Ask "Mr. Music"
Jerry Osborne

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DEAR JERRY: Living somewhat close to the South Carolina beaches, I have been exposed to numerous examples of Beach Music. I think I even understand the Shag dance!

As you know, there was no such name attached to these songs back when the majority of the Beach Music was recorded. That came much later, in the '70s for the most part.

All of this leads me to ask, what exactly is Northern Soul music?

I frequently see huge amounts of money — even thousands of dollars — paid for '60s records that are simply described as Northern Soul, as though everyone knows what that means.

Well, I don't, but I'm hoping you do and can explain it.
—Clayton DeWolf, St. Petersburg, Fla.

DEAR CLAYTON: When it comes to reclassifying a form of music decades after being made, you are on the right track in making a connection between Beach Music and Northern Soul.

Another thing the two styles have in common is that both owe their following to dance clubs is a small but very enthusiastic area.

Most Northern Soul came out in America between 1960 and the mid-'70s, with the majority of the sought-after recordings issued between 1965 and '69. At the time, nearly everyone described these tracks as plain ol' Soul music.

One by one, beginning in the mid-'70s, clubs and venues in Northern England began to feature medium and up-tempo American Soul music at their dances — but with a bit of a twist to what one would likely hear elsewhere on earth.

The songs making up their play lists tended to be obscure releases that did not sell when first issued commercially.

There are a few exceptions (i.e. Timi Yuro, Reflections, etc.), but nearly all are black vocals. Most are by artists that never had a hit and would be unknown to just about everyone reading this, though some are by big stars.

If by a well-known act, such as the O'Jays, Gladys Knight, or Edwin Starr, for example, a Northern Soul disc would be one of theirs that did not become a hit at all.

Since being a rare piece of vinyl is a prerequisite, some in recent years have taken to calling this genre Rare Soul instead of Northern Soul. Can't argue much with that option since that is exactly what it is.

For an example you can get your teeth into, we know that “Sweet Soul Music” became a huge hit in 1967 for a singer we had not heard of before, Arthur Conley.

Well, if “Sweet Soul Music” completely flopped, getting neither air play nor sales, it would be a wildly popular Northern Soul recording. One would need to take out a second mortgage to own an original 45.

Likewise, if “Dancing in the Street” had sold only 100 copies for Martha and the Vandellas, instead of a few million, it might now be fetching $1,000 from Northern Soul collectors.

Big hits that they were, neither qualify as a Rare or Northern Soul classic.

Much more could be written about this brand of Soul, especially about the all-night dances and the dynamic dancers themselves, but I trust your “what is it” question has been answered.

Should you wish to dig deeper, there are numerous reference books and magazines on the subject, most from British publishers.

IZ ZAT SO? Curious as to the identify of some of the rarest and most valuable Northern Soul singles? I thought so.

And though you have never heard of any of these, there isn't a one you wouldn't love to own.

Here are five of the hottest titles, with an estimated current value for each:

“Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) by Frank Wilson (1966), $22,000; “This Wont Change” by Lester Tipton (1960s), $6,000; “Like a Nightmare” by the Andantes (1964), $5,000; “Cheatin' Kind” by Don Gardner (1960s), $4,000; and “Try Me for Your New Love” by Junior McCants (1967), $4,000.

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