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Northern Soul: A Top Ten

Ten all-time great Northern Soul records.

A personal Northern Soul top ten.

I haven’t listened to some of these Northern Soul tunes since I was in my teenage spots, preferring as I did to keep moving, though it’s good to hear them again.
There were so many truly great Northern Soul tunes (many of them ushered in by Ian Levine in his 1973 and ’74 batch), that a definitive ‘best’ list is nigh-on impossible.
Anyhow, these few stand tall against the onslaught of time.
What measure have I used to judge ten of my favourites?
Most Northern Soul tracks were (under) three minutes of pure adrenaline, with a great intro designed to grab your attention from the off (or, more precisely,  the attentions of those who compile radio station play-lists).

As I did more of my dancing at Blackpool Mecca’s Highland Room than at Wigan Casino (where I did more ‘talking’), I suppose a good yardstick was how quickly I would sprint down the corridor of the Highland Room – and onto the dance floor – when I heard the first few notes.
Here are my corridor sprinters in reverse order.

10: Bessie Banks – The Best is yet to Come

Colin Curtis has always had a cutting, dry sense of humour and good taste in music. For Colin, it was always about playing great black music, irrespective of the price tag, and what he lacked in big-bucks rarity, he made up for with inspired musical selections. This is a moody classic that doesn’t age. Many wouldn’t class this as Northern Soul, but they probably never went to the Mecca.

9: Young Holt Unlimited – California Montage

I try to avoid Northern Soul sentimentality, which surfaces in the loo at latter-day venues, where there’s usually someone bleating about talc and Brut 33.
But this track, which closed the night at Blackpool Mecca’s Highland Room, is full of youthful resonance and has the power to break my heart in a number of places.
Ian Levine and Colin Curtis could make a case for being one of the more influential double acts in DJ dance music history, and this was a perfect pitch to end the night….even if they might not have been the first to play it.
Beautiful music that defies age and genre.
As the last track of the night, if I was around to hear California Montage I probably hadn’t got the money (and ‘gear’….) to go to Wigan, and I would be staying at my girlfriend Wendie’s in Blackpool.
I really enjoyed the novelty of a Saturday night’s sleep and the prospect of meeting a Sunday morning fully refreshed…which didn’t happen often. California Montage was always followed by the disappointment of night’s end, the silence of reality and the chatter of voices, many of which chatter no more.
Oh turn it off !…. FFS just TURN IT OFF!

8: Kelly Garrett – Love is the Only Answer

A bit too fast for many but fabulous vocals and 2 minutes 20 of pure buzz.

7: Patti and the Emblems – I’m Gonna Love You a Long Long Time

No wonder people pine for old times with tunes like this one, which is guaranteed to give ghost to old faces, phet-adrenalin, and memories of youth. Pass me a Kleenex.

6: David and the Giants – Ten Miles High

Perfect Highland Room tempo from the Golden Age of Northern Soul… and technically it wasn’t soul at all. Man, I’ve done some mid-week daydreaming to this Muscle Shoals track, willing the weekend to get here sooner to save me from the dullness of my dead-end job.

7: Terrible Tom – We Were Made for Each Other

Talk about buzz! The first time I heard this I don’t think I got over it for a week, so it must have caught me on the up. Tracks like this ended up in Mr. M’s at Wigan, but they remind me of the Highland Room at the Mecca.

6: Unsatisfied – Lou Johnson

I first heard this when Richard Searling played it at the Va Va in Bolton, when I was still at school  (and a fledgling beard to cover up teenage spots). To the modern ear it at first sounds dated… but give it a few plays. Perfectly delivered fare that has yet to be degraded by cat food, Saga holidays, breakfast cereal or some other ad (Oops! Getting on my Soulie ‘Too darn Commercial’ high horse again, after all these years).

5: Voices of East Harlem – Cashing In

If this isn’t in someone’s top ten, they’re probably the type that collected records after having spent the day trainspotting on Platform 3 at Crewe Station. Good songs are often a short story wrapped in believable music, and this is prime stuff.

4: Vel-Vets – I Got ta Find Me Somebody (Click)

Would’ve been number one if there was just a little more to it. Possibly the best ever Northern soul intro, which hands in the air and those wasp-like strings never fail to sting (which is why its my ringtone!).
Pure genius that should’ve made the players a good living.

3: Yvonne Baker – You Didn’t Say a Word

Timeless Bond theme that never was. Many people’s number one sound but maybe I’ve heard it too often.

2: Mel Britt – She’ll Come Running Back

Perfect pitch for fancy footwork. Beautiful strings to daydream to, and a simple lyric to furnish decades of sentimental looking back… and a crush on Vicky from Peterborough, after a night at the end of Cleethorpes Pier.

1: Patti Austin – You Didn’t Say a Word

Under played, underrated, not rare enough for many and too darn slow for Wigan Casino gymnastics. But BOY does Patti know how to raise the stakes (or, more precisely, producer/arranger Tony Camillo… amongst many others, I think he also did the best Chairman of the Board stuff)).
Timeless and almost peerless arrangement.

Almost made it in…

Johnny Howard – The Chase is On
This has lots of views/listens on various youtube entries, but as I recall it wasn’t really popular at the time. Must’ve gained in popularity with the years, and rightly so. Shame about the lyrics, which might’ve been written by a stalker.

Fi-Dels –  Try a Little Harder

Classic Bob Relf.

Cleethorpes Pier Gems
Lady Lady Lady – Boogie Man Orchestra (click)

I didn’t go to the Cleethorpes Pier All-Nighters too often but I always enjoyed them, particularly the drop in musical pace.
I remember a line in the satirical soap opera ‘Soap’ when one of the main characters bemoans ‘If only life was set to music!’.
Well, we Northern Soulies did our best to make it so (in the days before portable stereos and headphones).
I used to annoy my fellow passengers with tracks like this on the X60 bus back from Blackpool, taped from in front of all-nighter speakers and blasted out of a crappy Grundy tape player on the back seat.
The intro is the stuff of daydreams…and then it goes a bit womky.

Two other well-loved Cleethorpes Classics. Make of them what thou wilt.

Spooky and Sue – I’ve Got the Need

Silvetti – Spring Rain