Northern Soul (Part One)

“Northern Soul” mystifies me. When what I consider Jackie Wilson’s least worthy recordings appear on YouTube, they are almost invariably treated to comments laced with the letters “ktf.” Northern Soul fans love Jackie, and I love Jackie, but why do we not love the same Jackie Wilson songs?

This is one of my question posts, and I would love some help finding the answers:

  • What does the term soul mean to a fan of Northern Soul?
  • What characterizes a recording as Northern Soul?
  • What is the origin of the term?
  • Why do NS fans find “the Chicago years” of Jackie Wilson’s recording career so attractive? 
  • Which Jackie Wilson recordings do NS fans like the best? Why?
  • Which Jackie Wilson recordings do NS fans like the least? Why?


Well, it’s my blog, so I guess I need to start. Here goes.

I’m an old lady, and I have been listening to Jackie Wilson since I was a child. I love most of the recordings Jackie made until the point in his career when he was forced to record in Chicago with Carl Davis at the controls. In the Davis Era, the recordings I love are few.

Jackie’s voice, to the degree one can hear it on these recordings, is still beautiful. His singing is still technically brilliant.

But most of the songs themselves are inferior. They lack melody. I look at their titles and cannot recall a tune to hum. And their lyrics consist mostly of statements about emotions rather than words that evoke emotions. There is nothing to rival the urban poetry of Berry Gordy’s “That’s Why (I Love You So),” the haunting simplicity of Alonzo Tucker’s “Doggin’ Around,” or the working class philosophy of Sid Wyche’s “A Woman, A Lover, A Friend.”

Davis’s arrangements, characterized by layers of noisy instrumentation and “backing” singers with the nuance of a marching band, dominate the songs. Worst of all, the mixes coat Jackie Wilson’s singing with this aural sludge.

There is an old saying: “Style is timeless, but fashion is not.” Carl Davis saw himself as “updating” Wilson’s music. Jackie Wilson did not need updating: his voice is timeless, and much of what he recorded is also unfettered by the fashion of any given era. Ironically, what Davis produced is the “dated” stuff, as loud and unmistakably part of The Seventies as unkempt hair and Elvis jumpsuits.

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