Category Archives: Northern Soul

Northern Soul (Part Five)

Early in this blog, our friend Mark from Burton on Trent (known as Edge78a on this blog and YouTube) provided a list of twenty tracks as a study guide to help me understand the beat of Northern Soul. That playlist appears in Northern Soul (Part Three).

Recently he provided some additional information in a comment on this blog, noting that Americans often find the tracks Northern Soul devotees play from Motown and its subsidiary labels disconcerting, especially since some of the tracks are virtually unknown in the the United States. He offered a list of twenty from this category, which I have hyperlinked to YouTube postings below.

While most of the artists are well known to me, many of the recordings are new, with the big exceptions being Marvin Gaye’s “Can I Get A Witness” and “Love Is Like An Itching in My Heart” by The Supremes. I have never been a big fan of Gaye or The Supremes, but ironically, these very cuts are among the few I really like from him and them. (Maybe I have some latent affinity for Northern Soul after all?)

Some of the other artists, such as Marv Johnson (the singer Berry Gordy hoped could steal Jackie Wilson’s audience), the Tops, the Temps, Junior Walker and the All Stars, and Martha and the Vandellas, are ones I’ve liked for years, but only “Shake and Fingerpop” was among my faves on this list. (Do not miss the Shindig! live version.)

I’ve always been one of those unfashionable people who thinks Stevie Wonder is pretentious and admits to loathing most of his repertoire. Anything recorded after “Little” Stevie Wonder got big gives me a headache, so my cutoff point has always been “Fingertips.” Thanks, Edge, for the introduction to “Contract on Love,” which I had never heard until I looked it up for this list. It’s clearly “Little” Stevie Wonder stuff, and it’s wonderful stuff.

I’ve alphabetized Mark’s list by artist.

  1. Campbell, Choker, “Come See About Me
  2. Gaye, Marvin, “Can I Get A Witness
  3. Gladys Knight and the Pips, “If You Ever Get Your Hands on Love
  4. Johnson, Marv, “So Glad You Chose Me
  5. Junior Walker and the All-Stars, “Shake and Fingerpop” (Live on Shindig!)
  6. Martha and the Vandellas, “No One There
  7. Nero, Frances, “Keep On Loving Me
  8. Randolph, Barbara, “I Got A Feeling
  9. Ruffin, Jimmy, “Baby You’ve Got It
  10. Starr, Edwin, “I Want My Baby Back
  11. Taylor, Bobby, “Oh, I’ve Been Bless’d
  12. The Contours, “Just A Little Misunderstanding
  13. The Four Tops, “Ask the Lonely
  14. The Hit Pack, “Never Say No to Your Baby” (begins at 2:45 mark)
  15. The Originals, “Suspicion
  16. The Spinners, “I’ll Always Love You
  17. The Supremes, “Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart
  18. The Temptations, “Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)
  19. The Velvelettes, “These Things Will Keep Me Loving You
  20. Wonder, Little Stevie, “Contract on Love

RIP Carl Davis (1934-2012)

Carl Davis died last week in his home in Summerville, SC, of pulmonary fibrosis. I offer sincere condolences to his family.

Carl DavisDavis was vice president of Brunswick and the producer of Jackie Wilson’s last work, sometimes dubbed the “Chicago” LPs. While I personally have a strong dislike for much of what Davis produced with Jackie Wilson, there were some undisputedly positive results from these sessions, foremost among them “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” Davis also produced Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl,” a number of recordings for Major Lance, and early hits for the Chi-Lites. Records he produced are among the favorites of Northern Soul fans.

Among the books I plan to review here this fall is Carl Davis’s memoir, The Man Behind the Music: The Legendary Carl Davis, which he published last year. Artistic considerations aside, Davis appears to be one person who genuinely cared about Jackie Wilson during the singer’s darkest hours, and the memoir stands as evidence that Davis wanted to dissociate himself from Nat Tarnopol and expose, to what extent he felt he could, how Tarnopol and Brunswick treated Wilson. Carl Davis was also a source in the Tony Douglas books on Wilson, so his name will be coming up frequently as this blog develops.

Northern Soul (Part Four)

What can I say?

Well, first I should say a hearty “Thank you” to edge78a for all the help he’s been to me in understanding Northern Soul. I hope that over time others seeking an introduction to this genre will benefit from his information and song list (Northern Soul Parts Two and Three, respectively).

In one sense, I am where I was in the beginning: when artists I love are also embraced by Northern Soul aficionados, whether the artist be my main man, Jackie Wilson, or other greats, such as Chuck Jackson, Major Lance, and Gene Chandler, it is always what I like least or not at all in the artist’s repertoire than draws rave reviews from the NS crowd.

But with understanding comes tolerance. I used to find it maddening to go to a YouTube posting of a typical Jackie Wilson recording from the end of his career and find NS comment writers heaping praise on these tracks: recordings of tuneless songs with sophomoric lyrics, recordings that sounded like Amateur Hour at studio’s mixing board, recordings in which Jackie Wilson’s magnificent voice and often exquisite singing was inevitably obscured by noxious “background” singers and noisy instrumental “accompanists.”

I now understand that the primary issue in Northern Soul is rhythm and tempo, and I also understand that what is to me a dreadful sameness about the tracks produced at this stage of Jackie Wilson’s career is actually beautiful to the ears–and the feet–of the Northern Soulers. Although Jackie’s career ended much too soon, he left us hundreds of recordings, enough for many varied audiences to enjoy.

I also understand that the Northern Soul movement is a cultural phenomenon in the United Kingdom in more than one way. Not only is it a matter of entertainment and regional identification, which produces logos and other paraphernalia, but it is also a sort of hobby in that the group enjoys collecting rare recordings and following their market value.

Where once I stopped at all Jackie Wilson YouTube postings and pointed out the deficiencies of these Carl Davis tracks, I now just pass them by with a smile and leave them to my friends in the UK.

And I do now think of the Northern Soul gang as friends.

Northern Soul (Part Three)

YouTube poster Edge78a, our friend Mark from Burton on Trent, provided this list of twenty tracks as a study guide to help me understand the beat of Northern Soul. Mark used this recordings as a playlist when he was deejay for a dance.

Thank you once again, Mark. You are marvelous!

I have alphabetized the tracks by artist and linked them to YouTube videos.

  1. Artistics, “This Heart of Mine
  2. Chandler, Gene, “Mr. Big Shot
  3. Chavez, Freddie, “They’ll Never Know Why
  4. Cooper, Christine, “Heartaches Away My Boy
  5. De-lites, “Lover
  6. Elbert, Donnie, “Along Came Pride
  7. Hutch, Willie, “Love Runs Out
  8. Hutton, Bobby, “Come See
  9. Jackson, Marke, “I’ll Never Forget You
  10. Lance, Major, “Investigate
  11. Lee, Jackie, “Darkest Days
  12. Little Esther, “If It’s News to You
  13. Nabay, “Believe It Or Not
  14. Salvadors, “Stick By Me, Baby
  15. Sparkels, “Try Love (One More Time)
  16. Tee, Willie, “Walking Up A One Way Street
  17. Tomangoes, “I Really Love You
  18. Wilson, Al, “Now I know What Love Is
  19. Wilson, Jackie, “Because of You
  20. Wilson, Jackie, “I’m the One To Do It

Northern Soul (Part Two)

YouTube poster Edge78a from Burton on Trent, England, has generously offered to help me understand the characteristics of Northern Soul. Mark, as he is also known, is allowing me to pass his information on to you, so here is a first installment, to be quickly followed by a list of tracks to use as a study guide to understanding the Northern Soul beat.” My personal interpolations into Mark’s information (below) can be identified by italics enclosed in brackets.

What characterizes Northern Soul music is an “extremely hard to define” beat. [It would be wonderful if those of you reading could contribute here, identifying specific qualities of the Northern Soul beat.]

Most of the music is mid-to-fast tempo music by Black American soul singers of the Sixties and Seventies. Some of the artists, however, are not Black, and not all the music would generally be termed “soul.”

The Northern Soul Movement developed in the north of England in the mid-Sixties among working class youths of all races who were fans of soul music of a mid-to-fast tempo. The original venue was a Manchester, England, club called the Twisted Wheel, which in 1964 featured a mixture of R&B, soul, and Jamaican ska.

The term “Northern Soul” came about because the north and south of England, culturally divided in many ways, also favored different types of soul music. The most famous venues have all been in the north of England: Wigan Casino (1973-1981), Blackpool Mecca, Samantha’s (Sheffield), The Ritz (Leeds), and the Torch (Stoke on Trent), although there is a Northern Soul club in London called the 100 Club.

In order to find the particular beat they craved, adherents of Northern Soul sought out obscure US releases that had not been marketed in the UK. There is now a major collectors’ market for the vinyl copies of these tracks.

Check for Mark’s “study guide” of twenty tracks in Northern Soul (Part Three).

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.