The 50 year music copyright law has seen a mushrooming of labels specialising in out-of-copyright material. All kinds of arguments have raged about the validity of this and indeed the law is currently being reviewed. One thing, though, is patently clear. The winners are the record collectors who now have easy and cheap access to archive material that was previously all but unobtainable… and this new 26 tracker is a good example.
It’s been cobbled together under the “Northern Soul” banner, with the claim being that all the tunes here are “classics, gems and treasures from a talcum-coated dance floor”. The label marketers clearly think that popping a “Northern” tag on the set will guarantee interest and sales, however what the collection proves is that the marketeers and all those involved with the compilation don’t know too much about Northern soul. ( I bet they never went to the Wheel, The Casino or the Torch… probably far too young!) Hardly anything here is what we know (and love) as “Northern”. Sure there’s music here from some big names on the Northern circuit – people like Major Lance, JJ Jackson and Roy Hamilton – but their inclusions aren’t your typical Northern soul stompers. Rather, things like the Major’s Mayfield-penned ‘I’ve Got A Girl’ owe more to doo wop than anything else while Roy Hamilton’s included ‘Earthquake’ is a zippy, Brill Building style pop confection. That’s not to say they aren’t any good. On the contrary they’re excellent timepieces. On ‘I’ve Got A Girl’ for instance you can hear Curtis Mayfield chinking away on his guitar wile Sam Gooden and Fred Cash doo-wop their hearts away! You see, the song –like most of the material –was recorded in the late 50s while the songs that became the classics of the Northern scene were crafted from 1963 onwards … and to include those would mean the label paying royalties!
Anyway, ignore the title of this set – it’s not a Northern soul collection (if we’re going to pigeon-hole, it’s got more to do with the burgeoning new breed R&B scene actually); what it is, is a quite excellent snapshot of black American music in the era immediately prior to soul. There’s plenty of great music here from both the famous (Joe Simon, Harvey Fuqua, Ed Townsend) and the outright obscure (Billy Beasley, Johnny Twovoice, the Eventuals et al). Doo-wop mixes effortlessly with authentic R&B, blues, jazz, big ballads and novelty items and through it all – like we said – the winners are the collectors!