In appreciation – Lamont Dozier

Lamont Dozier in 1969. (c) Michael Ochs Archives, via Getty Images

Last week we heard the sad news of the death of Lamont Dozier, one of Motown’s chief songwriters. If you have listening to British radio stations over the last week you may well have heard a tribute or two in his honour – and even if you haven’t heard the tributes, the chances are you have heard a song in which Lamont had a vested writing interest.

The shower of tributes from artists in the wake of his death says everything about the quality of his songwriting. Carole King, in a Twitter post, said this:

As a member of that fabled Holland-Dozier-Holland trio (with Brian and Eddie Holland) he helped form something of a production line of quality Motown hits, a trio of songwriters the label could turn to at incredibly short notice, and who thought nothing of challenging their star vocalists.

First in this tribute is an appropriate one for this website – The SupremesI Hear A Symphony, from 1965. Here it is on an episode of Hullabaloo, introduced in a classical context:

Some of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s finest songs were written for The Four Tops – and it would be hard to top Reach Out, I’ll Be There, exploiting the incredibly powerful voice of lead singer Levi Stubbs to give the song its strongest possible impact:

Meanwhile another recipient of the trio’s fruits were Martha & the Vandellas, whose Heatwave remains one of Motown’s most powerful and affirmative calling cards:

Back to The Supremes, and the feverish You Keep Me Hangin’ On – not just for the pleading Diana Ross vocal but for the insistent guitar line that just will not go away:

Another Martha & the Vandellas track, Jimmy Mack, written in the wake of the death of the songwriter Ronnie Mack at the age of only 23, asks ‘when are you comin’ back?’

Another UK chart topper for Dozier and the Hollands was Band of Gold by Freda Payne, released in 1970 and a radio staple to this day:

Finally here is a wonderful song Lamont wrote for the imperious Alison Moyet in 1984. Invisible is surely one of her finest vocal achievements:

For a full list of songs in which Lamont was involved, you can go to the SecondHandSongs website

Perfect Songs – Patrick Watson: Into Giants

by Steven Johnson

Over the last twenty years Canadian singer Patrick Watson has made a name for himself as a writer of keenly felt and sensitively delivered songs. His eight albums to date have all contained episodes to savour and, while he may have sung on higher profile songs along the way, it’s hard not to see Into Giants as arguably his finest moment. A lot of his songs might have a melancholic, introspective feel but Into Giants, taken from his 2012 Adventures In Your Own Backyard album, is in many ways the exact opposite.

Why is it a perfect song?

In short, it has all necessary elements in place and is over-brimming with positive qualities. There’s just so much to love about it.

The heart-warming storyline relayed throughout the song might have been enough on its own but the clever, subtly considered musical arrangements further elevate and enrich its message. Essentially, it tells the story of two people embarking on a journey through life, their relationship evolving and blossoming as they proceed. If you’re worried that sounds a little too saccharine, set any concerns aside – the song generates so much goodwill that you’ll soon find yourself rooting for the contented pair.

It’s not just Watson that sings on Into Giants – he duets with Swedish singer Erika Angell. Together they make sure we’re swept along in the narrative. “Started as lovers, don’t know where it’s gonna end” they repeat over the course over the four minutes. As a refrain it might leave the ending to the story tantalisingly open but there’s no doubting that, right now, things are looking up.

The video directed by Brigitte Henry brings the song even further to life (and is essential viewing in itself). It begins in a way that will be familiar to most these days, with Watson and Angell singing to each other remotely, connected only via the screens of their computers. Soon, they’re united in real life however, dressed up and theatrically tap dancing their way through a colourful set. They sing of how they “grew so tall our heads hit ceilings” and “turned into a crowd of smiles, jumping over all the bad times” and it’s hard not to submit to it in full. There are so many lovely details – from the way Watson wears his hat early on to how they’re showered in confetti towards the end (the allusion to a wedding is apt given the feeling of windswept romance the song portrays). The behind the scenes video provides some nice additional footage (and shows just how much work went into its creation).

There’s much in the way of ornate, decorative instrumentation across the song but when the celebratory trumpets kick in late on it feels especially exultant. Soon after, we’re transported through a door into a venue where a gig is taking place and the pair resume their original positions on stage to deliver their final, moving lines. The central yet understated percussion that runs through the song signs off for one last time. It caps a life affirming and joyous few minutes that never gets old, very much a perfect song.

Perfect Songs is a new occasional series from Arcana. If you have any suggestions for the series, or would like to contribute to it, get in touch –


Perfect Songs – The Bluetones: Slight Return

by Ben Hogwood

The BluetonesSlight Return was released 25 years ago today.

From a personal point I remember it well. I was searching for employment in the backwaters of Norfolk and 1996 was one of the greyest January months you can imagine, thick cloud stretching across the Fens as far as the eye could see, which was not very far.

In the midst of this Britpop had already established a firm footing in the UK singles charts thanks to Blur, Oasis and Pulp, and Radio 1’s Evening Session was providing a lifeline of quality new music, either in thrall to those three or forging new paths on the electronica side of things.

The Bluetones had already established themselves as gifted tunesmiths with Bluetonic in 1995, but Slight Return took them up a level.

Why is it a perfect song?

To get all musical, the harmonies on Slight Return are sublime. Listen to the first two chords strummed by the guitars in the first five seconds of the song. The first (D major) sets a bright picture; the second chord simply adds one note – a C# – which opens up all sorts of new possibilities. Having sung “Where did you go?”, vocalist Mark Morriss has set the scene for his story, and the C# opens the music up to give him the chance to tell it in full.

From here the song is rather wonderful, Morriss’s earnest vocal supported by jangly guitars that take the music round in a couple of exquisite circles. The music stops whenever we come back to those two chords we heard at the beginning – all acting as natural punctuation for the story.

The words of the chorus are radio-friendly gold, too – “You don’t have to have the solution, You’ve got to understand the problem” – with a curious word accent that works really well.

The catchy chorus and verse match each other, with a lovely instrumental break that brings the guitars to the fore. The last chorus is even better, Morriss repeating the joyful refrain “I’m coming home” several times then countering it with “…just for a short while” and a lovely harmonic shift. That sets the scene for a breezy coda, this time using a C# right before the end, which leads to a ‘D’ for perfect closure.

Do you agree? Have a listen here:

Perfect Songs is a new occasional series from Arcana. If you have any suggestions for the series, or would like to contribute to it, get in touch –