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The Locomotion: 60s Soul – Vol. 1

November 21st, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

In the 1980s, the soul music of the ’60s ““ Motown, Atlantic, Stax et al ““ made a huge comeback in Britain, in large part fuelled by the Northern Soul scene, and giving rise to classics by the likes of Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Percy Sledge, BB King and Marvin Gaye hitting the top 3 (the Levi 501s commercials helping to spread the fashion). In London, ’60s and early ’70s soul found a clubbing outlet at the Friday nighters at the Kentish Town & Country Club, named The Locomotion, obviously after Little Eva’s hit. As a ’60s soul devotee, I was a regular at Wendy May”s fantastic gig. The only new track played there was Terence Trent D’Arby’s If You Let Me Stay, seeing as the Trout lived in Kentish Town, two stops on the Northern Line from my abode in ugly, ugly Archway. So, here’s the first part of the ’60s soul series dedicated to The Locomotion.

Arthur Conley – Sweet Soul Music.mp3
It is right that a series on ’60s soul should kick off with the song that paid tribute to the (non-Motown) greats while these were still in their prime. Conley, who died in 2003 at the age of 57, was a young guy in 1967 expressing with youthful exuberance his admiration for the guys who’d become legends, singers such as Sam Cooke (on whose song Yeah Man the tune was based), Otis Redding (who produced it, I think), Sam & Dave, James Brown, Lou Rawls and Wilson Pickett, whose Mustang Sally he namechecks. Which brings us to…

Wilson Pickett – Mustang Sally.mp3
Everybody knows the song thanks to The Commitments. I’m not going to be purist about such things. I love the film and thought the renditions of the songs were pretty good, especially the version of Mustang Sally. But I could never, ever own the soundtrack. Why should anybody want to listen to a bunch of pale Dublin lads when it is easy enough to find the songs their performances are based on? And yet people tend to associate Mustang Sally with a fictional Irish band from the movies. Which is a bit like people buying records by Michael Bublé, Robbie Williams and (god help us) Westlife to hear the standards sung by people vastly inferior to the greats. Why listen to Bublé instead of Sinatra, why listen to Robbie instead of Dino, and why listen to Andrew “Deco” Stong instead of Wilson Pickett?

Aretha Franklin – Do Right Woman – Do Right Man.mp3
Also covered on The Commitments, and competently so. But can anyone sing this better than Aretha (yeah, first rule of old soul: no surnames. We’re all admiring chums on first-name basis)? You’ll often have goateed chin-scratchers go on about how the soul singers “really mean it, man” when they sing. Indeed, I always obey Rufus Thomas when he commands me to do the Funky Chicken, ‘coz he really means it, man, he feeeels it. As if Dylan didn’t feeeel it, man? But if you want to prove gotateed chin-scratcher’s point, this song is going to do it for you. Aretha is getting deep down personal, intimate and vulnerable and strong. She did this kind of thing well until she turned into the post-Scarface Al Pacino of soul: shouting a lot and overcooking the emotions to the point of caricature. Forget the diva that has the bowing sycophants at the Grammies licking the floor she has just trod on till it shines; remember fondly the great singer who really earned the reputation to make the idiots act that way.

Irma Thomas – I Wish Someone Would Care.mp3
And yet, why do people show so much love for Aretha Franklin, but don’t remember Irma Thomas much? Aretha could touch you deep down inside, but Irma could make you cry. Try and find her version of Tell It Like It Is (and then send it to me, I lost my Stateside label LP with that song on it), and try not to feel a knot in your throat. Likewise this song should at least give you a quiver on the lips.

Jackie Wilson – I Get The Sweetest Feeling.mp3
This was a follow-up retro hit in Britain to Reet Petite, which had reached #1 in December 1986. Where the rock ‘n roll of Reet Petite is the stuff of novelty records, this song (from 1968) is delicious soul music. It must have confused the people who had bought Reet Petite and who surely would have been better served with Lonely Teardrops as a follow-up. Not that I was complaining: I Get The Sweetest Feeling “” a Motown-ish number co-written by Van McCoy (The Hustle) “” is a lovely song, the kind that can brush off your bad mood like dandruff, especially the instrumental break.

Isley Brothers – Twist And Shout.mp3
The Isley Brothers are amazing. They started out as a rock ‘n’ soul outfit charting with classics like Shout and Twist And Shout. They then eased into the Motown scene where they rivalled the Temptations and Four Tops. In the ’70s they did the rock-influenced soul thang before sliding into the Quiet Storm groove of the ’80s and early ’90s. Think about it: from Shout in 1959 to Between The Sheets in the ’80s, and beyond. Apparently Phil Spector produced a first take of Twist And Shout, but it was so bad it had to be re-recorded. The Beatles’ cover version rocks much harder than this, which has a bit of a Latin flavour (can you hear La Bamba in it?).

Gloria Jones – Tainted Love.mp3
A Northern Soul Motown classic. One or two people might know the song as being performed by obscure ’80s combo Soft Cell. Anyway, this was the original from 1964, before synthethizers were invented. Trivia fans will know that it was Gloria Jones who was at the wheel of rock’s most famous Mini when that tree killed her boyfriend Marc Bolan of T. Rex on 16 September 1977 (I remember the date for coming exactly a month after Elvis’ death). Jones later moved to South Africa to run an AIDS organisation, and now apparently works in an orphanage in Sierra Leone. Respect!

Eddie Floyd – Knock On Wood.mp3
And another ’60s soul classic remembered by many in another incarnation, in this case as Amii Stewart’s incendiary disco hit from 1979 (download link). The two versions share a basic melody and the lyrics, but are quite different songs. This is the classic Stax sound, with the Muscle Shoal horns, the gritty, urgent vocals, the fantastic bassline. Floyd was a soul music pioneer and collaborator of Wilson Pickett. Knock On Wood was written by Floyd with Steve Cropper (the guitarist in the Blues Brothers, to brutally abbreviate a notable bio), and was intended for Otis Redding. In the event, Floyd recorded it and launched his solo career. He continued to write songs for Stax artists, though.

The Tams – Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me.mp3
The Tams became famous all of a sudden in the ’80s “” an era of ’60s revivalism “” with the release of the movie Shag, which I think featured this song and some tune about shagging (it’s a dance, you porn fiends!). The Tams were not entirely forgotten at that point, at least not in Britain, where 1964’s doo wop influenced Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me was something of a Northern Soul staple.

The Temptations – Since I Lost My Baby.mp3
Perhaps I’m leaving the best for last, quite possibly my all-time favourite Motown song (if there can be such a thing). This Smokey Robinson-produced song from 1965
is one of the Temptations’ lesser remembered hits, yet certainly one their finest songs. David Ruffin”s exquisitely emphasised line, “Every day I’m more inclined to find her…” line at 1:31 must rank as one of the finest moments in Motown history, even if one disregards any perceived tendencies towards hyperbole (which I cannot exaggerate enough). Ruffin’s phrasing throughout the song is marvellous, and the harmonies just perfect. Luther Vandross covered this when he was still good, and delivered a very good cover version, as he often did. But he could not rely on the harmonies and the Motown production which made this very sad song sound hopeful.

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  1. Paul
    December 4th, 2007 at 06:29 | #1

    Nice one, man. Showcased some fantastic stuff here. I always fear that Gloria Jones’ version of “Tainted Love” was just completely forgotten once Soft Cell got its synthesized hands on it.

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