Eddie Holland is quick to say that he “really didn’t want to do a book,” despite a career during which he, brother Brian Holland and partner Lamont Dozier churned out a string of Motown’s era-defining hits, 15 of which topped the Billboard Hot 100.
But when a minister friend in Detroit told the older Holland that “if you don’t write the book, someone else is gonna do it, so you might as well write it like the way it was,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Songwriters Hall of Famer changed his tune.
The result is Come and Get These Memories: The Genius of Holland-Dozier-Holland, Motown’s Incomparable Songwriters, an insightful 367-page tome in which the Holland brothers talk about growing up and developing their craft, becoming the dominant songwriting team at Motown — and, in Eddie’s case, the company’s head of A&R for a spell — and other endeavors beyond the walls of Hitsville USA. It’s a detailed account of prolific creativity and sheds a light on some of the internal politics and bureaucracy at the 60-year-old label, including the trio’s lengthy legal dust-up with founder Berry Gordy Jr. during the late ’60s.
But the overall tone and message of the book is positive for both the Hollands and the reader. “I’ll tell you something; When I look back, I laugh at some of this stuff. I say, ‘Where the hell did this come from?'” Eddie says. “It amazes me, really. I’m still astonished because when we first started writing I was trying to do my best and trying to learn the best way I could. There’s no way in the world someone could have told me these songs would be this successful for this long. I would’ve thought they’d lost their mind. I still don’t know what to think of it, to be honest with you. I really, truly don’t. It’s just phenomenal.”
If Holland had his way, Come and Get These Memories would be a three-way effort, with Dozier’s thoughts joining his and his brother’s. He pitched it that way, in fact, noting that, “We all have different inflections of how we view things. I said, ‘We’ll take the book and put it in one package and called Holland, Dozier and Holland.’ But after a few years of thinking Lamont didn’t want to do that; He said, ‘I wanna do my own book’ (How Sweet It Is, also published this fall), and that’s fine.” Holland says that Shirley Washington, who works with both brothers and played a substantial role in putting Come and Get These Memories together, made a final appeal via Dozier’s wife but was ultimately turned down.
The book does document the complex relationship between the three men, and after its publication Eddie Holland did reach out to Dozier to smooth over any differences. “When the book came out I think his wife read it and I think he was a little offended, and I had to let them know I don’t want to offend at all,” Holland says. “I wrote him something to tell him I was not trying to be demeaning to him or undermine anything; (the book) was just from my personal point of view and how I saw things — just like his is.” And the Hollands don’t pull punches in talking about their own volatile relationship in the book, either.
“Nobody argues more than my brother and I,” Holland says. “When we were writing those songs, man, we used to get into the worst arguments. You would not believe! Lamont, it would frighten him to death half the time; He wanted to get out of the room and a lot of times he would walk out of the room. We’re still like that. It’s just siblings and sibling rivalry. Sometimes people would walk in the room and be like, ‘Guys wait a minute…’ They thought we were going to start fighting or something. I said, ‘Man, get out of here! We’re in here having a conversation. We’re gonna be physically fighting? Are you people crazy?! Just leave us alone. We’ll work it out,’ and we always did.”
The book details myriad other relationships, too, including Brian Holland’s short romance with the Supremes’ Diana Ross and the brothers’ working relationship with Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., whom the Hollands give full props for Motown’s conception and success. But it’s a relationship that also became turbulent around 1968, during Eddie’s tenure as A&R chief. Their departure from Motown to start their own labels, Invictus and Hot Wax Records, led to lawsuits and countersuits over breach of contract, which lasted nearly a decade. Once those were settled, however, HDH returned to Motown twice, and the Hollands remain close friends with Gordy now.
“Y’know, what it came down to was Berry was uneasy talking to me about royalties and financial things ’cause I was so pushy with what I wanted,” Holland says. “He turned it over to a lawyer and that’s how things broke down and he sued us on advice of his counsel and we sued him and one led to another and it lasted a long time. But, y’know, if you really care about a person, you fight and you argue but that doesn’t corrupt that feeling. I truly believe Berry Gordy is a genius and he hit onto something and it was his intelligence and philosophy that made (Motown) work. The way he put Motown together, it was the most competitive situation I’ve been in in my life, but still we would help each other and we all learned from each other, ’cause it was all about making (the company) successful.”
Holland says it took him awhile to realize the HDH trio’s role in Motown’s ascent, however. “Back then we were creating at such a rapid pace you never took time to stop and smell the roses,” he says now. “To be honest with you, I really had no idea we were writing that many good songs. When I first realized how talented we really were, it was almost 20 years later, when Universal did a box set of all our songs. I sat down and listened to them and I called my brother and said, ‘Brian, do you realize how good we were?’ and he said, ‘Yeah.’
“And then he said, ‘Man, you were good. YOU were good.’ I said, ‘No Brian, it’s the music.’ He said, ‘No, no, if you take these lyrics off, the music’s not that good.’ And I started laughing and said, ‘Man, you’re telling me this 20 years later?’ And then Lamont starts saying it, and then another 10 years later Berry Gordy starts telling me I’m a genius….”
The HDH legacy, including the score for the stage version of The First Wives Club, is certainly alive and well. Besides their prominent role in compilations released this year to commemorate Motown’s 60th anniversary, they’re also intrinsic parts of Motown: The Musical and Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations (the latter cast recording is nominated for a Grammy Award for best musical theater album) and are developing an HDH stage musical, which Holland says will be more like a song revue but a bit more involved than something like Smokey Joe’s Cafe. When it’s done they hope it will be another flesh-and-blood reminder of the accomplishments documented in Come and Get These Memories.
“I still don’t know how we did it — honestly,” says Holland, who just laughs when it’s suggested that maybe he can read the book and find out.