Martha and the Vandellas – “(Love is Like A) Heat Wave”

Martha and the Vandellas – “(Love is Like A) Heat Wave,” Pop #4, R&B #1

When the mercury starts pushing past the century mark my first inclinations are to shave my head and hibernate near the air conditioning. If actual heat waves were more like this song, I’d be dancing in the streets.

Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote it and Martha Reeves sang the heck out of it, but the real credit should go to the Funk Brothers, Motown’s stable of uber-talented, under-recognized musicians. The drums open the song with the buoyancy of an oceanic wave, while a swiftly strummed guitar tells your feet when to move. Add a spritely horn section and peppy piano and you’ve got a hit before Reeves nails the first note.
With so many upbeat elements it’s easy to miss the pain in the lyrics. “Whenever he calls my name/Sounds so soft sweet and plain/Right then, right there/I feel this burning pain/This high blood pressure’s got a hold on me/I said this ain’t the way love’s supposed to be/It’s like a heatwave burning in my heart/I can’t keep from crying/Tearing me apart.” Divorced from the melody and arrangement and the words have the same longing and pain as Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.” But together bad love and frustration never felt so good.
Berry Gordy tried to replicate his success by lending the number to the Supremes in 1967. A year earlier The Who covered it a for their second album, but neither version measured up. How could it? Stick “Heat Wave” in your summer cookout playlist alongside Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and any number of Beach Boys tunes and you’ve got a recipe for success. — By Joel Francis

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