What does it sound like?:
Northern Soul peaked in the mid-seventies and consisted of four inter-related elements; dancing, records, fashion and drugs. All facilitated the unique style of dancing, an athletic two-step replete with kicks, flicks, spins and drops. Trousers were baggy to exaggerate the speed of the leg movement and the pills kept the energy levels high for hours on end.
A Northern Soul record is an uptempo, syncopated ‘stomper’, designed to spring the dancer onto the balls of their feet and spin. The typical rhythm is best heard on The Four Tops’ I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch), although no self-respecting DJ would play such a mainstream record. Great pride was taken in seeking out rarities, obscure B sides on lesser known labels, records long-deleted, often by artists whose careers in the music business were short lived. Immediacy is essential. The first twenty seconds are crucial. There is absolutely no question of the luxury of six listens. Success was measured in the numbers on the dance floor. A ‘hit’ would be played several times in one night and became an expected feature of a specific DJ’s set list. DJs would jealously disguise the records’ true origins by sticking on labels with false names and false song titles. A popular record could be worth several weeks wages.
A Northern Soul revival began at the turn of the century. In its wake, the Chess record label have sifted through their catalogue searching for that characteristic beat. This is a second Chess box set that is meant replicate the thrill of discovering a Northern Soul gem. It is seven 7″ singles, a different artist on each side with an informative booklet and neat packaging. As with the first volume, the selections are made by the highly respected Ady Croasdell. It mimics a DJ set with a mixture of recognisable favourites, instant floor fillers, obscurities and some surprises. There are four tracks making their debut on vinyl; My Square by Jackie Ross from 1965, Terry Callier’s You Were Just Foolin’ Me from 1968, an alternative take of Must I Holler by Jamo Thomas and Sugar Pie DeSanto’s 1964’s Talkin’, Dreamin’, Boastin’. Several would fill a dance floor at any kind of party, not just a Northern Soul night, the best known being Marlena Shaw’s take on Let’s Wade In The Water. There are even a couple of slowies that might have graced Blackpool Mecca, a slowie being a relative term, classifiable as at least medium paced in any other context. In particular, Make It Last by The Vibrations would be perfect as one of the closing numbers in a three before the eight. Only one track, the quirky finale, Two In The Morning by Spooner’s Crowd doesn’t quite work.
What does it all *mean*?
The vinyl box set of seven singles is clearly aimed at the Northern Soul enthusiast. It’s pricey too. However, it is an excellent collection that should attract the interest of a casual observer as a download. Chess prove themselves to be more than simply a label for Blues and R&B. The remastering and sound quality is exemplary.
Goes well with…
Flat shoes, a shiny floor, talcum powder, a litre of water and a couple of Purple Hearts. Play on repeat.
Might suit people who like…
Northern Soul, Soul music of any kind, dancing.