After digging through hundreds of floor fillers and rare records, Getintothis’ Adam Lowerson has finally managed to settle on ten of the best Northern Soul classics.
Few scenes in the history of popular music have endured and inspired as much dedication and devotion as Northern Soul.
Having first emerged in the late 1960s moving into the early 70s from the Mod scene, young people in Northern towns began to obsess over the music of black America, in particular some of the hidden and forgotten tracks of years gone by.
Record collecting DJs began to unearth lost 45’s and bring them to the sprung dance floor’s of Northern England’s dance halls, and a new scene was born.
The very essence of Northern Soul was discovering tracks that nobody else knew, rarities and one-offs that had somehow been overlooked by the mainstream at first time of asking. Most importantly though, they had to be danceable.
Whittling down the thousands of singles which have become cult classics amongst Northern Soul fans is an almost near impossible task. Everyone has their favourites they’d argue for days upon end for its inclusion, but there’s some that simply cannot be ignored when discussing the scene.
This list is in no way definitive, but includes ten tracks which capture the essence and feeling of Northern Soul perfectly. Ten that would fill any dance floor, and evoke the feelings of euphoria and happiness that all good pop music should.
If we’ve missed off your favourite, let us know. Spread the love, but most importantly, keep the faith.
10. J.J. Barnes – Our Love Is In The Pocket
Having endured a tricky start to his career throughout the 1960s, with an unsuccessful stint singed to the Motown label, J.J. Barnes moved to England in the 70s on the advice of his close friend Edwin Starr, where he eventually enjoyed his greatest spell of popularity.
Our Love Is In The Pocket, released for the second time on Revilot Records in 1977 to capitalise on his new found fame, packs all the elements of Northern Soul into a short, sharp classic that’ll have you talcing up your kitchen floor ready to dance.
9. Rita and the Tiaras – Gone With The Wind Is My Love
Originally intended to be recorded by Gloria Jones and the Tiaras, Jones‘ vocal was eventually replaced by new Dore Records signing Rita Graham following a disagreement with management.
It turned out to be a great decision, with Graham‘s smooth and deeper voice making a great match for the music, with the track eventually becoming a massive Northern Soul favourite. Rita Graham‘s emotive vocal combines perfectly with the lyrics of heartache to make for a gorgeously gloomy yet defiant track.
A record which showed Rita Graham off as a supreme talent.
8. The M.V.P’s– Turning My Heartbeat Up
The M.V.P’s‘ Turning My Heartbeat Up does just that. Building slowly from its stripped back opening, the track boils to an almighty crescendo with sharp brass, wall-of-sound vocals and an adventurous, driving bassline. It’s sure to get you dancing and your heart pumping.
7. The Salvadors – Stick By Me, Baby
The story goes that The Salvadors rocked up to a studio one night in 1967, recorded Stick By Me, Baby in just a couple of hours and disappeared never to be heard from again.
The Salvadors are an enigma, and it’s this mystery and rareness that makes Stick By Me, Baby the ultimate in Northern Soul cult status. A one hit wonder if there ever was one.
If you’re only going to record one song, it may as well sound like this.
6. The Dells – Run For Cover
Described by some as the greatest ever soul group, The Dells have enjoyed a hugely successful career selling millions of records and performing for decades.
Run For Cover is a magical track and perhaps there most loved and cannot be ignored when discussing Northern Soul. It encapsulates perfectly every meaning of the words and feels like a real timeless classic.
It’s slightly slower than many Northern Soul records, yet is still danceable and is oozing groove from the piano chimes which kick it off. Almost the perfect record.
5. Gloria Jones – Tainted Love
You think Soft Cell‘s is the best version of Tainted Love? Sorry mate, you’re wrong.
The track, which was written by Ed Cobb and originally recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964, like many on this list failed to make much of a commercial impact on its initial release. Originally released as the b-side to My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home, the track failed to chart at all. Yet after DJ Richard Searling purchased a copy in the early 70s on a trip to the US, the song finally grew to popularity in the soul clubs of Northern England.
It’s hard to imagine now that the song was almost lost as it feels as instantly familiar as all great pop songs should and is well and truly cemented as a dance floor classic. It’s the ultimate stomper, and impossible not to move to.
4. Marvin Gaye – This Love Starved Heart Of Mine (It’s Killing Me)
It’s a bold claim to make about the man responsible for some of the greatest soul records ever made, but This Love Starved Heart of Mine (It’s Killing Me) might just be the best song Marvin Gaye ever released, and almost certainly one of his most under appreciated.
Incredibly, the track wasn’t released until 1994, 30 years after it was recorded at Motown‘s studios, and 10 year’s after Gaye‘s death. It was well worth the wait though.
The record is utterly gripping from the first beat of its driving rhythm. Gaye manages to pack more drama into two minutes and 40 seconds than most songwriter’s manage in a lifetime, yet manages to uphold it’s infectious groove. It’s a bold record by one of the all time greats.
3. Yvonne Baker – You Didn’t Say a Word
You Didn’t Say a Word was originally only released as the b-side to Yvonne Baker‘s 1967 single To Prove My Love is True, on Cameo-Parkway Records, yet it soon became one of the former Sensations singer’s best loved songs.
The opening riff sounds transported straight from a Bond film in which 007 ditches the casino for a sprung dance floor and dances with his enemies (someone should make that film… Wigan Casino Royale?). It has a cool and mysterious feel, yet is still a real stomper.
2. Frank Wilson – Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)
For a track to be considered a true Northern Soul classic it has to meet several criteria, with one of the most important being that it’s rare. Well, it doesn’t get much rarer than Frank Wilson‘s Do I Love You (Indeed I Do), a copy of which sold for £25,000 in 2009, making it the most expensive record ever sold at auction.
Do I Love You was the only single ever released by the Motown producer, who co-write hits such as the Supremes‘ Stoned Love and Marvin Gaye‘s Chained, and with only 250 copies of the single pressed at the time, it’s believed there are only three copies left in the world.
From the opening chimes the track is a true great of Northern Soul, and the fact that it was Wilson‘s only release adds to the cult status it’s gained. How could he have topped it, anyway?
1. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – The Night
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons certainly aren’t a band you’d associate with the Northern Soul scene at first glance. Their biggest doo-wop rock and roll hits such as Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man and Sherry couldn’t be further from the kind of record you’d expect to hear at the likes of Wigan Casino.
Yet the Jersey Boys hitmakers showed off their differing colours with their all but forgotten 1972 LP Chameleon, released on Mowest, the West Coast division of the legendary Motown label. The album flopped initially, but Northern Soul enthusiasts unearthed it later on, with The Night finally charting at number seven in the UK, three years later in 1975.
It’s easy to see why the track has become a Northern Soul favourite since. It has all the hallmarks of a classic. It’s extremely danceable, with it’s shuffling beat slowly building throughout the verse before the bold, brassy and euphoric chorus.