All About Martha & The Vandellas

Martha & The Vandellas had their moment to shine in an important era of music history. Their triumphant and trailblazing mark on the face of pop music continues to resonate for years to come and will continue to keep people dancing in the street to the explosive heat wave of their music that embodied and defined The Sound of Young America.

Last Updated: 2009-05-10
Martha & The Vandellas
"Funny, but of all the (Motown) acts back then, I thought Martha & The Vandellas came closest to nearly saying something. It wasn't a nearly conscious thing, but when they sang 'Quicksand' or 'Wild One' or 'Nowhere To Run' or 'Dancing In the Street', they captured a spirit that felt political to me. I like that" - Marvin Gaye

Aggressive yet soulful, exuberant yet classy, Martha & The Vandellas stand as one of the greatest groups of all time and recorded some of the toughest rock 'n' roll to ever come out of the Motown factory.

The Vandellas influenced scores of female artists and every successive girl group generation, from The Supremes themselves to Destiny's Child. Their vocals have graced records from J.J. Barnes to Marvin Gaye, and they helped launch the stratospheric careers of the genius Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting and production team. Artists as wide-ranging as Bruce Springsteen, James Brown, The Everly Brothers, Ramsey Lewis, The Who, Brenda Lee, Esther Phillips, Van Halen, The Mamas & The Papas, David Bowie & Mick Jagger, Irma Thomas, Laura Nyro & LaBelle, Neil Diamond, Linda Ronstadt, Ike & Tina Turner, Grand Funk Railroad, The Kinks (who loved the Vandellas), The Isley Brothers, Petula Clark, Bonnie Raitt and The Grateful Dead have all covered their songs.

They have been called Motown's only true female soul group, and with good reason. They are one of the most successful raw-sounding groups of all time and brought a gospel approach to the Motown mansion that met with mainstream appeal. They were soul sisters with a message and sisters that could also work a groove.

Alabama-born and Detroit-raised Martha Reeves formed The Del-Phis with Gloria Williams, Rosalind Ashford, and Annette Beard while still in her teens in the late '50s, influenced by her church upbringing and schooled in the sounds of gospel greats such as The Five Blind Boys, The Caravans, The Soul Stirrers, and Clara Ward. She was also inspired by classical music. Around this time, Abraham Silver vocally coached Martha, and it was this same person who would later lend his vocal teachings to other Motown giants such as The Supremes' Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson and The Miracles' Bobby Rogers.

The Del-Phis performed at local gigs and backed up fellow Detroit singers such as J.J. Barnes and Leon Peterson before being picked up by the Chess subsidiary Checkmate Records. There, they recorded one 45, the Martha-led (and co-written), piano-propelled, energetic "I'll Let You Know" (Chess 1005), released in 1961. Around this time, Martha auditioned for Motown but was instead offered a secretarial job in the A&R department, booking artists for studio time. When Motown bought the Checkmate division from Chess, they had The Vels, formerly The Del-Phis, record the Gloria-led ballad song "There He is (At My Door)," which flopped as a single on Motown's affiliate Mel-O-Dy label in 1962 (Mel-O-Dy 103). By the time of the single's release, Gloria had left the group.

The trio of Martha, Annette, and Rosalind's big breakthrough came in the summer of 1962 when they provided backup vocals for Marvin Gaye's classic "Stubborn Kind of Fellow." Released in the fall of that year, the single made the Billboard R&B Top 10 and made a respectable showing on the pop charts (the girls also lent their vocal support to Gaye's gems "Hitch Hike" and "Pride and Joy"). By this time, Martha had come up with a new name for The Vels: The Vandellas, a combination of Van Dyke Street in Detroit and the name of one of her idols, R&B/gospel talent Della Reese (of "Do You Know" fame). Their single "I'll Have To Let Him Go" (Gordy 7011), originally intended for Mary Wells and bearing the name Martha & The Vandellas, was also released around the same time as Marvin Gaye's single. However, unlike "Stubborn Kind of Fellow," the song gained scant notice.

February 1963's "Come and Get These Memories" (Gordy 7014) was a milestone for the group. It was the first hit recording by the venerable songwriting/production team Holland-Dozier-Holland, reaching the US pop Top 30 and R&B Top 10, and it also gave the Vandellas their first real hit. Featuring instrumentation by the inimitable Funk Brothers, the rhythmic tune of heartbreak fronted by Martha's brassy vocals is a staple of many Motown compilations.

But nothing would prepare the girls for the huge success of the follow up single "Heat Wave" (Gordy 7022). Released as the third single to bear the Martha & The Vandellas stamp, the frenetic rocker soared to the US Top 5 and capped at #1 R&B. The song established the straight rocking formula of Martha and the gang: a lethal beat enhanced by a muscular bass line, a commanding, gospel-driven vocal, call and response patterns (via the famous "Go ahead, girl!"), ear catching "oohs," and contagious, full-figured instrumentation courtesy of the Funk Brothers. It simply exemplified the early Motown sound. The song received a Grammy nomination and has since been covered by numerous artists and featured on many compilations.

"Quicksand" (Gordy 7025) and "Live Wire" (Gordy 7027) followed a similar formula. Around this time, Annette left the group and was replaced by Betty Kelly, formerly of the Velvelettes (noteworthy for the Motown chestnuts "Needle in a Haystack" and "He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'").

The summer of 1964 brought more wonders once the soul maelstrom anthem "Dancing in the Street" (Gordy 7033), originally meant for Kim Weston, was released. The "dancing" served as a metaphor for protest and later became inextricably linked with the 1967 American race riots. Another worldwide smash like "Heat Wave," including making the Top 5 on the American and British charts, "Dancing in the Street" was critically lauded and became the Vandellas' signature tune.

Equally mesmerizing was 1965's infectious pounding wailer "Nowhere to Run" (Gordy 7039), featuring snow chains that served as percussion. The record struck the American and British pop charts. More similarly paced hits continued such as the US R&B and pop Top 10 burner "I'm Ready for Love" (Gordy 7056), and even a solo Martha ballad endeavor called "My Baby Loves Me" (Gordy 7048) in 1966 was a hit, featuring the celebrated primarily Motown session singers The Andantes and the grand group The Four Tops. By 1967, Martha's sister Lois replaced Betty, and the year opened with the optimistic, mellower military march-styled "Jimmy Mack" (Gordy 7058), their final US Top 10 smash. The song was originally cut in the spring of 1964 but was finally unearthed to become another Martha & The Vandellas classic.

In the fall of 1967, the group's name was changed to "Martha Reeves & The Vandellas". The Southern-drawled "Honey Chile" (Gordy 7067) was the first single to demonstrate this, and it became the group's final major hit, narrowly missing the US Top 10 (#11). Afterwards, success began to go downhill: "I Can't Dance to That Music You're Playin'" (Gordy 7075) in 1968, 1969's "(We've Got) Honey Love" (Gordy 7085), and 1971's "Bless You" (Gordy 7110) were modest US pop and R&B charters, the latter being the girls' last UK Top 40 hit. During this period, Martha suffered a breakdown and became seriously ill. She was stunned to learn of Motown's move to Los Angeles and fought a legal battle with the label to be released from her contract. Rosalind left the group in 1969, only to be replaced by former Velvelettes star Sandra Tilley, who stayed with the group until the end. "Tear It On Down" (Gordy 7118) became the Vandella's last chart entry, missing the US Top 100 while only becoming a mid-sized R&B hit in 1972.

On December 31, 1972, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas performed a farewell concert at the Cobo Hall in Detroit before disbanding in early 1973. One last single was released in 1973 from their catalog - "Baby Don't Leave Me" (Gordy 7127), which faded into obscurity. In 1974, Martha ventured into a solo career and scored a relatively minor chart success with soul legend Joe Simon's "Power of Love" (#76 US, #37R&B). Though her early solo efforts were critically acclaimed, especially in soul music circles, none ever matched the success of her Motown heyday. Her other singles such as "Wild Night," originally by singer-songwriter mastermind Van Morrison, and "Love Blind" were relative chart failures. "My Man (You Changed My Tune)," "Higher and Higher," "The Rest of My Life," and even a cover of the timeless "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" failed to receive any attention. 1978's "Love Don't Come No Stronger" and the disco tune "We Meet Again" seemed to be the last straw for Martha by decade's end. Her last LP up until that time, 1980's Gotta Keep Moving, and a single from the album, "That's What I Want," both bombed.

The '80s and '90s were dotted with reunions by Martha, Rosalind, Lois and Annette, and even a new single credited as Martha Reeves & The Vandellas called "Step Into My Shoes" was released in 1989, a funky soul number co-produced by the legendary Ian Levine. In 1983, Martha successfully sued Motown for back royalties and later had a book published in the 1990s about her life called Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva. In 2001, she released her first album after two decades and in 2005 became a member of the Detroit City Council. Gloria Williams passed away in 2000.

Although Martha & The Vandellas had their moment to shine in an important era of music history, their triumphant and trailblazing mark on the face of pop music continues to resonate for years to come and will continue to keep people dancing in the street to the explosive heat wave of their music that embodied and defined The Sound of Young America.
Martha and The Vandellas Promotion Photo Print 1
Promotion Print

Martha and The Vandellas Promotion Photo Print 2
Promotion Print
(l-r) Rosalind Ashford,
Martha Reeves, and
Annette Beard

Fillmore Auditorium Poster
Fillmore Auditorium
(San Francisco, CA)
May 19-20, 1967

Martha and The Vandellas

Single - Heat Wave
Single - Heat Wave

Single - Dancing in the Street
Single - Dancing in the Street

Martha Reeves
Martha Reeves
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Artists of All Time
Grammy Hall of Fame recipients
Vocal Group Hall of Fame
Rhythm & Blues Pioneer Award
Pointer Sisters
Destiny's Child
Honey Cone
Three Degrees
En Vogue
Linda Ronstadt
Gloria Gaynor
...and many others
1957-1961 (as The Del-Phis)
Annette Beard
Gloria Williams
Martha Reeves
Rosalind Ashford

1961-1962 (as The Vels)
Annette Beard
Gloria Williams
Martha Reeves
Rosalind Ashford

1962-1964 (as Martha & The Vandellas)
Annette Beard
Martha Reeves
Rosalind Ashford
1964-1967 (as Martha & The Vandellas)
Betty Kelly
Martha Reeves
Rosalind Ashford

1967-1969 (as Martha Reeves & The Vandellas)
Lois Reeves
Martha Reeves
Rosalind Ashford

1969-1972 (as Martha Reeves & The Vandellas)
Lois Reeves
Martha Reeves
Sandra Tilley

1. Come And Get These Memories - 1963

1. Come and Get These Memories
2. Can't Get Used To Losing You
3. Moments (To Remember)
4. This Is When I Need You Most
5. A Love Like Yours (Don't Come Knocking Everyday)
6. Tears on My Pillow
7. To Think He Would Hurt Me
8. There He Is (At My Door)
9. I'll Have To Let Him Go
10. Give Him Up
11. Jealous Lover
12. Old Love (Let's Try It Again)

Come And Get These Memories album cover
2. Heat Wave - 1963

1. (Love is Like a) Heat Wave
2. Then He Kissed Me
3. Hey There Lonely Boy
4. More
5. Danke Schoen
6. If I Had a Hammer
7. Hello Stranger
8. Just One Look
9. Wait Till My Bobby Gets Home
10. My Boyfriend's Back
11. Mockingbird

Heat Wave album cover
3. Dance Party - 1965

1. Dancing in the Street
2. Dancing Slow
3. Wild One
4. Nowhere to Run
5. Nobody'll Care
6. There He Is (At My Door)
7. Mobile Lil the Dancing Witch
8. Dance Party
9. Motoring
10. Jerk
11. Mickey's Monkey (originally recorded by The Miracles)
12. Hitch Hike (originally recorded by Marvin Gaye)

Dance Party album cover
4. Watchout! - 1966

1. I'm Ready for Love
2. One Way Out
3. Jimmy Mack
4. Let This Day Be
5. Keep It Up
6. Happiness is Guaranteed
7. I'll Follow You
8. No More Tearstained Make Up
9. Go Ahead and Laugh
10. What Am I Going To Do Without Your Love?
11. Tell Me I'll Never Be Alone
12. He Doesn't Love Her Anymore

Watchout! album cover
5. Martha and the Vandellas Greatest Hits - 1966

1. My Baby Loves Me
2. Come and Get These Memories
3. (Love is Like a) Heat Wave
4. Dancing in the Street
5. Quicksand
6. Live Wire
7. You've Been in Love Too Long
8. In My Lonely Room
9. Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)
10. A Love Like Yours (Don't Come Knocking Everyday)
11. Nowhere to Run
12. Wild One

Martha and the Vandellas Greatest Hits album cover
6. Martha and the Vandellas Live! - 1967

1. Introduction/"I'm Ready for Love
2. Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone
3. For Once in My Life
4. (Love is Like a) Heat Wave
5. Nowhere to Run
6. My Baby Loves Me
7. I Found a Love
8. Jimmy Mack
9. You've Been in Love Too Long
10. Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)
11. Do Right Woman"/"Respect
12. Medley: "Dancing in the Street"/"I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)"/"Sweet Soul Music"/"Uptight (Everything's Alright)

Martha and the Vandellas Live! album cover
7. Ridin' High - 1968

1. I Promise to Wait My Love
2. Honey Chile
3. (There's) Always Something There to Remind Me
4. Leave It in the Hands of Love
5. Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone
6. I'm In Love (And I Know It)
7. To Sir With Love
8. Forget Me Not
9. (We've Got) Honey Love
10. I Say a Little Prayer
11. Show Me the Way

Ridin' High album cover
8. Sugar 'n' Spice - 1969

1. Taking My Love (And Leaving Me)
2. Shoe Leather Expressway
3. You're the Loser Now
4. I'm a Winner
5. What Now My Love
6. Soul Appeal
7. Loneliness Is a Lonely Feelin'
8. I Love the Man
9. It Ain't like That
10. I Can't Get Along Without You
11. Heartless
12. I Hope That You Have Better Luck Than I Did

Sugar 'n' Spice album cover
9. Natural Resources - 1970

1. Something
2. Easily Persuaded
3. Didn't We
4. I'm In Love
5. Love, Guess Who
6. Everybody's Talkin'
7. Put a Little Love in Your Heart
8. The Hurt Is Over (Since I Found You)
9. Take a Look Around
10. Won't It Be So Wonderful?
11. I Should Be Proud

Natural Resources album cover
10. Black Magic - 1972

1. No One There
2. Your Love Makes It All Worthwhile
3. Something
4. Benjamin
5. Tear It On Down
6. I've Given You the Best of My Life
7. Bless You
8. I Want You Back
9. In & Out of My Life
10. Anyone Who Had a Heart
11. Hope I Don't Get My Heart Broke

Black Magic album cover
Other Albums (Compilations)
• Live Wire: The Singles (1962-1972) (1993)
• The Ultimate Collection (1998)
• 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection - The Best of... (1999)
• The Universal Masters Collection: Classic Martha Reeves & the Vandellas (2000)
• Spellbound: Motown Lost & Found (1962-1972) (2005)
• Gold: Martha Reeves & the Vandellas(2006)
• The Definitive Collection (2008)

The Definitive Collection album cover
The Greatest Martha & the Vandellas Songs
  1. Dancing in the Street
  2. Heat Wave
  3. Nowhere to Run
  4. Jimmy Mack
  5. Quicksand
  6. Come and Get These Memories
  7. I'm Ready For Love
  8. Honey Chile
  9. In My Lonely Room
10. My Baby Loves Me
11. Wild One
12. Live Wire
13. You've Been In Love Too Long
14. A Love Like Yours (Don't Come Knocking Everyday)
15. Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)
16. Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone
17. Forget Me Not
18. Third Finger, Left Hand
19. Motoring
20. I Promise to Wait My Love
21. Bless You
22. I Can't Dance to That Music You're Playin'
23. (We've Got) Honey Love
24. I Should Be So Proud
25. Tear It On Down
26. What Am I Going to Do Without Your Love?
27. There He Is (At My Door)
28. I'll Have to Let Him Go
29. Show Me the Way
30. A Tear for the Girl
The Jam
Barbara Acklin
Walker Brothers
Manfred Mann
Cilla Black
Bettye LaVette
Cryan Shames
Hank Crawford
Joan Osborne
Kim Weston
James Taylor Quartet
Sheena Easton
Ruby Turner
Donald Byrd
Juice Newton
Teri DeSario & KC
Michael McDonald
Power Station
• Martha & the Vandellas
Greatest Artists Of The 60's - #27
Greatest Female Vocalists of Rock - #41 Martha Reeves
Greatest Female R&B/Soul Vocalists - #33 Martha Reeves

Greatest Girl Group Songs
- #6 Jimmy Mack
- #32 (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave
- #42 Dancing In The Street
- #47 Nowhere To Run
- #50 Come And Get These Memories
- #57 Quicksand

Greatest Rock Songs
- #131 (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave

Greatest Rock Songs of the 1960's
- #84 Dancing In The Street
- #119 (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave

Greatest R&B/Soul Songs
- #16 (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave
- #51 Dancing In The Street
- #74 Jimmy Mack

Greatest Greatest Motown Songs
- #6 Dancing in the Street
- #11 (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave
- #37 Nowhere To Run
- #55 Jimmy Mack
- #77 Quicksand
- #78 Come and Get These Memories

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