Northern Soul was, and still is, a music and dance subculture that emerged in the North of England in the late 1960s, initially an offshoot of the British Mod scene. Drawing on the fast paced, heavy beat, American Soul music of the mid 1960s, such as Tamla Motown, Northern Soul's own unique style of dancing, often employing quite technical dance moves, became a familiar sight in clubs across the North, such as Wigan Casino and Twisted Wheel in Manchester. Northern Soul nights became weekend events for avid followers of the movement, which enjoyed a resurgence in the late 1970s with the Mod revival, and many still 'keeping the faith' today.
Gary Crossing is a writer, DJ and avid 60s vinyl collector. Music Editor at The Big Issue for eight years, Gary has also penned for guardian.co.uk and The Independent on Sunday Magazine. Now a freelance journalist, with a passion for musical subcultures, Gary also runs a monthly Northern Soul, Mod and Ska night in London called Crawdaddy!. He has made this Spotify mixtape exclusively for Fred Perry Subculture. A superb introduction to the one of the UK’s greatest underground sub cultural movements.
Gary tells us more about his list of floor fillers and Soul rarities below:
01. Joy Lovejoy – In Orbit: First up is one of the finest Chicago soul tunes ever and a regular floor-filler at Crawdaddy! The infectious, feel-good, brassy swing of In Orbit puts a smile on your face every time. To add to the song’s appeal, Joy Lovejoy’s identity is a mystery. She only released this one single in 1967 and no-one seems to know anything else about her. Some say her name is a pseudonym for another more well-known singer.
02. The Vibrations – Cause You’re Mine: Los Angeles quintet The Vibrations are best known for their frantic, up-tempo dance tracks and this 1968 single on the Okeh label is in that utterly irresistible vein. Its compelling relentless groove, brassy stabs and gritty vocals made this a big favourite with dancers in the early days of the northern soul scene at clubs like Manchester’s Twisted Wheel and The Blackpool Mecca.
03. The Exciters – Blowing Up My Mind: Hailing from Queens, New York, The Exciters originally started out as all-girl group the Masterettes. They were renamed in 1962 by song writing legends Leiber & Stoller who penned their huge hit Tell Him. Sadly their follow-ups failed to repeat the same success. In fact this incredible 1969 mid-tempo organ-powered chugger with Brenda Reid’s stunning vocals more or less flopped on release but became hugely popular on the northern soul scene in the early 70s.
04. Eddie Holman – I Surrender: Though best known for his 1970 hit ballad Hey There Lonely Girl, to northern soul fans Virginia born Eddie Holman will always be loved for this sublime soul dancer from ’69. Holman’s effortless falsetto glides over horn flourishes, serene floaty strings and a truly accomplished rhythm section. The closest thing to a religious experience you’ll have on the dance floor.
05. Pat Lewis – No One To Love: A backing singer on Stevie Wonder’s Uptight and other Motown sessions, Pat Lewis also became a permanent backing singer for Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes and George Clinton. But as this Clinton-produced 1967 track shows, Lewis was more than capable of going it alone. Lavish, powerful strings, a laid-back, Marvin Gaye like groove and Lewis’s stellar vocals combine to make this the perfect pop/soul tune.
06. Edwin Starr – My Weakness Is You: This is the first of three Motown tunes on the playlist. I was spoilt for choice with so many other superb Edwin Starr tracks (Back Street, 25 Miles, Headline News) but after much deliberation plumped for this storming stomper from ’68 which was originally released as a B-side! With his powerful soul tones Starr was a hero of the UK northern soul scene. So much so that the Nashville born singer moved to England in 73 and lived there until his death in 2003.
07. The Supremes – Love Is Like An Itching: In My Heart: This upbeat, brassy soul dancer from ’66 was a departure from Diana Ross and co’s more poppy releases like You Can’t Hurry Love. Penned by the formidable team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, this infectious groove is popular on the UK mod and northern soul scenes alike. Never fails to fill the floor.
08. Frankie Valli & The 4 Seasons – The Night: From the opening rumbling bassline and organ swells of The Night you will be completely hooked by this 1972 dance monster. Frankie had already delivered the northern favourites You’re Ready Now and Beggin’. But this tune nearly sank without trace. Initially it featured on the concept album Chameleon, the only album the band recorded for Motown. The single was only released in the UK and took three years and a re-release before it became a hit. Now it’s a northern soul classic.
09. Irma Thomas – What Are You Trying To Do: This 1965 stunner from the woman hailed as the “Soul Queen of New Orleans” has a pulsating dance beat with plush swelling strings and a polished distinct Detroit pop-soul flavour. But it’s Thomas’s wonderful soar-away soul voice which makes this the most perfect northern soul anthem. Written, arranged and given a lovely uptown production by the highly influential Allen Toussaint, this favourite regularly pops up on northern soul compilations.
10. Billy Butler – The Right Track: I wanted to end my playlist on a high with a quintessential northern soul tune. Initially I chose the late great Frank Wilson’s Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) but as Fred Perry Subculture has recently covered this in detail. I decided to go for this glorious highpoint of Chicago soul from 1966. The younger brother of Jerry, original lead singer of The Impressions, Billy Butler delivers with this exciting, uplifting tune shouldered by a driving beat.
Find Gary Crossing and Crawdaddy at facebook.com/CrawdaddySoulClub