‘Motown Chartbusters Vol.3’

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.”

‘This Is Soul’

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.”

  1. Mustang Sally – Wilson Pickett
  2. BABY – Carla Thomas
  3. Sweet Soul Music – Arthur Conley
  4. When A Man Loves A Woman – Percy Sledge
  5. I Got Everything I Need – Sam & Dave
  6. What Is Soul? – Ben E King
  7. Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song) – Otis Redding
  8. Knock On Wood – Eddie Floyd
  9. Keep Looking – Solomon Burke
  10. I Never Loved A Man – Aretha Franklin
  11. Warm & Tender Love – Percy Sledge
  12. Land Of A Thousand Dances – Wilson Pickett

The Police – ‘Reggatta De Blanc’

The Police made great singles. I’d loved the three or four before Message In A Bottle and Walking On The Moon, but it was those in particular who made me part with my hard-earned paperboy pennies for this full length stunner. I played it to death, and not too soon after its predecessor Outlandos D’Amour.

It was around this time that I became overly concerned about my looks, my clothes, hair and my ability, or lack of, to attract the opposite sex. I was a playground playboy at kiss-chase when I was 10 or 11, but that early promise had faded badly through my early teens. I loved the mod look and the 2-Tone attire, but then these guys came along with random clobber and floppy fringes and when you obsess over an album and stare at its cover the image sinks in to your psyche. I plumped for sta-prest trousers and Argyll jumpers and a mid length mop. And random glasses. And a brace. Cool.

Reggatta De Blanc was the first album I remember where my focus was on the rhythm, the blend of reggae and rock, and i became aware of an ability to use of my hands as percussive instruments. Tracks It’s Alright For You, Reggatta De Blanc and No Time This Time sparked my love of a groovy drummer, and there weren’t many better than Stewart Copeland. Sting was cool, but in late 1980 I wanted to be a drummer. I wanted to be Stewart Copeland.

Thirty years later I’d be promoting gigs, managing live music venues, running rehearsal studios and I’d be surrounded by a bounty of instruments. I’d love to say I can play, but despite having rhythm, I have little patience and an inability to use both hands and both feet at the same time. I’ve also got long fingers but little dexterity. These are actually all shit excuses for really giving up too quickly, but soon I’d become a DJ… and that was good enough for me for the next thirty years.

I have a dreamy legion of musical memories from my teenage years, and constantly flipping this vinyl gem in my bedroom whilst hammering out its kaleidoscopic groove is right up there. Since my twenties I’ve had a love affair with France. Maybe Reggatta De Blanc and Outlandos D’Amour planted seeds. But then again, non.

The Beatles – ‘1967-70’ (Blue Album)

It was the autumn of 1980. It was going to happen at some point, but it happened to be David Sax – a schoolfriend, county tennis player and Vitas Gerulaitis lookalike, big hair, headband and everything, who did the deed. I remember the day well, we’d already spoken fairly briefly about music, I mentioned my love of The Jam, he mentioned his love of Bob Dylan then he showed me his (his dad’s I presume) record collection. He showed me The Beatles. More importantly, he leant me the Beatles’ Red and Blue albums.

Of course I’d heard plenty of The Fabs before, three years of listening to the Old Record Club as a musically illuminating warm-up to the late ‘70s Top 40 chart on Radio 1 had taught me their hit singles. But these two double-players in their gorgeous entirety were like opening up an Aladdin’s cave of wow, of oh my fucking god, of life-changing aural pleasure. Quite quickly the 1967-1970 Blue album became my favourite, and whilst Disc 1 – Side 1 made my jaw drop the furthest, all four quarters left me stunned and ridiculously, beautifully intoxicated.

It felt like the previous five years or so had been a learning experience, the perfect elementary school lesson into the history of pop music, but my teachers had saved the best until now. I was perfectly ready not just for The Beatles, but also for everything that opened up to me as a result, musically, emotionally, and spiritually. Strawberry Fields Forever and A Day In The Life blew me away, the former remains the best song I’ve ever heard, but this felt like more than music. Yes, it was lyrics and melodies, but it brought out such emotions that it seemed to lift me, enlighten me, raising me up to an even higher level of musical love. The album was my musical Garden of Eden.

Most of the lessons at school were wasted on me. For good or bad it was music that moulded me, that shaped the way I thought, influencing beyond the norm the way I lived my life. During 1978-80 most of this influence had been quite direct, very real and easy to appreciate and attach to my own life – The Jam, The Specials, Madness and The Beat sung about shit that was happening and modern day discontent – The Beatles were a dream; a multi-coloured, multi-layered, psychedelic mind expansion.

The Beatles Blue album did more than open up my eyes and ears. It attacked my inner self too, developing a deeper more introspective part of my persona that was previously non-existent. I read little as a boy, but songs like Across The Universe were my paperback substitute:

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup / They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe / Pools of sorrow waves of joy are drifting through my opened mind / Possessing and caressing me / Jai Guru Deva. Om / Nothing’s gonna change my world…

The Beatles changed mine.