Mike Ragogna: What was the creative process like? Did you get into a room together and just write songs or did you craft them for each artist?
Lamont Dozier: At first, we got in a room and started writing songs, not particularly for any designated artist. We just worked and wrote the songs, we felt that if we had the right song, it could be a hit for anybody if it had the right infectiousness and the right “stuff” that made people want to go out and buy it. So we wrote “hit” songs, quality songs that would break through, or that any kind of artist could sing. And we were very fortunate to have a lot of great singers.
MR: Were there times you guys would say, “Okay, this is what we need to write for Diana, or Marvin, or…”?
LD: From time to time, there were. There was one song, in particular, the first big thing that we had done. We had recorded “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” with The Supremes, and that came before the big one, “Where Did Our Love Go.” When we recorded, “Where Did Our Love Go,” I had already come up with it for The Marvelettes. They didn’t like the song at all, they said, in their own words, it was a bunch of crap, and refused to do it. They had some notoriety so they could refuse it. So I looked at the Motown roster to see who we could possibly do the song with since we’d already cut the track and I didn’t want the expense of that to come back to me. At the bottom of the list was The Supremes–they used to call them “The No-Hit Supremes.” They had already gotten word that it was a God-awful song, and they didn’t want to do it, so they were very surly. They felt like they were the step-children, like they always got the leftovers that nobody wanted…that was their words, you know.
We finally convinced them to go in and do the song. We had to because, like I said, we didn’t want to be charged for the track we’d already cut for The Marvelettes. In the studio, it was in a different key for Diana Ross, but it was in the right key because it was lower and it gave her a certain amount of sex appeal. And with her attitude of hating the song, it was just the attitude it needed to become a big hit. The backgrounds were simplified because I was tired of them complaining, “There’s too much background, there’s too much this, I don’t like that,” so, finally, I had them just sing, “Baby, Baby,” and that’s what they became famous for. It worked, and they sold four million copies coming out of the gate, and it was the first of thirteen consecutive number one records in a row. It made them one of the biggest groups in history.
MR: And the album mainly consisted of songs you’d written with the Hollands. Beyond writing with Brian or as part of HDH, you’ve worked with many people over the years like Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Alison Moyet, Joss Stone…
LD: Phil Collins and I had a number one hit that got a lot of accolades. It was from a film he did called Buster. The movie didn’t do that well, but it brought us all types of accolades–the Ivor Novello Award, the Brit Award, The Golden Globe, and the Grammy. It almost won the Academy Award, but Carly Simon got it for Working Girl…it beat us out.
MR: So many people were influenced by you, like The Doobie Brothers who covered a few of your songs.
LD: Yeah, Michael McDonald and The Doobie Brothers. They did “Little Darling (I Need You)” and “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While).” Michael McDonald is a big friend of mine, and I love him dearly. He, like no other person I know of that time, can sing all the Holland-Dozier-Holland songs, and, as you know, he did a couple of Motown albums just recently.
MR: Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall was a big fan too, and you wrote some songs with him including a couple British hits.
LD: Oh yeah, we wrote some songs together that did fairly well–”You Got It,” “Infidelity,”…as a matter of fact, it did real well, the album sold millions and we were quite happy about it. We see each other from time to time, and we talk about getting back together and doing something when we find the time because he’s doing a lot of things now, and I am too, like my plays…