Brenda Holloway is perhaps best known for being the west coast face of Motown, years before the label uprooted itself from Detroit to shift opeartions to Los Angeles. Along with her younger sister often on backing vocals, Brenda cut a remarkable run of singles for Tamla Motown. In addition to those records, her discography is a maze of incredible, obscure records cut under mysterious circumstances and with a number of pseudonyms; here are some of my favorite sides.
1962 found 16 year old Brenda (and 14 year old Patrice) put to wax an extraordinary debut single, "Echo". Del-Fi records released the "Echo" master three times (as "More Echo" and "Echo Echo Echo", respectively) with different flip sides. The sisterly harmonies of Brenda and Patrice are haunting but so sweet. These Del-Fi releases are incredibly hard to find (I have two of the three, and they hardly ever surface).
The following year (1963) saw Brenda paired up with songwriter/ producer Hal Davis (who was one of the key players in Motown moving west, and saw much success in the late 60's and thru the 70's) for "It's You"; a lush, luscious side of west coast pop soul perfection.
In 1964, Brenda was signed to Motown and her entire discography at the label is recommended; her sensual voice was wrapped around stellar material for an intoxicating, sexy musical concoction. The flip side to her debut Tamla/ Motown single (the sublime "Every Little Bit Hurts") is "Land Of A Thousand Boys"; a song that sounds as if it's beaming down from another planet (high praise indeed). Brenda was kind enough to sign my copy of this; my favorite of her records cut under her own name. Barry Gordy was known to have a watchful eye not only on his stars but also even session musicians, yet, somehow, (probably the physical distance between LA and Detroit) Brenda was involved in the production of a few legendary records that did not use her name but took full advantage of her incredible voice.
In 1965, Brenda, (probably) Patrice and who knows who else cut to wax the absolutely incendiary "Nobody But You" as the Wooden Nickles for the tiny Los Angeles label Vault. While the talk of discs taken to a desert island is one that is repeated far too often, if I could only take one Platter Pak full of 45's with me to some final destination, this single would be one of the easiest to select. The energy, the distorted production, the excitement and Brenda's SOARING lead vocal drive this record to the stratosphere. This was a busy year for the sisters, as they also released "I'll Be Satisfied" as The Sequins; a trio which also contained Patty Hunt and shows off the echo chamber from legendary L.A studio "Gold Star" (heard on countless Phil Spector productions). It's a stellar effort; a dreamy girl group number that softly stomps it's way into our hearts.
1966 saw the Holloway sisters join up with Sherlie Matthews (songwriter of great reknown for many of the artists featured on the brilliant LA Mirwood label) to form the Belles. The trio went so far as to even list pseudonyms on all official label/ studio documents relating to the group! "Don't Pretend" is the record that gets me all hot and bothered, led by a breathtakingly sexy lead vocal from Brenda.
Brenda continued recording for Motown through 1967, and the late 60's also saw her lovely song recorded by (butchered rather, in my opinion) Blood Sweat And Tears; this overblown bombasity became a huge hit at around the time Brenda retired from the music business. Sometime around 1967-68, Brenda recorded "Before You Break My Heart (reconsider)" which was never released for some odd reason; this stormer of a track has been a favorite of the northern soul community for many years and serves as a fitting footnote to Brenda's recording career. I saw her perform in Los Angeles a few years back and she still has *it*; a lovely lady with a voice that still melts hearts within hearing range.