Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Crate Diggin' for Northern Soul in Detroit

It’s unconceivable to me that I would visit Detroit without going on the hunt for a few northern soul records. I imagine that with New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Memphis and New Orleans, Detroit has to be one of the best places to buy soul 45s.

In Montreal, you really have to be lucky and patient to find something out of the ordinary. Aside from the classics, it’s virtually impossible to find small, independent labels. Even if we live relatively close to those cities, Montreal being mainly French, your average record bin will usually hold French artists from the seventies or the eighties.

I’m not a record collector per se, so condition is not my highest priority. I’m not out to look for the rarest print of a record that will go for a few hundred dollars on eBay. I’m not in it to make money or brag. I want something that sounds good and that I can bring to a party and play without worrying that it gets ruined. Records are meant to be played! As long as they don’t skip and there not over 5$, I’m happy.

At first I thought I was going to look for Detroit labels exclusively and then I found People’s Records. Situated at 3161 Woodward Avenue, it’s probably the best record store I ever visited. It was worth the 1064 km I traveled just to go to that place. First of all, they only sell vinyl. That is always a good sign. Second, soul is one of their specialties. I’m in heaven!

So my focus changed from buying Detroit Labels to buying every weird label I could put my hands on. I’m not a huge music aficionado, so some of those tunes might sound familiar but most of them were all new to me. It’s such a thrill for me to discover something I never heard before. I was like a kid in a candy store. I had to contain my excitement.

When I walked in and saw all the boxes of 45s on the shelves, I had to stop and take a deep breath. Luckily I had Brad to guide me. This place is not only a record nirvana but the staff is friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. They have to be some of the nicest people in Detroit. 

Brad not only steered my music selection in the right direction but also gave me addresses of record stores to check out in Chicago. That’s not all. He also suggested a great BBQ restaurant called Slows that is not to far from the shop. Wait, there’s more! He gave me a homemade CD full of rare soul and funk tracks. My mind was about to explode. Even the resident dog Irma is adorable!

I have three pieces of advice if you ever get to step in that store. One, bring a lot of cash. Two, have a lot of time on your hands.  Three, pick from the unsorted boxes. Unless you are looking for something very specific, you never know what you’ll end up pulling out. I just love these types of surprises!

While I was drooling over a few records, I overheard the owner explaining to a local customer that for people from Detroit, these records might not be anything special but that people from overseas really appreciate the selection they have on hand. Are you kidding me? This place is a gold mine! And I live just across the border! And here’s the biggest secret… Most of the records I bought were  only a dollar. I only have one regret. I should have bought more records!

This place is going to be hard to beat. Period.

Here are a few of my favorite picks:

Karate - The Emperor’s – Mala Records
Don’t Jump – Fontalla Bass & Bobby McClure – Checker
Breakin’ Down The Walls of Heartache – The Bandwagon – Epic Records
Loosen These Pants and Let Me Go – Albert Washington – Jewel Records
Red Pepper – Roosevelt Fountain – Prince-Adams Records
Treat Her Right – Roy Head and The Traits – Black Beat Records
Karate Boo-Ga-Loo – Jerryo – Boo-Ga-Loo Records
Fools Are Not Born (They Are Made) – Clarence Reid – Alston Records
Get Your Lie Straight – Bill Coday – Crajon Records
I Can’t Stand It – The Soul Sisters – Sue Records

The garage section hardly has anything but I did end up with a few cool tracks.

In the Midnight Hour – The Wanted – AM Records
Ben Franklin’s Almanac – The Cryan Shames – Destination Record
Turn On Your Love Light – The Human Beinz – Capitol Records
Bald Headed Woman – The Mugwumps – Sidewalk Records
Almost There – The Turtles – White Whale Records

If you are ever in Detroit, make sure you stop at People's Records and tell them Parka Avenue sent you.


  1. So cool ! I gotta hear the Roy Head's 45 .. we got bussiness to do! ;)

  2. Hello Patrick,
    thanks for your very interesting blog. I plan to visit the US again soon and will definitely check your entries to be prepared.

    I just found out that i "nicked" your pic of Peoples Records for my blog / radio show (no commercial use). Please take a look and let me know if that is ok with you. Otherwise i would take it down.
    And if you'll ever find the time: check my hometown's yearly Weekender.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hi Martin,

      I appreciate you asking for permisson. I'll tell you what... Invite me to guest DJ in Hamburg one day and you can use all my photos when you see fit.