for instance, "I Can't Help Myself" has a baseline that - dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun. And then I would pass that on to James Jamerson while Brian was over telling Benny Benjamin what the feeling of the drums should be. This was the type of we - the workload, as I said, should - that we distribute the workload, and then we pass that on to Eddie with any lyric or idea or title for him to complete the song.

GROSS: At what point would you know what group was going to sing the song?

E HOLLAND: Well, this is Eddie Holland speaking. Well, pretty much, we directed our attentions as a rule towards a specific group. For example, if we were working on Supremes, we would write specifically for The Supremes. If we were doing the Vandellas, we would write specifically for the Vandellas or the Four Tops or whatever. But Brian and Lamont were so very prolific in their coming up with melodies and ideas that very often, they would do songs that didn't necessarily fit the particular artists that we were working on, meaning that they would come up with three songs, and maybe 2 of the 3 or 1 of the 3 did not fit that particular artist that we were working towards, working, you know, on to get the production. So that song then would be diverted to another artist.

GROSS: Can you think of an example like that?

E HOLLAND: Well, yes. I mean, the process of coming up with songs for The Supremes - there was a song called "This Old Heart Of Mine" that was later done on The Isley Brothers, you know. In the process of also working on, you know, The Supremes and/or the Vandellas at that time, that was a song called "Baby I Need Your Loving," which later on was given to the Four Tops. So that is the examples of us working on a particular artist and then some of the songs being devoted to someone else.

GROSS: My guests are the songwriting team of Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier. Here's their song "This Old Heart Of Mine," as recorded by the Isley Brothers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS OLD HEART OF MINE (IS WEAK FOR YOU)")

THE ISLEY BROTHERS: (Singing) Ooh, this old heart of mine been broke a thousand times. Each time you break away, I feel you've gone to stay. Lonely nights that come, memories that go, bringing you back again, hurting me more and more. Maybe it's my mistake to show this love I feel inside 'cause each day that passes by, you got me never knowing if I'm coming or going. But I love you. This old heart, darling, is weak for you. I love you. Yes, I do. These old arms of mine...

BIANCULLI: That's The Isley Brothers. We'll continue with Terry's 2003 interview with Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES JAMERSON'S "BERNADETTE (BASS LINE)")

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2003 interview with the songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, brothers Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier. They wrote dozens of Top 40 hits for Motown recording artists, including 10 No. 1 hits for the Supremes. Lamont Dozier died Monday at age 81.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Let's hear another record. You did a lot of work with The Supremes. Some of The Supremes hits that you wrote and produced include "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop! In The Name Of Love," "I Hear A Symphony," "My World Is Empty Without You," Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart," "Can't Hurry Love," You Keep Me Hanging On," etc., etc. So why don't we hear "You Can't Hurry Love?" Tell us about putting - like, creating the song and creating the record, and then we'll hear it.

DOZER: Brian came up with that - I remember correctly. It was like a gospel thing, like a (vocalizing). A nice little bounce. And he came up with that idea and that feeling that just - at the time, the Supremes were riding high and feeling their oats as superstars or what have you. And so it was like the next - you might say the next process in the scheme of things, meaning that it was a hit song that a lot of artists couldn't have done. You know, but because of their popularity, we could get away with something like that with them, you know? So, again, we cut the track and passed that onto Eddie. I think that was - I don't know, Eddie - he had to come up with a title for that 'cause we were...

E HOLLAND: Yeah. Yeah, I came up with the title for that.

DOZER: Yeah.

E HOLLAND: I was influenced by - Lamont hit it right on the head. By the way, this is Eddie. I was influenced by - I guess it's safe to say that. How many years has it been?

(LAUGHTER)

B HOLLAND: Yeah, you owe me a CD.

E HOLLAND: The gospel of the gospel songs is - that would influence me. But to make it even clearer, what influenced me to be influenced by the gospel song was the melody and the beat of the song itself. The syncopated movement of the melody influenced me to think of that old gospel song, you know, which - I won't really say what it is. But all you gospel people out there, you know what it is.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Oh, what is it? Come on.

E HOLLAND: I'm not going to say.

GROSS: Oh, say it. Say it.

E HOLLAND: Nah. I'm not going to say. But they'll know. You know who you are, you know?

B HOLLAND: You - (laughter) he's...

E HOLLAND: But through the lyric even in there, you could tell, you know, it was influenced - but see - 'cause we grew up, Brian and I - I can't really speak for Lamont on that 'cause I'm not sure. We never talked too much about that. But Brian and I, you know, we grew up in the church at a very, very young age. Matter of fact, the first hearing of Sunday school, or school, period - I thought it was Sunday school. You know, that's the first school I knew, was Sunday school...

(LAUGHTER)

E HOLLAND: that I could retain, you know? That's the truth. So we grew up in - you know, in a Baptist church, you know, Davidson (ph) Avenue Baptist Church in Detroit, Mich., there on St. Aubin (ph). And so, you know, a lot of the songs, you know, was influenced by what influenced me in the church.

DOZER: I think that was why we got along so well because we had the same sort of, say, musical upbringing - classical music mixed with gospel music. And in my particular case, I couldn't get out the house unless I go to choir rehearsal with...

B HOLLAND: You, too?

(LAUGHTER)

B HOLLAND: Oh, we finally found out, huh? (Laughter).

DOZER: Yeah, you know? And that was a must, you know, in the Black home in those days. My grandmother was a choir instructor. And I had to be there for choir rehearsals on Thursdays and then all day Sunday and maybe sometimes on Saturdays, you know, with this choir business from the time I was 12 years old, learning about the harmonies and singing in the choir and things like that. So I learned quite a bit.

And I think we all did because it was like the backbone of most Black singers today from Aretha Franklin, who is a good friend of ours that we knew back there, and a lot of other people that we knew - and Motown, exactly - that grew up in church. Marvin Gaye was another church boy, you know? And most of our training came from church. So when you say songwriting is done this way or that way, we just shot from the hip. Whatever felt good, that's what we did.

GROSS: Well, let's hear one of your many records that turned out great. This is The Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T HURRY LOVE")

THE SUPREMES: (Singing) I need love, love to ease my mind. I need to find, find someone to call mine. But mama said, you can't hurry love. No, you just have to wait. She said love don't come easy. It's a game of give and take. You can't hurry love. No, you just have to wait. You got to trust, give it time no matter how long it takes. But how many heartaches must I stand before I find a love to let me live again? Right now the only thing that keeps me hanging on - when I feel my strength, yeah, is almost gone, I remember mama said, you can't hurry love. No, you just have to wait. She said love don't come easy. It's a game of give and take. How long must I wait? How much more can I take before loneliness will cause my heart, heart to break? No, I can't bear to live my life alone. I grow impatient for a love to call my own. But when I feel that I, I can't go on these precious words keeps me hanging on. I remember mama said...

BIANCULLI: We'll continue with Terry's 2003 interview with Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier after a break. The songwriting trio wrote such indelible, unforgettable Motown hits as "Stop! In The Name Of Love" for The Supremes, "Heat Wave" for Martha and The Vandellas, "Reach Out I'll Be There" for the Four Tops, and "How Sweet It Is" for Marvin Gaye. Lamont Dozier died Monday at age 81. Also, Justin Chang reviews the new British film "Ali & Ava" now in theaters. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME SEE ABOUT ME")

THE SUPREMES: (Singing) I've been crying - boohoo - 'cause I'm lonely for you. Smiles have all turned to tears. But tears won't wash away the fears that you're never, ever going to return to ease the fire that within me burns. It keeps me crying, baby, for you, keeps me sighing, baby, for you. So won't you hurry?

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross. We're remembering Lamont Dozier, part of the songwriting team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, who helped define the Motown sound. Lamont Dozier died Monday at the age of 81. We're listening to Terry's 2003 interview with Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland. They wrote most of the hits recorded by the Supremes and the Four Tops and wrote many other Motown hits as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: How were you matched with the Supremes? How did the Supremes become one of your groups?

DOZER: I don't know. I guess they became one of the groups when we had the best song of...

(LAUGHTER)

DOZER: ...Of the rest of the producers. Meaning that, case in point, there were...

E HOLLAND: (Whispering) Lamont speaking.

DOZER: ...Oh, yeah. This is Lamont speaking. Right.

(LAUGHTER)

DOZER: Case in point, the - I think we first started recording them of any consequence - we had a big hit, or a Top 10, Top 20 hit, "When The Lovelight Starts Shining In His Eyes," which did OK. But they became our group, so to speak, when we came up with "Where'd Our Love Go." And "Where'd Our Love Go" was something that by accident happened that could have been just as well for the Marvelettes or people like that. But because it was a big hit on the Supremes - in this particular case, the song was so big that Berry came in and said, hey, we've got to follow this up. And that's when we started doing more baby stuff - "Baby Love," baby this, baby that.

(LAUGHTER)

E HOLLAND: But the only thing about it, what Lamont - I talked to Berry Gordy on - one night on the porch of Motown. And he said, listen. He said, I talked to Barney. Barney said - Barney Ales, he's the guy, you know, who was heading up sales at that time and handling distributing. He said, the record is a smash. It's a big record. And he says, we need to hurry up and do more on the Supremes because Motown needs to go all out on making the Supremes a big group. He said, because they have big crossover potential.

And so when I heard that, I went back and told Brian and Lamont. I said, listen; we have to move on this group because the company has the intent of being very strongly behind this group. And so what we have to do is come up with some other songs on the group because, you know, it's a very competitive company here. And so we did that. And I don't know whether they remember - once, I came in there, and I told them that nobody was leaving out of here. (Laughter) I don't know if they remember that.

B HOLLAND: No.

E HOLLAND: I closed the office door.

(LAUGHTER)

E HOLLAND: And they said they're going. They were leaving. I said, no, man. Nobody is leaving out of this office. We coming up with some songs.

(LAUGHTER)

E HOLLAND: Lamont looked at me. Brian Looked. And then, so the fact of the matter is, the next three No. 1 or Top 10 or whatever the songs that I don't recall now was done that day.

DOZER: That's right.

E HOLLAND: And Brian and I got into an argument. Which should be the next follow-up? Or what should be this follow-up? That's the only argument. All three of those songs were done that day on the next session.

GROSS: Which songs were they?

DOZER: "Baby Love" and "Come See About Me."

E HOLLAND: Right. And it was another one, too.

DOZER: There's another one, too. Right. Yeah.

B HOLLAND: Yeah. "Baby Love." "Come See About Me." And then...

DOZER: (Singing) Got him back in my arm. It was...

E HOLLAND: It was something else that was - yeah, but whatever. Maybe it was just the two. I thought it was three. But those two songs was done on the same session...

DOZER: Yeah.

E HOLLAND: ...Which we recorded that day. And then, like I said, Brian and I got into an argument. He and I argued a lot. Lamont sort of looked and eased his way out of the...

(LAUGHTER)

E HOLLAND: He was always very smart not to get involved with two brothers arguing...

B HOLLAND: He said, let the brothers fight it out.

E HOLLAND: ...Two brothers arguing it out, you know? He just said, hey; whoever wins, I'm on your side.

(LAUGHTER)

E HOLLAND: You know, he's a real politician. I mean, that was the position that he took. But anyway...

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear the song that kicked all of that off and hear the Supremes doing "Where Did Our Love Go," written and produced by my guest, the team of Holland, Dozier and Holland.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO")

THE SUPREMES: (Singing) Baby, baby, baby don't leave me. Oh, please, don't leave me all by myself. I've got this burning, burning, yearning feeling inside me, oh, deep inside me. And it hurts so bad. You came into my heart - baby, baby, where did our love go? - so tenderly with a burning love - baby, baby - that stings like a bee. Baby, baby, oh, baby, baby. Now that I surrender - baby, baby...

GROSS: So many of your hit songs have catchphrase titles, like "You Can't Hurry Love" or "Reach Out I'll Be There." "Sugar Pie, Honey Bun." "Nothing But Heartaches." "You Keep Me Hangin' On." Eddie, you wrote a lot of the lyrics. Is there a reason why those phrases would come to you as song titles?

E HOLLAND: Well, now, that "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch" thing was Lamont's.

DOZER: And I got it from my grandfather.

(LAUGHTER)

DOZER: He used to call...

E HOLLAND: That's for sure.

DOZER: Yeah. He got that from, you know - in the South, they had those catchphrases. Being that my grandfather was from the South, he used to come - and we had a - my grandmother had a home shop, a beauty shop. And all the women used to come into the shop. And he'd be working in the front garden. And he sort of would be flirting with them. And he would say, how you doing Ms. Kerry, sugar pie, honey bunch, you know, flirting with them.

(LAUGHTER)

DOZER: And my grandmother used to be watching from the door saying, look at that old crotchety out there flirting with them.

(LAUGHTER)

DOZER: And the thing is, a lot of the things like that came back to - when it came time for me to use some of those catchphrases, they came back just when we needed something to say to fit a certain track or whatever. In this case, that's what it was.

E HOLLAND: Yeah. But mostly, I would use titles - this is Eddie speaking - that, you know, that had some meaning, you know? I would try to do something, title - use titles that I felt had appeal from an emotional point of view. And a lot of the titles were things that were said to me that I had direct, personal experiences in dealing with, you know? You know, I was a young man and...

B HOLLAND: (Laughter).

DOZER: Little sweetheart or two.

(LAUGHTER)

E HOLLAND: You know...

B HOLLAND: Sowing his oats.

E HOLLAND: So a lot of the - yeah. So a lot of the titles would be, actually, titles that females - or ladies, you know, I would say, nice ladies...

DOZER: Would volunteer (laughter).

E HOLLAND: Would say to me, sometimes out of anger, sometimes out of whatever, you know? So a lot of that, but I could - you could hear something that had feeling. You could hear something that had meaning. And I basically believed in using titles and ideas that had feeling or appeal to them.

GROSS: Wait. So did you have a girlfriend who said, you don't really love me; you just keep me hanging on?

E HOLLAND: Well, I had a lot of them that said that...

(LAUGHTER)

E HOLLAND: ...To say the least. But yeah. Yeah. That was an argument that I had, you know, with someone that they said that to me. Yes.

GROSS: And you were taking notes.

E HOLLAND: Well, you know what? When you're a creative person, you don't necessarily - it just sticks to you. You went - and as soon as you hear it, it catches you right away. And for some reason, all your instincts - you know, you could be in the middle of an argument or - you know, I've been on telephones and talking to females in different conversation, you know? And sometimes they would say certain things. I say, well, hold on for a minute. And I would go get me a pencil...

(LAUGHTER)

E HOLLAND: ...And I would write it down, you know, because it's just - being a creative person, especially knowing that your responsibility is a - is doing the lyric, and you're doing the lyric with two very, very prolific - you know, meaning Brian and Lamont - very, very prolific songwriters. You have to constantly - you have to think and feel it and live it all the time, you know? But yeah. You know, it's just - it's a natural thing. I think all songwriters are like that.

DOZER: Yeah.

E HOLLAND: All poets are like that, you know? They hear something. They jot it down. Either - they don't jot it down then. They take a - mental notes, and it sticks. You know, I've had titles in my head that I've had for 25 years. I have titles in my head now that I've had for 25 years, that they're just ideas and thoughts, you know, that - they just stick. You just stand out, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN'T HELP MY SELF")

THE FOUR TOPS: (Singing) Ooh. Sugar pie, honey bunch, you know that I love you. I can't help myself. I love you and nobody else. In and out my life, you come and you go, leaving just your picture behind, and I've kissed it a thousand times. When you snap your finger or wink your eye, I come a-running to you. I'm tied to your apron strings, and there's nothing that I can do. Ooh. Can't help myself. No, I can't help myself 'cause, sugar pie, honey bunch…

BIANCULLI: That's the Four Tops. More with Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland after a break. They spoke to Terry Gross in 2003. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SUPREMES SONG, "YOU KEEP ME HANGIN' ON")

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2003 interview with the songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, brothers Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier. They wrote dozens of Top-40 hits for Motown recording artists, including 10 No. 1 hits for the Supremes. Lamont Dozier died Monday at age 81.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Brian Holland, you were vice president for quality control at Motown. What did that mean?

B HOLLAND: That meant that I would take the records - I mean, the records that - being mixed - I would take them and listen to them and see, did they have the quality to go out on the street? And if it was not the quality I thought it should be or I thought Berry Gordy would want, then I would reject it and have it redone again.

GROSS: Not the greatest way of making friends. Did you get into a lot of fights with...

B HOLLAND: Absolutely.

GROSS: Yeah.

B HOLLAND: Yeah, absolutely. I remember specifically, I got into - not a fight - you know what I mean? We got in a disagreement with a couple producers because, you know, I turned down whatever thing they thought was hits and then said, no; it wasn't good enough to go out.

GROSS: Now, did you have other ways of testing it? You know, were there meetings in which you played it for everybody else at Motown? Or were there dances that you could test a record before it was released commercially to see if it was infectious or not?

B HOLLAND: Yeah. Well, this is Brian again, as you know. What had happened is that we had what they call a quality control meeting and - to listen to all the records that were scheduled to go out. And we would vote on them. We have about, maybe, 8 to 10 people that would actually vote on the record. And if they say yeah - yea - the majority say yea, then it goes out.

GROSS: And...

E HOLLAND: Personally, I always - this is Eddie - personally, I always thought it was more of a popularity contest more than anything because nobody was going to say no on Smokey Robinson's songs for the most part...

(LAUGHTER)

E HOLLAND: ...Or Berry Gordy's either, you know?

DOZER: You know, I remember, too every once - and this is Lamont - every once in a while, we had some kids come in in the big studio - well, big studio - it wasn't a big studio - but in the main studio that we recorded in. We would have chips - Coke and chips - Coca-Cola, that is - and chips...

(LAUGHTER)

DOZER: ...And had the kids come in. I remember one summer we did that. We had an onslaught of songs. And I think Mickey Stevenson had sort of got some kids together off the street or whatever and brought them into the studio. And we had a little reviewing party, a song - whatever you want to call it - a listening party. And they played these songs. And a lot of the kids would express their opinion on what they felt. They danced to the songs and gave opinions on them and made little cards and jot down what they liked. That's...

GROSS: Did you ever disagree with them and think, oh, what do you know anyways? You're just a kid. I'm a professional songwriter, and I know better.

DOZER: (Laughter).

B HOLLAND: Well - this is Brian speaking. We did that - he's right. We did that on several occasions, but it proved not to be good. For one, Smokey Robinson, he and Berry used to get into it all the time about his records. And he would demand that Berry bring in a whole bunch of people - I mean, kids - to test his records out. And the kids - I mean, Smokey was so popular that they said yeah, and they put the record out, and it flopped. He didn't have...

(LAUGHTER)

B HOLLAND: That proved not to be a good choice. The older people, the more - I would say the 25 to 30 to 40 people we had in the quality control meetings proved to be the most accurate of releasing records.

DOZER: Yeah. And they were both reliable because they got into the song, got into the feeling of the situation and the lyric and just the overall production. Then there were times when Berry would just override everything. When everybody said, no, it was a flop or whatever they thought, and he would say, well, I'm putting this out anyway, or I'm not putting it out. And he would override the whole situation that time.

GROSS: We have time just to end with one more recording. And I thought we'd play the Martha and the Vandellas hit "Heat Wave," which you wrote and produced. Brian, is there a story behind the song?

B HOLLAND: Well, it was a successful song. That's the main story. But - not much of a story, other than we had fun doing that song. And it took a lot of editing of work I had to do on that song. You know what I mean?

DOZER: That's right.

B HOLLAND: A lot of tape on the floor...

GROSS: What kind of editing?

B HOLLAND: Well, I had to - well, you know, just like when you going to edit this tape, I guess, or something - maybe to some degree. But you had to take out little parts that you didn't need. You know what I mean? And to make it - make the song whole.

DOZER: Yeah. To keep the...

B HOLLAND: Intensity.

DOZER: ...Energy and the intensity up.

B HOLLAND: Right, the energy. Right - going. Right.

DOZER: Yeah. You have to do that sometimes. Sometimes a lot of lull in the song...

B HOLLAND: Right.

DOZER: Meaning that it - a lot of wasted air, time or maybe - and then you only had, in those days, like, two minutes or 2 1/2 minutes long in those days. So you had to make sure that you hit all the hot spots and keep the energy up.

GROSS: Well, this is a very high-energy song.

B HOLLAND: Oh, yeah.

DOZER: Oh, yeah. It was that.

B HOLLAND: Absolutely.

GROSS: OK.

DOZER: And a big hit for them.

GROSS: Right.

B HOLLAND: And for us, too.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Well, listen; congratulations on your BMI award. Thank you so much for talking with us.

B HOLLAND: Thank you.

GROSS: It was really fun. And thanks for all the great music you've given us.

B HOLLAND: Thank you.

E HOLLAND: Thank you, Terry.

DOZER: Thank you.

B HOLLAND: It's been a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAT WAVE")

MARTHA AND THE VANDELLAS: (Singing) Whenever I'm with him, something inside - inside - starts to burning, and I'm filled with desire. Could it be a devil in me? Or this the way love's supposed to be? It's like a heat wave burning in my heart. It's like a heat wave. I can't keep from crying. It's tearing me apart. And whenever he calls my name, soft, low, sweet and plain. Right then, right then, I feel that burning flame. Has high blood pressure got a hold on me? Or is this the way love's supposed to be? It's like a heat wave burning in my heart. It's like a heat wave. I can't keep from crying. It's tearing me apart. Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, heat wave. Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, heat wave. Sometimes I stare in space, tears all over my face. I can't explain it, don't understand it. I ain't never felt like this before. Now, that funny feeling has me amazed. Don't know what to do. My head's in a haze. It's like a heat wave - yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

BIANCULLI: Martha and the Vandellas. Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier spoke to Terry Gross in 2003. The songwriting trio wrote dozens of top 40 hits for Motown recording artists, including 10 No. 1 hits for The Supremes. Lamont Dozier died Monday at age 81.

Coming up, film critic Justin Chang reviews the new British romantic drama "Ali & Ava," now in theaters. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUNG-HOLT UNLIMITED'S "SOULFUL STRUT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.