Martha and the Vandellas – “Jimmy Mack,” Pop # 10, R&B # 1
By Joel Francis
“Jimmy Mack” capped a remarkable four-year run by the trio that started with “Come and Get These Memories” in 1963. Like most of the group’s hits during that time, “Jimmy Mack” was written and produced by the redoubtable Holland-Dozier-Holland team. Coincidentally, “Jimmy Mack” was not only the Vandellas final Top 10 hit, but the last time the trio worked with Holland-Dozier-Holland before the songwriting team departed Motown in early 1968 over a royalty dispute.
Although HDH had a half-dozen major hits with Motown before their work slowdown/standoff with Berry Gordy, “Jimmy Mack” was recorded in 1964 but shelved after it failed to pass the weekly Quality Control meetings. When it was rescued from the vaults three years later, the lyrics took on a whole new dimension.
President Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of troops in Vietnam brought new poignancy to Martha Reeves’ musings of when her man would return. Originally written as a tempted woman’s plea for her boyfriend to return, many separated young couples interpreted the song as an overseas missive to a lost loved one.
Not that the song’s arrangement could support such a weighty metaphor. “Jimmy Mack” is little more than handclaps, perky piano and vocals. Reeves’ sunny vocals are void of any heartache, but the melody is catchy enough to compensate. Listen to this once and you’ll be signing it for the rest of the day.
Nearly 20 years later, Sheena Easton revived “Jimmy Mack” and took it to No. 65 in 1986.