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Steve Ison
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IAC Prime Member


Steve Ison

8/29/2013 1:08:51 PM ---- Updated 8/29/2013 1:13:57 PM

Holland Dozier Holland
"it's not what i say it means, it's how a song makes you feel"

That quote which Steve April posted on his Bruce Lee song from either John Lennon or Phil Spector -I googled and couldn't find a result for either -Never mind, i love it and it fits in
totally with my philosophy about music - and what i'm always trying to find and express with my own creativity

Of course my main focus for that is musical - but it equally applies to lyrics i love too

Got me thinking about Holland/Dozier/Holland and their exquisite pop writing in the 60s
for so many stellar Motown acts..The Supremes,The Four Tops,Martha and The Vandellas etc -
and how that was obviously their modus operandi too..

There was a quote from them i remember saying (something like) 'We were always looking for that magical taste/flavour in the music that'd be absoloutly IRRESISTABLE to people"..A certain way the chord harmonises with the melody,a great rythm - a vibe

Its like they were tapping into a universal quality which to me seems to've been all but lost from pop music now..

I mean who can resist the yearning sweet sadness of when the chorus enters on Jimmy Mack ....

The glistening sweet transcendence of the intro to Baby Love.....

The pushed rythms n urgent rising chords of Heatwave...

The dramatic intensity and incredible wonderful major-minor key modulations of Ghost In My House or
Reach Out I'll Be There,,, ?

Their creative trajectory,rise n fall (very roughly ) matched that of The Beatles...Between 1963
and 1967 the quality and quantity of their creative output as songwriters was simply staggering

By early 1968 they'd left Motown due to arguments with Berry Gordy over royalty rates..
- and the work they did after that with Chairman Of The Board (altho servicable pop/soul of its time) is just not of the same creative quality..Its like they'd put their feet up abit - and stopped searching and being so intense about their art..

It seems like every major artist/band/writer seems to have their time in the sun to push things forward -then the baton gets passed to someone else who has the fire n vision..

Seems very difficult for artists to keep that fire,creative drive n focus to burn at such an intensity for anything more than a few years
I guess people want an easier life eventually n settle down..A family,a sense of familiarity n comfort n peace

Dunno how well those things sit with the restless driving energy required to write great pop songs..

Of course its always easier to be magical n great when everyone around you is being magical n great..It pushes you to up your game constantly...

Such was the case in the 60s

So i think Holland Dozier Hoilland were really influenced by the Beatles with their ongoing exploration of interesting chord progressions,dramatic mood contrasts in songwriting and
novel production ideas..
But there again The Beatles were influenced by them very much too - All the main artists n writers of the time were influenced and pushed forward by each other in that cultural rennaisance time (roughly 63-67) when the whole art form of pop and the recording technology to capture it was expanding at thrilling lightening speed..

Thanx so much anyways HDH for such magical music tho -which has been such a source inspiration n joy for me - and obviously -millions of others....*raises glass^

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Steve April

9/2/2013 1:28:34 PM

every time "baby love" comes on the radio, I wanna cry.


however, i do really always enjoy the song, a gem, with diana ross' soulful, sultry, doft, plaintive vocal, and the unusual keys, and the dynamic sax, and grand lyrics, a soul story perfectly told in 2:30 or so...with the rich, redemptive harmonies in the back, smoothin' the way, to a pleasing experience.

always do like the supremes, at their best, sound great to this day, in my humble view. Great songwriting also lol...

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Richard Scotti

9/2/2013 3:06:58 PM

Motown = notes making love to chords on a bed of strings while a vintage drum set pushes the magic forward to a vocal climax of pure euphoria.

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Shoe City Sound

9/3/2013 10:35:57 AM

Agree with all of the above - and also sometimes, there's just a moment when a lot of things come together and something unbelievable happens. In the period you mention between 1963 and 1967 the whole Motown phenomena was a conglomeration of some incredible factors, and particularly, in my opinion the Detroit jazz musicians that backed up mostly all of the Motown groups. There's a great documentary about them "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" - so worth watching. But of course there was Berry Gordy and his staff of production people, the writers - Holland Dozier Holland andall the others, the most talented group of artists imaginable - and it seems that they all had heart felt ambition to be great at what they did and to entertain.

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Steve Ison

9/6/2013 11:21:39 PM

Steve..I love Diana Rosses voice too..This woman where i work was a real soul music snob saying Diana Ross's voice was weak..
I was saying she had a fantastic n distinctive POP voice

Richard Motown = "notes making love to chords" Love that..

Dolores..Thanx so much for the Standing In The Shadows Of Motown doc recommendation..Watched it last night ..Was fantastic - and made me appreciate how much i THINK i'm liking something is down to 'the song' with motown is actually alot down to the players
Seriously brilliant performances
Had no idea they were all jazz musicians
Really cool guys
So many laugh out loud stories and a few really heartbreaking ones too..

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9/7/2013 2:28:39 PM

HDH were without a doubt one of the most productive songwriting teams ever. I am not sure about them being influenced by the Beatles though. Maybe a little. But the majority of their influence seems to have come from the ground swell of R&B music that emanated from the streets of Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. The chord structures of their songs were very reminiscent of the Black church music from which most African American artists originated from. To be honest with you, The Beatles and many other international groups were deeply inspired by this so called "race music". They gave great homage and respect to the Motown sound. Even though HDH was the nucleus of the Motown sound, It is important to note several other songwriters who helped to shape this sound and wrote countless hits for Motown artists. That list would include William Smokey Robinson, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Janie Bradford, Johnny Bristol, Norman Whitfield, Paul Riser, Marvin Gaye and a host of many more songwriters who wrote several hits for a variety of Motown artists.

The 60's were my musical learning years and I was fortunate enough to open for a few of the Motown artists. But I was just an obscure musician in a number of obscure bands. Back then I played in several bands at a time. I just wanted to work and play! If they needed a horn player I played, a keyboard man? I played. A Vocalist or guitar player. Yep, I was right in there. I didn't even care about what genre a band was playing. I just wanted to play. However, it wasn't until the 70’s that I began to feel like I belonged on stage with some of my idols. My musicianship and songwriting had improved enough for me to get totally funked up by then. But if not for the 60's music, the evolution into 70's funk would not have begun. The session band model of the Funk Brothers was expanded and the large funk band scene took over. It should also be noted that The Funk Brothers played on more number-one hits than The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys combined. Back then I lived and breathed funk music. In many ways, I still do. If I were the type of person that would pick a favorite decade of music, it would probably be the 70’s. Not just because of the Funk but because the turbulence of the 60’s had sort of waned and the nation began to groove to groups like Sly Stone, Earth Wind & Fire, The Average White Band, and a host of other bands that I built my musical foundation on. But the 60’s music is still very dear to my heart. Even the 50’s had some awesome music that I loved. I was a teenager but I just loved music. For me, the greatest decade of music has not happened yet. When I consider that people still pay big bucks to go listen to music that was written several centuries ago, it sort of opens my eyes to what timeless truly means. If 60’s music is still hot 200 years from now, I would say it’s timeless. But, so far it is still going strong. That is quite impressive for sure.

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Steve April

9/7/2013 7:16:22 PM ---- Updated 9/7/2013 7:35:22 PM

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Steve April

9/7/2013 8:08:11 PM

on the spur of the moment, popped over a note to Lamont Dozier at Thornton School of Music, in L.A., where Lamont's a faculty member lol...

Wouldn't it be grand to have Lamont visit IAC...

I'll leave his email (who knows) , if anyone else wants to share their love for the songs he helped create.


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Shoe City Sound

9/9/2013 8:32:24 AM ---- Updated 9/9/2013 9:54:42 AM

Steve April - what a great idea! I'll totally email - hey you never know haha

Steve Ison - so glad you checked out the documentary. I love that movie! I had no idea at all that they were all jazz musicians either - put a different perspective on it for me when I found out - for instance, definitely the bassline to Bernadette - you read my mind there.


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Steve Ison

9/13/2013 3:00:56 PM ---- Updated 9/13/2013 3:07:08 PM

Stoneman..Yes,there was a huge amount of songwriting talent
feeding the magical motown machine at the time - and of course HDHs
main influences were heartfelt Gospel and the early RnB (from which The Beatles fed massively too- as you said)

Like The Beatles tho -they DID share an obvious openess to novelty,the new, the strange and the arty-even in their earlier writing days..

The intro to 1963 song Heatwave for instance (an HDH production as well as song) goes on for a full 30 seconds before the vocal comes in - a very brave move back then -but there again listening now its gotta be one of the most intensely passionate,stellar band/vocal performances ever recorded..It still sounds so fresh n utterly vital n alive even 50 years on...

The delightfully bizarre HDH song Run Run Run by The Supremes (also 1963) sounds like it owes as much to 'West Side Story' as Gospel - with its angular chord changes,strange-jazzy production and eccentric vocal phrasing

Maybe i mean they always had a sense of STRANGENESS in their music -like The Beatles did -more than they were influenced by them particularly..
One of the reasons i love them so much anyways..

Steve..Have sent a note to Lamont too
You never know !

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9/14/2013 9:39:37 AM

100% agree with you on this one Steve. By the way, thank you for always writing such stimulating posts here on the Pipeline. I may not always agree with your thoughts but I always thoroughly enjoy reading them and responding. You help to make the forum a wonderful experience!

Great Respect To You!

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Steve April

9/14/2013 10:22:15 AM ---- Updated 9/14/2013 10:27:46 AM

music keeps on giving...

how about the "off the wall" lyric "from my arms you may be about of reach/but my heart says you're here to teach..."

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Richard Scotti

9/15/2013 9:32:22 AM ---- Updated 9/15/2013 9:34:35 AM

Much of the music we are discussing here was filled with hope, humility, love, compassion, humanity and a pure sense of joy. Perhaps the collective consciousness of the modern psyche has lost sight of these elements. Music reflects the human gene pool that exists at the time the music is written. A variety of internal and external universal factors affect the lives of artists and how they express themselves. Time is like a wave and we ride the waves as they move us forward. Each wave tends to carry individual attributes that shape the time in which they exist.

The modern age has brought many positive and negative things, mixed blessings, so to speak. Perhaps many artists of the day are now riding the wave of the lack of hope and humanity that is washing over us at the moment. The elements that used to drive a great song: soulful melody, inventive chord changes, harmony, authenticity of emotion, universal messages and stories, and a sense of hope are sorely missing in much of today's music. (There are exceptions of course) But a wave is a pervasive force and this is the wave we are mostly stuck with right now.

There's some good music out there but many songs have lost that lovin' feelin'. The great ones were written in a different time by and for a kind of human being that is fading out of existence. There's a new kid in town.

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9/18/2013 11:06:52 AM

Steve, I was looking through their portfolio of songs over the years and I was amazed how many I knew and liked - but I never took much notice who wrote them before. Songwriters really are the hidden power behind the many singing Kings and Queens of our time

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Bob Elliott

9/20/2013 4:46:27 PM

Yeah. Everyone loves Motown, I do, too. However, I notice that if I listen to the motown station on pandora, pretty soon the assembly line flavor starts to show through. It's all the same writers and players with a change in singers, and I can only take so much.

One place you can hear those same musicians step out a bit more into something different is on Marvin's What's Going On? album. He used the same crew, but they were encouraged to bring out their jazz. That album was so beautiful, and it was the beginning of the end for Motown as it released artists from the Motown machine, and the machine broke.

But of course they were influenced by Beatles. Any half decent songwriter of the time was. You would have been foolish not to have taken stock of what they were doing.

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Steve Ison

9/23/2013 2:32:32 PM

Richard..Great post man - -really well put..I ponder those kinda things all the time-i.e why people want so much mediocre joyless music now compared to the abundance of joy,freedom n beauty that the 60s offered

For my own sanity, n musical evolution it definitely feels the most invigorating,life affirming place to be anyway...
It gives me hope and keeps me keepin' on..
I resonate with the creative,artistic souls of that time and just don't with the corporate rappin,modern countryin' hyper-earnest mumford n sonsy vibe of today at all..

Why would i wanna choose to listen to any of that stuff ?

Just 'cos its 'modern' ?

Its got nothing to offer me..

Bob..I actually agree with you about the same musician non-stop motown thing..I choose to mix it up with my playlists - so i get more variety and the similarities don't hit me that way

Can understand what you're saying about the freedom Marvins Whats Goin' On offered the great jazz players who played for motown
I do like n artistically appreciate that album -but i don't LOVE IT n crave it the way i do Bernadette or Ghost In My House or Heatwave..

Its so much intense POP i love really

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Steve Ison

9/23/2013 2:35:32 PM

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Steve April

10/3/2013 12:41:39 PM

here's another Supremes fav...

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Bob Elliott

10/5/2013 1:15:54 PM

Well, don't get me wrong. I spent years listening to that stuff as though it held the keys to existence. Also maybe even more from Atlantic R and B crew. Just my mind studying it, rolling it over, figuring out why it pleased me to hear it.

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