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Motown legend's message for the Pirate Party

It's you or me

By Andrew Orlowski, 16 Oct 2009

Exclusive interview Earlier this year in Washington DC I had a chance to talk to Motown legend Lamont Dozier, part of the songwriting and production team that created some of the greatest and most enduring pop songs of all time. Dozier wrote or co-wrote not only most of the Supremes and Four Tops' hits of the Sixties, but also classics such as Roadrunner, Quicksand, Jimmy Mack and Band of Gold. The trio left the Motown label in 1967, and a ten-year lawsuit followed.

We met shortly after the Swedish Pirate Party gained its first European seat — so invited him to make a response. For his message, you'll need to click on the audio.

A Message to the Pirate Party

Lamont Dozier on Politics and Technology

For music fans who don't want to hear about the industry, I also asked him a bit about how he composed some of these great songs. You can hear a moment where a composer hears a cover version of one of his compositions for the first time, which is quite magic. If you only have time to hear just one excerpt, this is the one:

Lamont Dozier on Writing the Songs…

Much of the rest of the interview follows. If you don't want to read or hear anything, but just want to get something off your chest, click here, or here to mail me.

Creators vs Pirates

Is this a little lobby that we should ignore?

No. They have to be brought to a table where we can all sit down, and let them see the wrong this does. And if they keep doing this, there won't be any creativity. As far as the music is concerned. More and more people will go to other avenues of expression to earn a living. They'll realise that the ability to earn a living is being destroyed. Because everyone thinks music is free, just download it. They make up excuses for it.

That is a terrible trend. If people that love music don't say enough is enough, and we have to protect our songwriters and protect our intellectual properties, and protect these people who bring us this stuff that we love so well.

You'd have amateurs, I guess. You'd have the equivalent, which is what we had before the technology and before the business: rich patrons, giving money with strings attached.

People say I made a lot of money but you don't know what I had to do to get my stuff out. There's a whole lot of contracts I shouldn't have signed.

There were a lot of lawsuits - including Motown?

Oh, yes. A whole slew of them. A whole lot of people didn't want to give me what I warranted. I knew all those forces were out there. I had to protect myself the best I could although there was not a lot of knowledge around for songwriters to partake.

When I got to USC and started teaching kids, I told them 'knowledge is king - you have to learn everything about this place, the music business'. Love you music and don't just do it for monetary reasons, but know that there's forces out there that will try and bring you down. You have to be knowledgeable. Hopefully I can stop some kids being burned.

What about the view that music should be a hobby for amateurs?

I've been doing this since 1957, my first record - when I was 15 years old. It wasn't easy to get into this business, knocking on doors and trying to find something that was worthy of my talents with the pen, and my voice. But I'd hate for to see all of that go away. Little kids that grow up with the dream of being a star, or just a songwriter. Or just being able to make the world better with their poems. And all that will go away if they feel they can't earn a living.

For some people that's all they can do. That's the thing they have to understand: this is my vocation, this is all I can do. If you're taking away my pen and my piano I'm in trouble.

Thank God I've been successful and I have a tremendous catalogue that sustains me.

I find it odd that people define their identity by something that's so negative, insisting artists don't get paid. It's an odd thing that the biggest thing in your life, your biggest goal as a political movement - is that you [creative people] don't get paid!

Isn't that the beginning of the end of society as we know it? That's the beginning of something detrimental to society, anyway. If you're thinking of the human ability to reason, it's taking that away.

I'm not down with technology. The geniuses that come up with these things... but there should be some rules for the community and integrity goes into this rulebook. I love technology as long as it can build up, and not tear down.

But most people have downloaded something, at least once.

Sure.

But very few people define themselves that way, and find their identity through it, like the Pirate Party.

That is something really amazing - when you have no scruples. What is the word? No love of society, no love of togetherness. What makes us human beings and societies live stronger is when we come together and not to outdo one another, and 'let me steal your creativity'.

You understand what I'm trying to say? It's just ugly. It shouldn't be that way. You can't make right out of wrong like that.

You say you attend events like this, what's your agenda?

That's probably the fact that people should embrace and help those creative force, or people who have creative desires, who are trying to create something and make the world a better place. I know it's corny and may sound syrupy. But it's very simple.

The songs I was fortunate enough to start writing in the Sixties have become milestones, they have done so much. When I came up they were calling it 'race music', for a lot of things I was doing. That began to change. I was writing music everybody could feel.

Lamont Dozier with the Holland Brothers

And lo and behold, I became part of the Motown sound thing, that everybody loved. You can turn on the radio at any given moment and somewhere is playing it. That music is going to be there long after we've all gone. Something that powerful - man, you've got to say, that can't be wrong. Why would you try and bring it down by stealing it, and making it disappear? With all these Pirate Parties, and shit.

The Songs

You've said that I Hear A Symphony is one of your favourites - was there a moment of inspiration for that?

I always figure, corny as it may sound, everybody's got a band walking behind them. As a kid, I always thought music was there, following me. I can pick up sounds. And you see people skipping along when you're a kid - what are they skipping to? It's the inner voice.

And that's basically where the title came from - I just applied it to a one-on-one love thing with a girl. And because it gets so overwhelming this feeling you have for a person, you can't describe it any other way. Every time you see a face this feeling comes over you, you can only define it as a piece of music, a symphony coming at you.

The only thing that made me feel that way was a song. That's a woman as far as I'm concerned. No greater symphony was ever written.

And when you had performance in mind for songs - like The Supremes, the harmonies will have been very distinctive - did that influence the composition?

When they started out with Where Did Our Love Go? they hated the song, they thought it was the worst piece of crap they'd heard, just awful. So when I had to put the background part on that - just a simple melody - that's all I had. After I cut the track and started developing it, getting into the feeling of it, I started thinking about what was I really feeling? I had this background part worked out but it was too much, overproducing. When we finally had the girls in the studio and convinced them to do it - well, sometimes less is more.

They sang it in unison, with Diana as the counterpoint. No harmony, maybe a two-part harmony. The simplicity of that. Diana Ross' attitude about not liking the song - her surly attitude - that's what made the song happen.

So much of this music is a big part of British culture now…

I had a song that they used to close the club with in the North, Why Can't We Be Lovers?

Band of Gold is a big favourite. It was a big crossover too from Northern Soul. It still gives me the shivers. Was that autobiographical?

No, just something me and Brian Holland were working on. We sat side-by-side on the piano and worked out the feeling of it. Those songs kinda write themselves. Once you get a spark, and the energy gets you. It takes you where it wants to go. And we'd stay pushing it along.

It's very economical writing - it's like a movie in a few lines.

Many Movies is what we used to call our songs - they had a beginning a middle and an end. Many Musicals.

Lamont Dozier, thanks. ®

Andrew Orlowski debates with Pirate Party chairman and founder Rick Falkvinge at In The City on Manchester on Sunday, KO 12pm.

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