Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Frank Elson's Checkin' It Out Northern Soul Column

Frank Elson's Checkin' It Out column
Frank Elson's Checkin' It Out column The Marvelettes Jay & the Techiques William Bell Leon Haywood Soul Sisters Sam & Dave J.J. Barnes James & Bobby Puriify Contempo Records Barbara Mason Wilson Pickett The Velvelettes Bunny Sigler

Carrying on from the printed edition – great sounds from the early and mid-Sixties that came before Northern Soul, starting off just with Soul, then Dancing Soul then Rare Soul.

I should make it clear, 'cos I've been talking to folk who don't seem to get it, that the first “Rare” Soul sounds were not things that people had been over to the States to discover in dusty back-rooms of record shops and radio stations.

Rare Soul was something like The Marvelettes, “Destination Anywhere” that was available in the States around 1967 but not released in the UK until 1968. So, it wasn't rare when released in the UK, but it was when we were dancing to it at the Torch or Twisted Wheel and only one or two people had it, on import.

Everyone has their own start dates in their minds, but my period of first getting into the music was 1965/66 and then, '67 to '70 was the great period when we found places like the Contempo Record Shop and Dave Godin's Soul City so that we could buy these rare sounds ourselves.

We'd save up, then hitch to London to buy Mod clothes in Carnaby Street and records from the shops mentioned above. You do know that this was the origin of Dave coming up with the phrase Northern Soul don't you?

One of my favourite sayings, based on the fact that I have about 500 “top sounds” is: “'There are plenty of sounds as good, but nothing better than...'

Now, I wonder where I first heard Jay and The Techniques, “Baby Make Your Own Sweet Music” ? I know, from my research, that it was released in 1968. So it could have been the Torch or the Wheel. Starting work late in '68, got my first Mini in the Summer, while still at school, but, go on, can you think of a better track ?

Another “as good as” is Leon Hayward, “Baby Reconsider”, but, although released in 1966, I have no idea when we would first have heard it. Rare y'see.

Now, was William Bell, “Happy” which came out in 1968 ever rare, as such, or could we have gone down to our local record shop and bought a copy ? Buggered if I can remember but I do know that if you like dancing soul you NEED to have a copy of this in your box!

If we bob back a few years, The Soul Sisters, “Good Time Tonight” was released in 1965, but I would still take a punt and say that it wasn't in every record collection for a year or two. Yes, we were dancing to it, but surely it counted as rare for a while, at least.

In no particular order I also came across James and Bobby Purify, “Let Love Come Between Us” and Moses and Joshua Dillard, “My Elusive Dreams” both from 1967 and both issued to have a go at that double vocal market that had been tied up for a few years by Sam and Dave. Did you know that in the mid to late '60s Sam and Dave were THE biggest Soul/R/n/B act in the States ? They outsold many Motown acts and even people of the stature of Otis Redding.
Still, the double male vocal sound has remained a mainstay of dancing/rare/northern Soul.

By 1968 “smooth” music like Joe Simon, “No Sad Songs” were an another accepted part of the Soul world. I recall J.J. Barnes telling me that, within the business in the States acts who only rarely moved uptempo were known as “stylists” - hence the group called the Stylistics a little while later on.

Nobody but an “oldie” would, today play or dance to J.J. Jackson, “But It's Alright” which was decidedly popular and not even remotely “rare” in 1966 – and played heavily – while I still surprise some of our younger element when I point out that the 1965 (and rare for a while) release, Barbara Mason “Yes I'm Ready” was also a top sound in is day. Why? Well look it up, great smooth soulful sound but incredibly slow. One when we would grab a girl (or a girl would grab a boy) and move slowly around the dance floor in pairs... yes, dancers touching!
My all time favourite quote is, again, from J.J. Barnes, who, having been shown a handful of Northern tracks remarked: 'You guys have hits out of the b side of American flops.”

It was, of course the drive to assuage the thirst of us fledgling Soul music fans that had the experts turning records over. One of the very biggest Soul dancers of 1966 was Wilson Pickett “Three Time Loser” and it was a rare sound. That is until people realised that it was on the flipside of “Mustang Sally” that was a pop hit!

Remember my “as good but none better” ? If you have forgotten already it's further up this page and you've got a serious problem with your short term memory loss. Another of those for me is The Flamingos, “Boogaloo Party” from 1966. I have not the faintest idea if this was ever rare, but if you danced in the 1960s then you will never convince me there is anything better... But, wait, the year before (1965) one of the all-time classic sounds appeared: Chuck Jackson, “Good Things Come To Those Who Wait”; and we would still have been dancing to Velvelettes, “Lonely Lonely Girl Am I” which was two years old, having been released in 1964.

Go on, three of the greatest pieces of record music you will ever hear... yes, there are others as good but (all together now) “nothing better” !

* I don't do a lot of “research” to write these columns. I do look up dates, and I try to pop back through recent columns so I don't repeat myself too often, repeat myself too often (that was a joke) but, then, sometimes I need to check tinternet just to see if my memory is not failing too much.

Yet another of my all time favourite dancers from those pre-Northern Soul days is Bunny Sigler “Let The Good Times Roll/”Feel So Good” from 1967. Like the Flamingos this is a classic dancer. But, I had the feeling that I also had another version somewhere.

...and, yes, there it is by Shirley and Lee, but, my goodness it was an oldie in the 60s as it was first released in 1956. Blimey. Obviously a different – slower – version, but I'd take another punt and reckon it would get someone dancing today.

By the way, that's the same Shirley who had the disco hit with “Shame Shame Shame” in 1975. And, with my anorak firmly zipped up, her real name was Shirley Mae Goodman and she died in 2005... RIP.

And, you know, even that wasn't the original. But I doubt if You Tube would go down very well on the dance-floor today. Release date? 1946!

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