The Essential: Northern Soul Records – Part 2
Welcome back to part 2 of our rundown of the essential 40 Northern Soul records, where we complete our essential 7″ singles. Make sure to read part 1!
Yvonne Baker – You Didn’t Say A Word
The intro bears a striking resemblance to John Barry’s original James Bond Theme and, as a result, this is fondly referred to as such. As part of The Sensations – one of the first all-male outfits to take on a female lead, Baker had a 1962 Top Five hit with Let Me In, later returning to front the quartet for further 45s. As a soloist, she failed to make much of an impression, but left behind several gems, now cherished by the Northern scene. An original copy could value up to £600.
Chuck Wood – Seven Days Too Long
This track, with its exultant melody and unforgettable chorus, reached the UK in 1967 via Big T Records accompanied by an ad campaign – ‘Big sound. Big thrill. Big Chuck Wood’. Yet Chuck was a one-hit wonder. Billboard noted a ‘regional breakout’ and it created a ripple on the East Coast, while in the pop charts it maxed out at No. 119. Vindicated by the UK soul crowd, it was reissued two more times in the 70s. Dexys covered it on their debut LP.
Rose Batiste – Hit & Run
Detroit-born Batiste was initially turned away when her mother first chaperoned her to Motown’s Hitsville USA studio, but Rose continued to sing and first recorded at Continental Studios in Motor City, aged just 15. She was soon on shows including hip DJ Martha Jean’s Monday Night Swing. Her Thelma debut did nothing and equally unsuccessful 45s followed; there was further misfortune at Revillot, when Darrell Banks’ Open The Door To Your Heart was issued at the same time, stealing her thunder.
Lou Johnson – Unsatisfied
Big Top, 1965
A Music Major at Brooklyn University, Johnson found local renown with gospel group The Zionettes, before crossing to the secular world with trio The Coanjos. His big break came on New York’s Big Top. Several tunes emerged, but none managed a strike. An early collaboration with Burt Bacharach and Hal David fell flat, but in 1963, minor success arrived with second attempt, Reach Out For Me. Sadly, Big Top went bankrupt as the record took hold and it stalled. Initially cut as a demo for Dionne Warwick, (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me made No. 49, but while Lou may not have enjoyed the success of some of his counterparts, Unsatisfied is a marvel.
The Charades – The Key To My Happiness
Not to be confused with the group that sang Hammers And Sickles in 1966, this LA act began life as The Knights, led by Cuba Gooding Sr (father of actor Cuba Gooding Jr). A name change led to1962 Northridge debut (For You) and recordings for a slew of others – Original Sound, Impact, Skylark, Okeh, Mercury and Fred Astaire’s Ava label, before this MGM gem surfaced. Pulsing bass and piano set the scene, before the stratosphere beckons thanks to a blaring brass ensemble, sublime instrumentation and Gooding’s sky-scraping top line. The Charades never received their just desserts, but Gooding would go on to 70s super-stardom with The Main Ingredient.
Chubby Checker – You Just Don’t Know (What You Do To Me)
Cameo Parkway, 1965
Checker grew up in Philadelphia and sung with a close-harmony group aged eight, before a private performance for Dick Clark led to his Cameo-Parkway contract. At just 18, he cut The Twist, the only song ever to top the Billboard chart in two different years. An upward trajectory followed with a rush of hits, but things had gone south for Chubby by the mid-60s. He offered up this syrupy number while on a 1965 London promo tour and it was only ever released on this side of the pond. The few existing US promos are worth a few bob!
Larry Clinton – She’s Wanted
Another Philly also-ran, Clinton was reportedly a temperamental individual and supposedly recorded this Northern classic while drunk. As with the vast majority of Northern records, this fizzled out without fanfare at the time of release. “When you listen to something like Larry Clinton doing She’s Wanted, you wonder who on Earth it was recorded for,” says DJ Chris King. “Who were they hoping to sell it to? How on Earth did they expect someone to dance to a 100mph stomper?” As it was, of course, these records serendipitously found favour with a new audience in Northern England, and this was once the most expensive of the lot.
The Fascinations – Girls Are Out To Get You
Initially The Sabre-ettes, this girl group was formed by Shirley Walker and Martha Reeves, the latter of whom quickly decamped to find fame fronting The Vandellas. The Fascinations, meanwhile, wouldn’t fare quite as well, but enjoyed some success in Blighty. With Bernadette Boswell as their new lead, the group signed with ABC in 1962 where they met The Impressions’ Curtis Mayfield, who penned their debut 45 Mama Didn’t Lie. After several failed solo ventures, they recorded for Mayfield’s new label. He fashioned this delight, with its exultant trumpets, lilting vibraphone, a killer sax break, and piano supposedly played by Donny Hathaway.
Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes – Get Out (And Let Me Cry)
This quintet surfaced as The Charlemagnes in the early 50s peddling doo-wop on Philly street corners, but with Melvin installed as their leader, rose to become one of the city’s leading lights. A few solid strikes early on showcased the harmony-centric Philadelphia Sound. Then piloted by John Atkins’ striking falsetto, their 1956 Josie debut If You Love Me was a regional hit, and their first national mark, My Hero (No. 19 R&B, No. 78 Pop), followed a few years later on Val-Ue. Get Out… crept into the R&B Top 40, before Melvin recruited Teddy Pendergrass (then drummer for The Cadillacs) as lead singer in 1970.
Garnet Mimms – Looking For You
United Artists, 1965
Philadelphia’s adopted soul hero Mimms started life singing gospel, before short terms with the Norfolk Four, The Deltones and The Gainors during the 50s. After a move to the Big Apple, Mimms and new comrades The Enchanters signed to United Artists and scored a 1963 No. 4 Billboard hit with Cry Baby. One more hit with The Enchanters and Mimms sought success alone, with 1964’s One Girl and his version of The Jarmels’ A Little Bit Of Soap. It was this effervescent side that lured the soulheads.
Judy Street – What
Street cut her teeth on tour with her concert pianist father until, at 19, she met songwriter HB Barnum in California. One disc came of the collaboration; the flip became an emblematic Northern tune. Judy’s sole session with Barnum included a full orchestra – complete with four saxes and a string section – and a rich vocal backdrop from The Blossoms. Street had no idea of her newfound status until the 90s when she saw herself on Napster. A mere 1,000 copies of the hallowed original were pressed.
The Poets – She Blew A Good Thing
These guys were one of two New York groups with the same name hawking their wares across the city. These particular Poets cut three 45s for Juggy Murray’s Sue imprint, Symbol – and this was the best. Written by Poets lead man Ronnie Lewis and finished off by Murray, this mid-60s gem embodies the summer. The single fell one shy of the R&B top spot in 1966 and entered the Top 40 pop chart. Issued in the UK as ‘The American Poets’, it’s sugary soul dedicated to ex-girlfriends the world over.
Little Anthony & The Imperials
These revered Big Apple doo-woppers began their passage in 1958, when their inaugural 45 sold a cool million and made No. 4 in the Hot 100. In part thanks to a profitable partnership with producer (and childhood pal) Teddy Randazzo, Anthony and his boys managed the tricky transition into the 60s and scored several hits between 1964 and 1969, including this Northern Soul jewel. Set in motion via a near-perfect intro – and with ‘Little Anthony’ Gourdine’s soaring falsetto in fantastic form, Better Use Your Head reached No. 54 in the States and scored the group their only UK hit at No. 42, when reissued in 1976.
Marvin Gaye – This Love Starved Heart Of Mine (It’s Killing Me)
Marvin Gaye’s Northern Soul centrepiece was cut in 1966 for Motown, but remained shelved until rescued from the vaults some time later. Another playlisted at the Wigan Casino, the track was penned by sisters Helen and Kay Lewis, who were hired as in-house songwriters for Motown. Highly regarded, the siblings inked their own Motown artist contract, too, releasing a couple of singles for the label, billed as The Lewis Sisters (The Singing School Teachers). Nothing much happened for the duo and they returned to songwriting for others – including this, the biggest Motown track ever to reach the Northern scene.
Moses Smith – The Girl Across The Street
Smith remains an enigmatic presence in the history of the Philly soul scene, but this anthem found favour at the Wigan Casino. Smith began singing in his early teens and won his big break at a talent contest at Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater. Fortuitously for Moses, the contest was promoted by one of the city’s most prominent radio DJs, Georgie Woods, whose wife Gilda headed up Dionn Records. Recorded in 1967 and issued through her label, Girl Across The Street managed to win ‘Best Pick’ in Billboard at the time of release. The unissued Try My Love (from the same session) is well worth wrapping your ears around, too, as is his only other 45, Keep On Striving.
The Salvadors – Stick By Me Baby
Wise World, 1967
Formed in St. Louis, this four-piece’s first foray was a lovable, yet ill fated 1961 doo-wop item entitled Daddy Said. The next definite activity came at a studio session in 1967, where this priceless pick was laid down. Written and produced by soul legend Jo Armstead and arranged by Chess sessioneer Chuck Handy, The Salvadors were in safe hands; though this marked the end of their studio activity. Don Clay put this out on his Wise World imprint: quickly seized by UK soul fans in the 70s, it was soon a floorfiller at both Wigan Casino and Blackpool Mecca. Originals can fetch up to £3,000.
Frankie Beverly & The Butlers – If That’s What You Wanted
Yet another prime cut from Philadelphia – via Wigan – this is a fierce dancer. Beverly claims he toured with 50s doo-woppers The Silhouettes at 12 years old; what’s certain is he changed his name from Howard to Frankie (after Frankie Lymon) and he cut debut 45 (She Tried To Kiss Me) with The Butlers in the early 60s for Liberty Bell. Consecutive releases on Guyden, Rouser and Fairmont failed to make a dent. Several UK re-releases were circulated, but a mint Sassy original should fetch around £600. The group would work with Gamble and Huff and tour with Marvin Gaye, who initiated a name change to Maze.
Al Wilson – The Snake
Soul City, 1968
Prolific singer-songwriter, civil rights activist and playwright Oscar Brown Jnr wrote this song, inspired by one of Aesop’s Fables. It sat on 1963 album Tells It Like It Is! until it was commandeered by smooth-voiced Mississippian Wilson, who transformed it into Northern Soul perfection. Another to disappear without trace at the time, it achieved far better results when it reached No. 41 in 1975. Wilson later enjoyed a series of US hits including No. 1, Show And Tell (1974). Donald Trump read the lyrics to The Snake at his 2016 rallies to illustrate his standing on Syrian refugees – and it featured on a Lambrini ad…