On Valentine’s Day in 1970 this album was the first ever compilation to reach No.1 in the UK album chart. Eleven years later it was my vinyl introduction to the Detroit hit factory, Motown. From my ever-decreasing memory I vaguely remember purchasing it for two reasons – firstly the track listing (bearing in mind my junior knowledge of Motown) looked fantastic, and secondly the sleeve, in all its shining glory looked even better. Yes, I was an early sucker for an eye-catching cover.
Having subsequently purchased all twelve volumes I believe I managed to choose the best first. Having visited the original Motown recording studio in Detroit some ten years later it would be accurate to say black American music from around ’62-’72 became a fixation throughout my late teens and twenties. Much of what I was enjoying from UK bands at the time was influenced by many of the artists on this album, but more importantly it was the names behind the artists who created the inspirational sound and production that was so unique and uplifting. I didn’t yet know these names (most notably the songwriting genius of Holland-Dozier-Holland and producer Norman Whitfield), but I knew how this music affected me. Motown made me smile and it made me want to dance.
Smokey Robinson – The Tracks Of My Tears
Live (1965) from Im Daebum on Vimeo.
Featuring tracks from the mid to late 60s, I had my favourites. The cool and passionate calling of Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine and Smokey Robinson’s timeless tear-jerker The Tracks Of My Tears. The relentlessly joyous Stevie Wonder and my album favourite (I’m A) Road Runner by Jr. Walker & The All Stars were and still all remain musical gems; masterpieces of songwriting and production. Berry Gordy’s Motown record label is possibly the most notorious success story in the history of the popular music industry. Why? Because of where the music came from, its sheer belligerent sparkle and ultimately how far it reached.
Smokey Robinson summed it up perfectly – “Into the ’60s, I was still not of a frame of mind that we were not only making music, we were making history. But I did recognize the impact because acts were going all over the world at that time. I recognized the bridges that we crossed, the racial problems and the barriers that we broke down with music. I recognized that because I lived it. I would come to the South in the early days of Motown and the audiences would be segregated. Then they started to get the Motown music and we would go back and the audiences were integrated and the kids were dancing together and holding hands.”
By the dawn of 1981 regular trips to Snu-Peas, Boscombe’s dingy vinyl haven were becoming weekly fixes. Fingering through rows of soiled and pre-owned LPs would become an obsession, but the thrill of the chase for new music had hit me, hard. The Kinks had caught my attention with a handful of their 60s hits being regular plays on my radio channels of choice. I loved the production, the sound and feel of the likes of Waterloo Sunset and Sunny Afternoon that oozed a whimsical, multi-coloured and romantic, quintessentially English sound. It was the mix of Ray Davies’ genius as a songwriter coupled with the brash coolness of early hits You Really Got Me and All Day And All Of The Night which tempted me into finding out more. A search for a Kinks album featuring these favourites and about twenty more lead me to Golden Hour Of The Kinks. A fine choice.
This second hand slice of vinyl became an ever-present on my music centre (turntable, tape player and radio all-in-one-state-of-the-art combo) for months, sharing heavy rotation with The Beatles and a whole heap of classic 60s bands. More than ever music was my tuition, and storytellers such as Ray Davies were making up for what was lacking in my academic education. Davies spoke with wit and insight about society, class, and the nation’s blind desire to aspire, to wealth not wisdom, to material success not happiness.
“Here is your reward for working so hard
Gone are the lavatories in the back yard
Gone are the days when you dreamed of that car
You just want to sit in your Shangri-la
The little man who gets the train
Got a mortgage hanging over his head
But he’s too scared to complain
Cos he’s conditioned that way
Time goes by and he pays off his debts
Got a TV set and a radio
For seven shillings a week
Shangri-la, Shangri-la, Shangri-la, Shangri-la…”
Never mind that playground fools mocked my love of The Kinks, to me Golden Hour Of The Kinks was like a book I just couldn’t put down, instead wanting to read it again and again. Davies sharpened my interest in 60s culture – with fanciful prose about dandy, attire-obsessed gentlemen and sexual experimentation – and gave me a cautiously romantic view of life. He wrote with cynicism but with positivity, musically drifting between luscious melodies, dreamy soundscapes and thrash, garage guitar. Over thirty years on and Waterloo Sunset is still one of my all-time favourites and “Sha-la-la” has still never sounded so good. I loved The Kinks. Still do.
Listening obsessively to the likes of The Specials, The Beat, The Jam and Dexys for the previous couple of years, it was inevitable that those band’s musical roots were to follow closely behind in my own musical catalogue. 1960s and ’70s ska, soul and funk was about to hit me hard, and it all started with this vinyl gem released in the UK in 1968 – This Is Soul!
The album is a ‘best of’ from the Atlantic label, featuring Stax and soul heavyweights and mostly well-known nuggets. Like almost all my other second-hand vinyl purchases it came from Snu-Peas in Boscombe; still to this day a tiny, overstocked, gloriously dingy vinyl palace – my memory is shocking so where the money came from I haven’t the foggiest – pocket money perhaps, which would have been money very well spent. This album was stunning; a soul education which only enhanced my allegiance with school-friends who were sporting sta-prest slacks and Fred Perry tops with far more confidence than I could muster.
How best to describe This Is Soul? Emotional, inspirational, passionate, raw, cool and groovy as fuck. It took me another five or ten years to learn, but this album came from what was for me the golden era. In the mid 1960s popular music was evolving and challenging, drugs were having a beneficial effect on the music being recorded (if not on the musicians themselves), and American soul and rhythm ’n’ blues was riding high as an inspiration to bands, djs and music lovers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Soul just felt so wonderfully raw and real. Much of the Top 40 was horribly overly manufactured as those plastic New Romantics began appearing in droves. My hatred of those new ‘synthetic’ sounds was exaggerated by this new found love of 60s music, but I care as little for that now as I did then. What is soul? I’ll leave it to Ben E King…
“Some people really know / it’s deep down within us, it doesn’t show / soul is somethin’ that comes from deep inside / but soul is somethin’ that you can’t hide.”
- Mustang Sally – Wilson Pickett
- BABY – Carla Thomas
- Sweet Soul Music – Arthur Conley
- When A Man Loves A Woman – Percy Sledge
- I Got Everything I Need – Sam & Dave
- What Is Soul? – Ben E King
- Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song) – Otis Redding
- Knock On Wood – Eddie Floyd
- Keep Looking – Solomon Burke
- I Never Loved A Man – Aretha Franklin
- Warm & Tender Love – Percy Sledge
- Land Of A Thousand Dances – Wilson Pickett