“Love is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the center of their existence, hence if each one of them experiences himself from the center of his existence. Only in this “central experience” is human reality, only here is aliveness, only here is the basis for love. Love, experienced thus, is a constant challenge; it is not a resting place, but a moving, growing, working together…” Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving
And now we leave Manchester for Detroit, and what could be called the continuation of a Motown powerhouse under other means. Holland-Dozier-Holland were one of the main songwriting Motown had in the 60s but left the label in 1968 to start their own, Invictus/Hot Wax* which was a success, much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of Berry Gordy.
This was The Chairmen of the Board’s first hit and their firstsingle to boot; lead singer General Johnson had been recruited by H-D-H, and Johnson brought the band together (though in fact the band playing on this isn’t them but the 1970 version of the Funk Brothers, just to add to the confusion). There is an awful lot of subversive and maybe just flat-out competitive streaks in the early 70s, and while Gordy had the Jackson 5 as well as many other long-time Motown acts to draw on, Invictus** did very well with both Chairmen of the Board and Freda Payne, who stopped them from getting to #1 on the NME chart.
The balance is crucial – on the one hand there’s the upbeat family dynamics of the Jackson 5, and here there is a disarmingly grown-up view that things don’t happen quickly, they need to be nurtured and patiently dealt with. He wants her, she seems to be disinterested in anything beyond ‘love at first sight’ and has already cooled on him, but here he is trying to convince her – to what end we never find out – that they owe it to themselves to try harder, to take love more seriously, to respect love as one would a mountain. Is love hard? The Chairmen say hell yes, love is hard, but anything as important and sweet as love is worth the effort. As a sentiment it flies in the face of the whole lax ‘love the one you’re with’ hippie vibes of the time and the whole idea of love being something one ‘falls into’ as opposed to ‘works at’ (Erich Fromm would have approved of this song). Johnson’s agonized vocals – he yelps and bbrrrrrrruppss*** and pleads in such a way that the object of his affection is either going to come back to him or run away; his voice pierces the record and the time he wants is ours as we are listening, even as we feel sorry for him for being in love with someone who doesn’t have the maturity (she is younger than him; it could be that he has sadly fallen in love with someone who isn’t ready for commitment) to recognize his words as the truth. Love is as easy as ABC? Hmm, don’t think so.
This rejection of summer of love idealism and transience and insistence on the solid and energetic path of love must have struck a chord with a generation who themselves were ready for commitment, who had had enough of superficial relationships, those who had been burnt once or twice and were now ready to slow down and give love respect, and in turn give themselves respect as well. Besides the deep joy of love is the knowledge that is entails constant work; any relationship worth preserving has to go through the growing pains that this song describes, or demands, and it’s as true now as it was in 1970.
As for Holland-Dozier-Holland, they kept right on working with not just their own label's artists but with Motown artists as well; that's how deep their love was, and how even with lawsuits and psedonyms, their attachment to Motown was unshakeable.
Next up: a trip to the movies, for some more joyful realism.
*Apparently Motown wasn’t paying them their due royalties; Motown countersued and this dragged on for years, meaning that H-D-H had to work under the name “Edythe Wayne.” Ron Dunbar helped to write it, so “Wayne/Dunbar” is credited on the single.
**Presumably named after the W.E. Henley poem…or maybe not.
***Let me note here that Kevin Rowland is now seventeen; he’s the only singer besides Johnson I’ve heard to ever make this noise.