Heat Wave (1963)
Martha & The Vandellas
It’s still a heat-producing single, a meltdown record that injects the frenzy of love and lust right into the flesh, blood, bone and marrow of the listener. “Heat Wave” is virtually guaranteed to make anyone with normal reflexes bob their head, twitch their neck, tap their toe or drum their fingers. The word “catchy” was invented for this song.
Burning it up:
It comes out of the chute like a wild bull:
Whenever I’m with him
Starts to burnin’
And I’m filled with desire
Martha Reeves hits the words “filled” and “desire” long and strong, drawing them out so we know just how powerful her feelings are. She’s over the edge. She asks the question, which anyone who’s ever fallen hard might very well have asked:
Could it be the devil in me
Or is this the way love’s supposed to be?
Well, yeah. It is like a heat wave. She’s overcome, beside herself. Rarely has the physicality of lusty love been described so well.
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
But that doesn’t mean
It has me amazed
I don’t know what to do
My head’s in a haze
It’s like a heat wave!
A few other Motown gems with a similar bent – “Where Did Our Love Go?” by The Supremes, “Just My Imagination” from The Rolling Stones and Smokey Robinson’s “Going To A Go-Go” – remind us of the head-spinning power of love (not to mention sex).
In “Heat Wave,” Martha Reeves cranks up her formidable lungs and shouts out a gospel song filled with love and sexual yearning. The Vandellas, Rosalind and Annette Beard, are her equal on the back-up vocals shouting right back from the front pew at Martha the preacher in the pulpit.
Richard (Pistol) Allen rides the drums with the throttle wide open, creating a fast-tempo backbeat pretty much without parallel. Mike Terry serves up a textbook-precise sax solo and James Jameson gives a driving bottom depth playing the double bass.
Martha Reeves, the Vandellas, The Funk Brothers, the arrangers, and writers throb and rumble on 16 cylinders the size of oil-drums.
They can’t be stopped. It’s Motown at a peak where a climber can look out at just a few other power pop songs that screamed out of Detroit in those years. It’s Rock-N-Roll that has completely gobbled up Rhythm & Blues and disgorged a form all itself. He may have had shortcomings, but blessings on Berry Gordy, Jr. for making the Motown sound happen.
Two knock-off songs followed “Heat Wave.” This is not to denigrate them, but true originality was lacking in “Quicksand,” and “Live Wire,” the former from late 1963, the latter early-’64. Both performed decently on the charts but the group was searching for a real hit and found it in the uber-classic “Dancing In The Street,” also from ’64.
By 1967, the comet-like journey of Martha And The Vandellas was over, and while they continued to issue records, none recaptured the pounding magic, the flowing lava of “Heat Wave.”
I ain’t never felt like this before…
- Martha Reeves recalls: “I remember as a teenager – I was the third of 11 children and the eldest girl – a lot of my responsibilities seemed to be in the kitchen doing the washing up,” she laughs. “I’d sing while I was doing my chores and the dog would howl and my brother would throw his shoe at me to get me to shut up. It was all ‘Oh, Martha’s at it again. Can’t we have some peace?’ But I persevered. I practiced every day and, luckily, it all paid off.”