EML’s Favorite Songs – “Heat Wave” by Martha & the Vandellas

Though we’re officially only one week into Summer 2021, it’s already turning out to be an exceptionally hot one for a large swath of the U.S., and around the Northern Hemisphere. Temperature records have been shattered in many locations, including here in the Coachella Valley of Southern California where I live. On June 17th, the temperature in Palm Springs reached 123 degrees, setting a new all-time record high for June (after hitting 120 two days earlier). In the normally temperate Pacific Northwest, Portland, Oregon set a new all-time record high of 108 on June 26th, with Seattle also breaking their all-time record with 102 degrees. Those new records look to be short-lived, as they’re forecast to be broken later today!

(Late update: they were indeed broken on the 27th, as high temperatures reached 112 at the official airport station in Portland, and 104 in Seattle, then broken again on the 28th, with temperatures soaring to an unbelievable 116 in Portland, 117 in Salem and 107 in Seattle!)

These crazy-hot temperatures got me thinking about one of my favorite songs from the 1960s, “Heat Wave” by Martha & the Vandellas. Originally formed as the Del-Phis in 1957 by Annette Beard, Rosalind Ashford and Gloria Williams, (and briefly renamed The Vels in 1961-62), the act was redubbed Martha & the Vandellas in 1962 after Martha Reeves replaced Williams as lead vocalist (and later to Martha Reeves & the Vandellas as Reeves gained prominence). “Heat Wave” (also known as “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave”) was written by the legendary Motown songwriting team of Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier, who also penned numerous hits for the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Four Tops and many others. It was the second hit song they collaborated on with Martha & the Vandellas, following their first hit “Come and Get These Memories”.

“Heat Wave” features a gospel backbeat with jazz overtones, accompanied by Reeves’ brassy doo-wop call and response vocals that came to exemplify the style of music later termed as the “Motown Sound”. The rousing instrumentation was performed by in-house Motown musicians the Funk Brothers. The lyrics compare the intense, burning desires of romantic love to hot temperatures experienced during a heat wave.

Appropriately released in July 1963 – during what is often the hottest part of summer – the single was a breakthrough hit for Martha & the Vandellas, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart. It also earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Rhythm and Blues Recording for 1964, making the Vandellas the first Motown group ever to be nominated for a Grammy Award.

It’s a great song and a timeless classic that’s endured to this day. It was later covered by such artists as Linda Ronstadt (who scored a top five hit with it in 1975), The Jam (in 1979) and Phil Collins (in 2010). The Martha and the Vandellas version was featured in the 1970 film The Boys in the Band, in a scene where several of the characters perform an impromptu line dance to the song. It was also used in the 1976 film Carrie and 1979’s More American Graffiti. And in the 1992 film Sister Act, Whoopi Goldberg sings the song as part of her Vegas nightclub act saluting ’60s girl groups.

21 thoughts on “EML’s Favorite Songs – “Heat Wave” by Martha & the Vandellas

  1. How lucky you are to be having a heatwave (see what I did there) in the UK the weather is doing it’s usual British thing – a different season every day at the moment. I’ve always loved Martha Reeves & The Vandella’s and Heatwave.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Berry Gordy and the other executives at Motown surely knew what they were doing. Part of it included the realization that if you want great sounding songs, you hire top notch session musicians like bassist James Jamerson. And, as you said, you work with great songwriting teams like Holland-Dozier-Holland.

        Motown was how I discovered and came to dig soul music. While nowadays I prefer Stax, I still enjoy listening to Motown music.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. badfinger20 (Max)

    I love that song. I didn’t grow up in that time (wish I would have) but I love the innocence and the good feeling from them. Amy Winehouse managed to capture some of it.
    Wow Jeff, 123 degrees. Nashville will hit 100 hear every now and then with 90 percent humidity but it’s NOT 123.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Max. This song sure got your notice pretty quickly lol. Yes, our heat has been exceptional, even worse than it normally is in summer. It reached 121 today! I’m already sick of it, but it’s still June, and we’ve got another three months of this ahead of us.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. badfinger20 (Max)

        I knew how this sounded! Wow I can’t imagine. People from Arizona have told me about dry heat…The hottest I ever remember here is 112. My wife and I were in my Jeep Wrangler with the top off…we had to go home…it was just too hot even driving down the road.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks CB. I certainly thought it was timely! I’m not familiar with a version of the song by The Who.

      So you live on Vancouver Island eh? I’ve only been to Vancouver city, way back in the Spring of 1977. Was cloudy & rainy, but I loved it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I might have heard the Who version first but I do dig the original.
        I love the hot weather. Its a change from the rain forest drudging we get. Actually where I am is really nice. Not as much wet stuff as some places but we still get wet. BC has its hot dessert areas and it gets really nasty hot.
        You got me thinking of all the summer hot songs i like.

        Liked by 1 person

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