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Inside Becker College, Steve Moysey, Ph.D., is the director of continuing education in the Center for Accelerated and Professional Studies. Outside Becker College, he has no equal as a connoisseur of Northern soul music.
For the past five years Steve Moysey and DJ Tom Shaker have met on Monday nights to celebrate the Northern soul scene during an hour-long radio program on WICN. Collectively, they are known as the “Soul Doctors.”
Northern soul has been described as “a music and dance movement that emerged in Northern England in the late 1960s… it mainly consists of a particular style of black American soul music based on the heavy beat and fast tempo of the mid-1960s Motown sound.” The Northern soul movement, however, generally avoids Motown or Motown-influenced music that has been met with significant mainstream success.
It’s the type of sound you don’t regularly hear on American radio but that holds an underground following in Northern England to this day. DJs dig deep into forgotten catalogues of small defunct record labels in search of up-tempo soul music that make even the most reserved want to let loose and dance. “The recordings most prized by enthusiasts of the genre are usually by lesser-known artists, and were initially released only in limited numbers, often by small regional United States labels such as Sidra and Golden World Records (Detroit), Mirwood (Los Angeles), and Shout and Okeh (New York/Chicago),” says Moysey.
Moysey was introduced to Northern soul in high school in the early 1970s when a girlfriend brought him to all-nighter dance clubs (open from midnight to 8 a.m.) in Northern England. ”The dancing was individualistic, a self-expression of the beat and emotion coming from the records,” recalls Moysey. Mosey and his girlfriend frequented notable Northern soul clubs such as Wigan and The Blackpool Mecca and established Northern soul nights at clubs locally.
Moysey has enjoyed a 40-year journey of record collecting, being a DJ, writing about the music, and researching the artists. “Northern soul is a part of my fabric, and I have been lucky enough to meet and befriend some of the artists who enjoyed huge popularity in the clubs of the north of England, while remaining unknown in their native land,” he says.
Moysey's knowledge of Northern soul music is extensive. However, it is his passion for the sound that is truly impressive. Herewith is his list of favorites.
Top of my list is a record I first heard in a most unexpected place: my high school gymnasium! This was being played at a senior lunchtime disco. I was not a senior at the time, but I remember walking past the doors, hearing the piano intro and the driving bass line, and stopping to listen. The up-tempo beat, the tight arrangement, and the compelling vocals just makes this one of the best tracks to ever come out of Berry Gordy’s Motown records. The intro is unmistakable: twin pianos and bass kick it off, then all hell lets loose as the rest of the Funk Brothers jump in! It was hearing this record, on a spring day in 1969 that set me on a path of collecting the music of Detroit. You may notice that the label on this record says Tamla Motown. There was no such label in the United States; Gordy’s stateside stable of labels consisted of Tamla, Gordy, Soul, Motown, and VIP. He later acquired Ric Tic and few other local Detroit labels, but everything released in Europe was on that silver and black Tamla Motown label. Released in 1966, this is not a rare record by Northern soul standards, but it is just such a compelling “dancer” I never tire of hearing it!
Listen at http://youtu.be/8aUEhsVwg64
Very little is known about this vocal group, which is a major shame given their obvious talent. This recoding, on the small Party Time label from Detroit, flopped locally but has become an almost iconic track on the Northern soul scene, enduring as one of the top sounds for several decades. Current pricing for this record is around $500. I first heard this at Wigan Casino; I was immediately sucked in by its unrelenting beat and goose-bump- inducing horns. This Four Perfections track is what we would call a “balcony jumper“—people would literally jump off the balcony that went round three sides above the main dance floor at Wigan Casino to get on the floor!
Listen at: http://youtu.be/jBaBe3EAo0A
This is a band that no one really knows much about, but we know they were a group who just happened to bash out one of the most compelling pieces of Northern soul ever played at an all-nighter. The opening thump of the bass leads into a drum pickup, then the almost plaintive vocal soars and is backed up by a blistering horn section. I get shivers down my spine every time I hear this record—and I’ve heard it hundreds of time! This record will set you back a cool $7,500 today.
Listen at: http://youtu.be/L02ZM1Pcqw8
Dean Courtney was born in Birmingham, Alabama. The family later moved to New York, and he began singing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. He would return to Birmingham and sing with Clarence Kendricks (brother of Eddie) and Johnny Williams (brother of Paul). Eddie, Paul, and Kell Osbourne formed The Primes, the forerunner of The Temptations. Dean used to fill in occasionally for Kell. After recording with Mercury Records, with Quincy Jones as his producer, Dean moved on after Quincy went to LA.
Dean next moved to RCA and released “I’ll Always Need You” in 1966. His backup singers were The Tymes, who were just about to make it big themselves. An emotional, big sounding track, the song was first played at the Twisted Wheel and continues to be a big track. It is interesting to note that one of the writers was Leon Huff, who later partnered with Kenny Gamble with their Philadelphia International label. Sadly, Dean never really hit it big in the United States and only found out in 1998 that his music was popular on the Northern scene. Great record!
Listen at: http://youtu.be/omPalIOAW-E
I first heard this at a small club in Wolver Hampton and was just amazed at the almost hypnotic sounding sax solo that breaks around a third of the way into the track. Instrumentals have always had a big place on the Northern scene, and this has to be one of the most dramatic sounding of them all.
Listen at: http://youtu.be/8W3nuuRlMjA
I actually get goose bumps typing in the title of this classic track! Garnet Mimms! What can I say? This man should have been a huge star. Limited U.S. chart success would come his way, but this United Artist release would become legendary on the Northern soul scene. A slow bass line intro builds into a full mid- tempo- charging number, with a soaring vocal from Garnet that just wrenches your heartstrings. I recall watching the coal miners and steel workers dancing to this song at Wigan Casino. Those men were not renowned for outward displays of emotion, but their feelings about this track were evident on the dance floor.
Listen at: http://youtu.be/r4oMJLpV7mM
I guess I’m a sucker for phenomenal sax solos, and this record provides one of the best! Lou Pride delivers a gritty, earthy vocal performance over a driving beat that just does not quit and leaves you wanting more as it fades out. This song was huge at Wigan Casino.
Listen at: http://youtu.be/B9WgdrSGKzU
Gee Baby I Love You
At a playing time of 1:55, this has to be one of the shortest records in my collection, but it packs a heck of a punch into such a small package! A driving bass intro is followed by blasting horns; the vocals then soar and drive the tempo even further. It was recorded in 1967 on the tiny Sure Shot record label.
Listen at: http://youtu.be/6TFGLov5Sw4
This pretty rare recording on the Deesu label out of New Orleans in 1966, was, and is, very big on the Northern soul scene. This driving track just won’t quit, and and a vocal performance by Maurice Williams rivals anything put out by the artists at Motown. This is a true Northern soul classic!
Listen at: http://youtu.be/GE5QRahGXIE
You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies
Sometimes the Northern soul scene picked up records simply because of the content of the record—not because the artist was African-American. As Berry Gordy famously stated, “It’s what’s in the groove that counts,” and this outing by Italian singer Dana Valery does not disappoint. This is actually a B side song and was written – without credit – by Paul Simon. Its charging beat and unrelenting tempo make this a Northern soul classic that burst on the scene at Wigan.
Listen at: http://youtu.be/bTNc6AgFke4