In 1963, America experienced a heat wave that took a while to break, but when it did, it truly sizzled. Exactly 53 years ago, Motown's Gordy label released Martha & the Vandellas' ‘Heat Wave’ and watched it become their second R&B hit, their first No. 1 on that chart and their pop breakthrough.
The irresistible Holland-Dozier-Holland song was propelled not just by the voices of Martha Reeves and her fellow Vandellas, but by the throaty baritone sax of Mike Terry (pictured). He was a key Motown session man in its early days, spending five years there from 1960 before moving across town in Detroit to join Golden World Records. Terry played on other such great Tamla hits as the Four Tops' 'I Can't Help Myself,' the Isley Brothers' 'This Old Heart Of Mine' and Kim Weston's 'Helpless.'
Recorded on 20 June, 'Heat Wave' — the 'Love Is Like A' prefix was added later — was on the street just three weeks later. Its progress to national prominence was aided by the weather that early summer: as the temperature rose, radio weather reports were often accompanied by the track.
'Heat Wave' took a month to make its R&B chart debut and another month to climb to the top of that chart, taking over from another early Motown staple, Stevie Wonder's 'Fingertips – Pt.2.' Then Martha, Rosalind and Annette were immovable for a month. What's more, where their first soul hit 'Come And Get These Memories' had faltered at No. 29 pop, they now had a fully-fledged crossover success, as 'Heat Wave' climbed to a Hot 100 peak of No. 4.