Martha and the Vandellas

Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1960-62)

- Rosalind Ashford -- vocals

- Annette Sterling Beard -- vocals

- Martha Reeves -- vocals 

- Gloria Williams (RIP 2002) -- vocals


  line up 2 (1962-67)

- Rosalind Ashford -- vocals

NEW - Betty Kelly -- vocals (replaced Annette Sterling


- Martha Reeves -- vocals 


  line up 4 (1967-69)

- Rosalind Ashford -- vocals

NEW - Lois Reeves -- vocals (replaced Betty Kelly)

- Martha Reeves -- vocals 


  line up 5 (1969-72)

- Lois Reeves -- vocals 

- Martha Reeves -- vocals 

NEW - Sandra Tilley (RIP 1981) -- vocals (replaced Rosalind



  line up 5 (1989-)

- Rosalind Ashford (aka Rosalind Ashford Holmes) --


- Annette Sterling Beard (aka Annette Beard-Helton)

  -- vocals

- Martha Reeves -- vocals 




- The Dell Fi's

- Quiet Elegance (Lois Reeves)

- Martha Reeves (solo efforts)

- The Vels (Rosalind Ashford, Annette Sterling Beard, 

  Martha Reeves and Gloria Williams)

- The Velvelettes (Sandra Tilley)



Genre: soul

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Martha and the Vandellas Greatest Hits

Company: Gordy

Catalog: GLP  917

Year: 1966

Country/States: US

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: mono pressing; still in shrink wrap, though opened

Available: SOLD

Catalog ID: SOLD

Price: SOLD



Yeah, they never got the attention of Diana Ross and the Supremes, but for my money Martha and the Vandellas were every bit as good (if not better) than their Motown competitors.  Not only that, but they didn't carry all the personal baggage that went with The Supremes.

That said, this is the perfect place for casual fans or the curious to start.  Overlooking Gordy's exceptionally unattractive cover art, 1966's "Martha and the Vandellas Greatest Hits" pulled together twelve of the group's more commercial highlights.  It's certainly not an all-inclusive "best of" set since it focused on material from their first three years and managed to leave off several vital tracks (where's the ballad "I'm Ready for Love"?).  Sure "Love Is Like a Heatwave", "Dancing In  the Street" and "Nowhere To Run" were their best known efforts, but exemplified by the rocking "Wild One" there were plenty of other gems to be found here (and on their studio sets).  Those criticisms aside, here's a great place to start!   Best of all, there are plenty of original mono copies that will allow you to get the full impact of that thick Motown sound ...

"Martha ad the Vandellas Greatest Hits" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) My Baby Love Me   (Sylvia Moy - Smokey Robinson) - 3:08

2.) Come and Get These Memories   (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland) - 2:23

3.) Love Is Like a Heatwave   (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland) - 2:45

4.) Dancing In  the Street   (Smokey Robinson - Marvin Gaye) - 2:45

5.) Quicksand   (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland) - 2:36

6.) Live Wire   (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland) - 2:38


(side 2)
1.) You've Been In Love Too Long   (C. Paul - Smokey Robinson - Ivy Joe Hunter) - 3:00

2.) In My Lonely Room   (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland) - 3:31

3.) Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)   (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland) - 2:54

4.) A Love Like Yours (Don't Come Knocking Everyday)   (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland) - 2:29

5.) Nowhere To Run   (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland) - 2:51

6.) Wild One   (Smokey Robinson - Ivy Joe Hunter) - 2:44



Genre: soul

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Dance Party

Company: Gordy

Catalog: S- 915

Year: 1965

Country/States: US

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: stereo pressing

Available: 2

Catalog ID: 4639

Price: $30.00

Cost: $1.00


As far as Motown LPs go, 1965's "Dance Party" easily makes it into my top-10 list.  Musically the album offered up a mixture of new studio materials and several previously released singles:


- 1964's 'Dancing In the Streets' b/w 'There He Is (At My Door) (Gordy catalog number G 7033)

- 1965's 'Wild One' b/w 'Dancing Slow' (Gordy catalog number G 7036)

- 1965's 'Nowhere To Run' b/w 'Motoring' (Gordy catalog number G 7039)


The performances were nothing short of sterling with the 'B' sides and even the 'throwaway' Motown standards exhibiting a degree of enthusiasm that you simply don't find very often.  Most group's would've killed for an opportunity to turn in performances half as good as 'There He Is (At My Door), 'Mobile 'lil Dancing Witch' or 'Hitch Hike'.  The latter's particularly impressive given The Vandellas provided the backing vocals on Marvin Gaye's original 1963 version of the song.  In my humble opinion this could be their finest collection and in terms of consistency and quality I'd put it up against anything in The Supremes' catalog.  Elsewhere I always loved the mod cover art (never could make out the artist's name).  Interesting sign of the times to note that all of the figures were of dancing white teenagers.


"Dance Party" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) Dancing In the Streets   (Marvin Gaye - Ivy Joe Hunter - Stevenson) - 

2.) Dancing Slow   (Ivy Joe Hunter - Stevenson - Weatherspoon) - 

3.) Wild One   (Ivy Joe Hunter - Stevenson) -

4.) Nowhere To Run  (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland) - 

5.) Nobody'll Care   (Ivy Joe Hunter - Stevenson - Weatherspoon) - 

6.) There He Is (At My Door)   (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland) - 


(side 2)
1.) Mobile 'lil Dancing Witch   (Ivy Joe Hunter - Stevenson) -

2.) Dance Party   (Ivy Joe Hunter - Stevenson) -

3.) Motoring  (Ivy Joe Hunter - Jones - Stevenson) -

4.) The Jerk   (Ivy Joe Hunter - Stevenson) -

5.) Mickey's Monkey   (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland) - 

6.) Hitch Hike  (Marvin Gaye - C. Paul - Stevenson) - 



Genre: soul

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Ridin' High

Company: Gordy

Catalog: GS-926

Year: 1968

Country/States: US

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: stereo pressing; small drill hole top right corner

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2314

Price: $20.00



1968's "Ridin' High" introduced a couple of changes to the Martha and the Vandellas nameplate.   After repeatedly butting heads with Martha Reeves, second generation Vandella Betty Kelly had been fired in 1967.  While Butler was featured on a couple of the album's older tunes, more recent material  featured new Vandella Lois Reeves (who also happened to be Martha's sister).  The album also marked the debut of a new nameplate - "Martha Reeves and the Vandellas".  Far more important, the album marked an end to their work with producers William "Mickey" Stevenson and the team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland.  With all four of those producers having left the Motown family, "Ridin' High" found Reeves and company assigned to former Golden World Records producer/songwriter Richard Morris.  Given The Vandellas were non-writers who were totally dependent on producers and outsider material, the shift could have been a disaster.   In fact, anyone familiar with Motown's late-'60s efforts to smooth out and suburbanize its other acts had plenty of things to be worried about.   


I'll admit that musically "Ridin' High" has always struck me as being a bit ragged.  That wasn't meant as a criticism of Reese and company, rather a comment on the track listing which seemed to have been stitched together from a mixture of earlier singles ('Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone', what appeared to be shelved studio numbers (the Holland-Dozier-Holland penned 'Leave It In the Hands of Love' and 'I'm in Love (And I Know It)'), forgettable MOR covers ('To Sir with Love'), and new studio material.  The good news was that Motown's efforts to expand its audiences was limited here.   Yeah, the three non-Motown covers were all pretty horrible, but most of the new studio material written by producer Morris and Sylvia Moy was great.  Tracks like the single 'Honey Child', 'Forget Me Not', '(We've Got) Honey Love', and 'Show Me the Way' were all first-rate tunes that didn't stray to far from the classic Motown sound.   In other words, they were highly commercial and radio friendly tunes that served to showcase Reeves' fantastic voice.   Giving credit where due, when they were given a shot at the spotlight the Vandellas (Rosalind Ashford and Lois Reeves) were quite competent - check out their performance on the closer 'Show Me the Way'.  Maybe not their best studio set, but worth hearing ...


"Ridin' High" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) I Promise To Wait My Love   (Billie Jean Brown - H. Gordy. - Allen Story - Margaret Johnson) - 2:05   rating:**** stars

In spite of the sappy title, 'I Promise To Wait My Love' was a classic slice of Motown-styled soul.  Anyone who thought Reeves and company were going to go MOR with the departure of Holland-Dozier-Holland was going to be reassured by this one.   The song was tapped as a single:

- 1968's ' I Promise To Wait My Love' b/w 'Forget Me Not' (Gordy catalog number G 7070)

2.) Honey Chile   (Richard Morris - Sylvia Moy) - 2:55   rating; **** stars

With a distinctive Southern soul edge to it, some stunning James Jamerson bass, and a classic back porch story telling lyric (Clarence Carter would have approved), 'Honey Chile' may have been one of the best things Martha and ladies ever recorded.  

- 1967's 'Honey Chile' b/w 'Show Me The Way' (Gordy catalog number G 7067)  # 11 pop; # 5 R&B

3.) (There's) Always Something There To Remind Me   (Burt Bacharach - Hal David) - 3:00   rating: ** stars

Forcing the ladies to cover the Bacharach-David classic '(There's) Always Something There To Remind Me ' did nothing for the album.   Reeves certainly had the vocal firepower to handle the song, but she didn;t sound particularly comfortable on this one and the song itself was just too bland for their own good.   

4.) Leave It In the Hands of Love   (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland - J.R. Dean) - 2:37   rating; **** stars

Judging by the sound and songwriting credits, I'm guessing this was a "leftover" from earlier sessions.  That wasn't meant as a criticism since this rollicking soul tune should have been a massive hit for the trio. 

5.) Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone   (Richard Morris - Sylvia Moy) - 2:06   rating; **** stars

Another older tune, 'Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone' featured Kelly Butler on backing vocals. Perhaps because it had that old school Motown sound, 'Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone' has always struck me as being one of the album highlights.   Admittedly the lyric might be a tad too cute, but given everything else if had going for it, including Dennis Coffey's fuzz guitar, so what?

- 1967's 'Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone' b/w 'One Way Out'   (Gordy catalog number G-7062)  # 25 pop;  # 14 R&B

6.) I'm in Love (And I Know It)   (Henry Cosby - J.R. Dean - Stevie Wonder) - 2:37  rating: *** stars

Admittedly not the album's stand out performance, but I've always been a pushover for Coral electric sitar, so the bouncy ' I'm in Love (And I Know It)' had me from the opening.


(side 2)
1.) To Sir with Love   (Don Black - Mark London) - 2:53
   rating: ** stars

One of those Motown mysteries - why would you make one of your most talented acts record such a lame song?   Nothing wrong with their version which was basically a straight remake of the Lulu hit.   The song just wasn't very good.  

2.) Forget Me Not   (Richard Morris - Sylvia Moy) - 2:55   rating; **** stars

How many Motown tunes can you name that open up with bagpipes?  Add in sterling Reeves vocal, a subtle anti-war lyric and you had a tune that should have been plugged as a single rather than being dumped as a 'B' side.  In 1971 an abbreviated version of the song with Reeves spoken word lament cut out was released as a single in Germany, the UK, and a couple of other markets:

- 1971's 'Forget Me Not' b/w 'I Gotta Let You Go' (Tamla Motown catalog number TMG 762)

3.) (We've Got) Honey Love   (Richard Morris - Sylvia Moy) - 2:27   rating; **** stars

Yeah, it'll be way too cute for some folks, but I'll admit to loving '(We've Got) Honey Love'.  I've seldom heard strings that were as funky and the interplay between Reeves and Rosalind Ashford her sister Lois Reeves.


- 1969's '(We've Got) Honey Love' b/w 'I'm in Love (And I Know It)' (Gordy catalog number G-7085)

4.) I Say a Little Prayer   (Burt Bacharach - Hal David) - 2:59  rating; ** stars

Outside of a Dionne Warwick album, it probably wasn't a good thing for an act to have two Bacharach-David compositions on an album.   It certainly didn't benefit this collection.   Like the earlier Bcharach-David cover, 'I Say a Little Prayer' didn't stray far from the original arrangement.  Once again Reeves tough voice just wasn't well suited to the song's MOR orientation.

5.) Without You   (D. Dean  - D. Richards) - 2:39    rating: ** stars

Heavily orchestration adult contemporary pop that pushed them in a lounge act direction.   

6.) Show Me the Way   (J.J. Barnes - Richard Morris - Sylvia Moy) - 2:38   rating; **** stars

The slightly ominous 'Show Me the Way' was another track where you were left to wonder how it was relegated to a 'B' side (on the 'Honey Child' 45).   For anyone who thought this was nothing but Reeves and a couple of anonymous backing singers, check out Rosalind Ashford and sister Lois Reeves on this one.



Genre: soul

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Sugar n' Spice

Company: Gordy

Catalog: GS-944

Year: 1969

Country/States: US

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: stereo pressing; small drill hole top right corner

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 6023

Price: $20.00


Released after a personnel shake-up that saw former Velvettes Sandra Tilley replace original Vandella Rosalind Ashford, the glitzy Supremes-styled cover photo gave you the distinct impression that 1969's "Sugar n' Spice" was going to be one of those Motown-sells-out projects that so many other Motown groups had shoved down their throats.  Luckily, for the most part Martha Reeves and company (now officially billed as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas), managed to avoid that hideous musical fate. Reeves and the Vandellas had always been willing to stand up for themselves and while they were willing to let Motown deck them out in expensive outfits, they weren't about to sell out their credibility on a lame assed set of MOR pop numbers.  Admittedly there were a couple of totally lame pop pieces here ('What Now My Love' and Soul Appeal'), but those were far and few between.  In fact, most of the album had a surprisingly soulful feel with several of the tracks actually sounding as if they'd been recorded a couple of years earlier.  Doubt that statement then check out 'Shoe Leather Expressway' and 'I'm a Winner'.  


"Sugar n' Spice" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) Taking My Love (and Leaving Me)   (A. Stary - H. Gordy) - 2:47  
rating: *** stars

In the hands of a group like The Supremes, a track like 'Taking My Love (and Leaving Me)' would have been a total waste of time and vinyl. While the song was way too middle of the road pop, Reeves injected a nice edge to the proceedings.  The song wasn't great, but she saved it from the aural dust heap.  Gordy tapped it as the leadoff single.  




- 1969's 'Taking My Love (and Leaving Me)' b/w 'Heartless' (Gordy catalog number G 7094)

2.) Shoe Leather Expressway   (Sylvia Moy - Frank Wilson) - 2:27   rating: ***** stars

Buried on the album, 'Shoe Leather Expressway' was one of those lost Motown classics.  With one of those Motown melodies that instantly drilled its way into your head and a clever set of lyrics (love the transportation references), this one should have been a massive hit for the group.   

3.) You're the Loser Now   (Clay McMurray) - 3:15   rating: **** stars

'You're the Loser Now' was one of those songs that snuck up on you.  The first couple of times I heard it I thought it was totally forgettable, but suddenly I found myself singing the call and response sections.  Another hidden gem.  

4.) I'm a Winner   (Nick Ashford - Valerie Simpson) - 2:42   rating: *** stars

Boasting another classic Motown arrangement and a great set of 'gambling' lyrics, 'I'm a Winner' actually sounded like it might have been written and recorded a couple of years earlier.  One of Reeves' best vocals and the call and response vocals were stunning.   

5.) What Now My Love   (C. Sigman - G. Becuard) - 2:59    rating: ** stars

The first disappointment, 'What Now My Love' found the group falling victim to Motown's longstanding desire to appeal to 9-to-5 middle class America.  Well, your grandma would probably like this one.   

6.) Soul Appeal   (R. Miner) -2:25     rating: ** stars

'Soul Appeal' sounded like Shirley Bassey trying to to a Motown song ...  a good song turned into a bad idea ...    


(side 2)
1.) Loneliness Is a Lonely Feelin'    (D. Dean - D. Richards) - 2:38   
rating: ***** stars

'Loneliness Is a Lonely Feelin' ' started side two with another great Vandellas performance.  Whereas a group like The Supremes would have turned this one into a self-pity romp, Reeves sounded truly pissed off ...  Damn did she ever have a great voice.    

2.) I Love That Man   (Janie Bradford - R. Miner) - 2:38   rating: *** stars

Ah, ' I Love That Man' was a love song for an average Joe such as myself ... 

3.) It Ain't Like That    (Nick Ashford - Valerie Simpson) - 2:55    rating: *** stars

The second Ashford-Simpson composition, 'It Ain't Like That' had one of the album's most commercial hooks.  Another one that played on Reeves 'take-no-crap' persona and sounded as if it may have been recorded a couple of years earlier.  Very radio-friendly.    

4.) I Can't Get Along without You   (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland - Barrett Strong) - 2:59    rating: ***** stars

The album's third lost gem, 'I Can't Get Along without You' had everything required to be a hit - fantastic melody and another killer hook.  It made you wonder what Motown was thinking when they elected not to tap the album for a single.    

5.) Heartless   (Ivy Joe Hunter) - 2:57    rating: ***** stars

Not to take anything away from Reeves, but the star of Ivy Joe Hunter's 'Heartless' was James Jameson's stunning bass line.  Talk about a bass tutorial.  I'd kill to have a fraction of the man's talent.    

6.) I Hope That You Have Better Luck Than I Did   (Brian Holland - Lamont Dozier - Eddie Holland) - 2:54    rating: ***** stars

Folks tend to forget that Holland-Dozier-Holland turned out their share of turkeys and the awkwardly titled 'I Hope That You Have Better Luck Than I Did' would have been one of those, if not for Reeves and company's amazing performance.  Not only did they take what was a mid-tempo slice of MOR pop, but they made it one of the album's outstanding performances.   



One of The Vandellas most impressive releases with the added bonus that you can still find affordable copies.







Genre: soul

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Natural Resources

Company: Gordy

Catalog: S-952L

Year: 1970

Country/States: US

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: cut upper left corner

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2323

Price: $20.00



By 1970 Motown had seemingly all but forgotten about Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.  Every couple of years the label would trot out an album and absent much in the way of promotion, promptly watch it disappear.  That certainly describes the fate of 1970's "Natural Resources".   Musically this collection continued Motown's efforts to transition the trio to a more contemporary, adult oriented sound.  That meant about half of the album was taken up by slapdash covers of popular pop hits - George Harrison's 'Something', a strange Las Vegas-styled remake of Fred Neil's 'Everybody's Talking', and a perfunctory take on Jackie DeShannon's 'Put a Little Love In Your Heart'. If the other half of the album had been devoted to a more traditional set of Motown numbers you could have forgiven the company. Sadly that wasn't the case.  'Easily Persuaded', the previously released 'I'm In Love', 'Love, Guess Who', and 'Won't It Be So Wonderful' were the only tunes that even came close to capturing the sound that made them famous.  The album was actually interesting for the inclusion of 'I Should Be Proud '.  Written by Henry Cosby, Joe Hinton, and Pam Sawyer, this was the most blatantly anti-Vietnam tune ever recorded by Motown.   The fact it was released as a single was even more surprising.  


"Natural Resources" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) Something  (George Harrison) - 2:42   rating: ** stars

Maybe due to the fact it's been covered so often, their cover of George Harrison's 'Something' didn't do much for me. In fact I'd argue their cover was one of the album's low points.  Motown had an irritating habit of forcing its artists to record MOR covers of pop and rock hits and this string smothered version was one of the lamest songs in The Vandellas catalog.  Very Las Vegas showroom and simply horrible ...  The real question was why the song also appeared on their1972  follow-up album "Black Magic".  I can only speculate someone at Motown really loved the tune ...

2.) Easily Persuaded   (Clarence Paul - M. Broadnax - E. Shelby - D. Cooper)  - 2:44    rating: **** stars

As bad as the Beatles cover was, 'Easily Persuaded' made up for it.   Tapping into that instantly recognizable Motown sound (check out the James Jamerson bass line), this one had all the makings of a massive hit -  Reeves' powerhouse voice (gawd, the woman could belt it out), a great melody and one of those irresistible hooks.  You simply had to scratch your head an wonder why Motown didn't release it as a single.

3.) Didn't We   (Jimmy Webb) - 2:41   rating: * star

Wow, possibly the nadir of their recording career ...  Their cover of this slice of Jimmy Webb shlock firmly pushed them into supper club, lounge act territory.  Liza Minelli would have been proud though.

4.) I'm In Love   (E. Shelby - J. Buckner) - 2:58    rating: **** stars

With a slightly different title (I'm In Love (and I Know It)') this one had previously appeared as a 'B' side on their 1969 single '(We've Got) Honey Love'.  Nice throwback to their earlier, tougher sound.

5.) Love, Guess Who   (Clarence Paul - E. Shelby) - 2:54    rating: **** stars

'Love, Guess Who' found the group being edged towards a more contemporary, adult sound.  Luckily the tune was still firmly rooted in that unique Motown sound.  And for anyone who thought The Vandellas were nothing more than an anonymous backing group (a true statement by the time this was recorded), this stood as one of the few songs on the album that gave Lois Reeves and Sandy Tilley a little bit of face time.

6.) Everybody's Talking   (Fred Neil) - 2:50   rating: ** stars

Compared to Harry Nilsson's hit version, their cover of 'Everybody's Talking' was just plain strange.   Sped up and given a showy, Las Vegas revue-styled arrangement it was a rather jarring experience.


(side 2)

1.) Put a Little Love In Your Heart   (Jackie DeShannon - J. Holiday - R. Myers) - 2:57   rating: *** stars

Professional, but it wasn't going to make you forget the Jackie DeShannon original.

2.) The Hurt Is Over (Since I've Found You)   (D. Browner) - 2:57   rating: *** stars

'The Hurt Is Over (Since I've Found You)' was a nice enough tune, but geez, who decided to cast them as Diana Ross and the Supremes?   

3.) Take a Look   (C. Otis) - 2:16   rating: ** stars

'Take a Look' featured a Gospel-flavored edge with some patented '70s socially relevant lyrics.   Reeves sounded kind of shrill and uncomfortable on this one.

4.) Won't It Be So Wonderful   (Nick Ashford - Valerie Simpson) - 2:30    rating: **** stars

The Nick Ashford - Valerie Simpson writing credits seemingly indicated 'Won't It Be So Wonderful' was a leftover from the earlier "Sugar n' Spice" sessions.  Shame there weren't more leftovers since this was a classic Motown effort with a to-die-for melody that served as a nice frame for Reeves killer voice.  I'm no expert, but it sure sounded like Ashford and Simpson were helping on backing vocals. 

5.) I Should Be Proud   (Henry Cosby - Joe Hinton -  Pam Sawyer) - 2:56    rating: **** stars

One of the most blatant anti-Vietnam songs ever recorded, I've always been surprised this was the tune Motown tapped as a single.   The company had to realize that no radio station was going to come close to it.  Yeah, it was a bit heavy handed in the lyric department and the melody wasn't all that great, but ultimately you couldn't argue with the sentiments.

- 1970's 'I Should Be Proud' b/w 'Love, Guess Who' (Gordy catalog number G 7098)

6.) People Got To Be Free   (Felix Cavaliere - Eddie Brigati) - 2:40   rating: *** stars

Shame the album ended with a bland and forgettable cover of The Rascals' hit.  







Genre: soul

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Black Magic

Company: Gordy

Catalog: G-958L

Year: 1972

Country/States: US

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: cut lower left corner; minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 2303

Price: $25.00


The final studio credited to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, 1972's "Black Magic" tends to get ignored by critics and fans.  That's unfortunate given that while far from perfect, the collection had more than its share of pleasures.  Looking at the credits, Motown seems to have decided to give the group one last shot at the big time, bringing in the cream of the company's songwriting talents including Ashford & Simpson, Johnny Bristol, and The Corporation (which had written a string of hits for The Jackson Five).  The downside to all this talent came in the form of an album that was all over the map in terms of genres and styles including stabs at cocktail jazz, white-bread pop, and old fashioned Motown soul.  There simply wasn't much consistency here.  Adding to the problems, throughout much of the collection Martha Reeves, sister Lois Reeves, and Sandra Tilley simply didn't sound very engaged by the material.  It almost sounded like they realized this was the end of the road for their collaboration.  Those criticisms aside, Reeves was simply too good an artist to turn in a collection without some merit.  


"Black Magic" track listing:

(side 1)
1.) No One There   (Johnny Bristol - J. Goga - A. Minor - P. Green) - 3:32   rating: **** stars

Opening up with some pretty harpsichord, 'No One There' was a catchy 'heartbreak' ballad that made it clear Reeves instantly recognizable voice remained in prime form.   Yeah, the heavy orchestration took some of the song's urgency away, but the performance was energetic enough to survive.   

2.) Your Love Makes It Worthwhile   (The Corporation) - 3:24    rating: **** stars

Penned by the Corporation. 'Your Love Makes It Worthwhile' was a wonderful throwback to the group's original sound.  Upbeat and brash, this one sounded way more 1966 than 1972.  Reeves didn't handle lead vocals on this one and while I'm not sure if it was Lois Reeves, or Sandra Tilley, I will say their performance was a bit on the pitchy and shrill side.  Still, it made for one of the album's best performances.   

3.) Something   (George Harrison) - 2:41   rating: * star

Their cover of George Harrison's 'Something' was one of the album's low points.  Motown had an irritating habit of forcing its artists to record MOR covers of pop and rock hits and this string smothered version was one of the lamest songs in The Vandellas catalog.  Very Las Vegas showroom and simply horrible ...  

4.) Benjamin   (N. Zesses - Dino Fekaris) - 3:29   rating: * star

I'm not sure why, but the ballad 'Benjamin' has always reminded me of something Lul, or Barbara Streisand might have recorded.  Apparently meant to have that 'sophisticated' pop sound, the results were simply lame.     

5.) Tear It On Down   (Nickolas Ashford - Valerie Simpson) - 3:37    rating: **** stars

Thankfully Ashford and Simpson's 'Tear It On Down' (previously recorded by Marvin Gaye), returned Reeves and company to a soul footing.  With Reeves finally finding something she could sink her teeth into, this track momentarily recaptured some of the group's former energy.  To my ears it's always reminded me a bit of a good Aretha Franklin performance.  Released as a single, it should have been a massive hit for the group, but didn't even hit the top-100 pop charts.  

6.) I've Given You the Best Years of My Life   (N. Zesses - Dino Fekaris - J. Goga) - 2:58    rating: **** stars

Opening with some nice fuzz guitar, 'I've Given You the Best Years of My Life' was another track that harkened back to their initial successes.  Very old school Motown and the better for it.   


(side 2)
1.) Bless You   (The Corporation) - 2:58    rating; *** stars

I remember the first time I hard 'Bless You' I thought it was a late-inning Diana Ross and the Supremes tune.  By the way that wasn't meant as a criticism.  Musically, with it's weird hybrid of soul and pop orchestration  this was another track that sounded more 1968 than 1972.  Easy to see why it was pulled as a single, through it's a little too MOR for my taste.

2.) I Want You Back   (The Corporation) - 2:50   rating; *** stars

While nice, their cover of 'I Want You Back' won't make you forget the Jackson Five version.  The main problem with this one was that the fussy arrangement managed to stray from the song's amazing melody.  Even the instantly recognizable refrain lost traction in this arrangement.   

3.) In and Out of My Life   (George Gordy - L. Brown) - 2:56    rating: **** stars

Credit Reeves with salvaging 'In and Out of Love with one of her best vocals.   

4.) Anyone Who Had a Heart   (Hal David - Burt Bacharach) - 3:57   rating; ** stars

Motown artists and Bacharach-David covers are normally losing causes and that was the case for 'Anyone Who Had a Heart'.  This was another track that would have been far better had the arrangement been paired way back.  As it was, this one also sounded too Las Vegas showroom for its own good.  That said, the electric sitar was a cool touch.  

5.) Hope I Don't Get My Heart Broke   (A. Story - H. Gordy - L, Brown) - 3:41      rating: **** stars

With Reeves at her raspy, don't mess-with-me best, 'Hope I Don't Get My Heart Broke'' was my pick for standout performance.  What a voice she had.  Shame Motown didn't replace some of the more conventional pop tracks with more stuff in this vein.    


On a statistical basis this one comes up pretty good - six tracks with four stars; two with three stars and the remainder two or one stars.   Still, had Motown ditched a couple of the MOR covers, this would have stood as one of their classic performances and saved their careers.


Three singles were pulled off the album:



- 1971's 'Bless You' b/w 'Hope I Don't Get My Heart Broke' (Gordy catalog number G 7110F) 

- 1971's 'In and Out of My Life' b/w 'Your Love Makes It All Worthwhile' (Gordy catalog number G 7113F) # 102 pop; # 22 R&B)

- 1972's 'Tear It On Down' b/w 'I Want You Back' (Gordy catalog number G 7118F) # 103 pop; # 37 R&B)

- 1972's 'Tear It On Down' b/w 'Benjamin' (Gordy catalog number G 7118F) # 103 pop; # 37 R&B) alternate 'B' side


In spite of the success the singles enjoyed on the R&B charts, the parent album failed to chart.




One last non-LP single for Gordy and it was over for the group:


- 1973's "Baby Don't Leave Me' b/w 'I Won't Be the fool I've Been Again' (Gordy catalog number G 7127F).