Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Beginner's Guide to Soul Music: Part II - The obscure sub-genres

In the previous post, I covered the basic styles of Soul we are most familiar with. In part II, I’m about to tread on less familiar ground and in certain cases, completely uncharted territory. Love or hate the fact that I’m trying to fit music in neat little compartments, at least give me credit for attempting to make sense of terms that I had no hand in inventing. Once again, let me be clear. I don’t particularly like putting music in defined boxes but people that sell music do. Personally, I simply like music that makes people want to party and let loose.

When came the time to choose a track or two that best defines each style, I had two criteria. One, it had to be a song, when possible, that I had in my personal collection. All the photos of labels were taken by me. Two, I went with tracks that would come closest to the spirit of the style in question and at the same time, would appeal to a Mod audience.

Finally, when I did the research for this post, it was hard for me to find clear cut definitions. Plus, the definitions seem to change constantly. For example, what Popcorn Soul is today is different from what it was when it started in 1970 in Belgium.

I want to thank my DJ friends for their tremendous support. A special shout out to Derek, Sir Eric, Ben, Jeremy, Scott, Brian, Suzy, Katie and Jeff for landing a hand and for their encouragement.

Here we go again…


Rhythm and Blues has forever been a Mod favorite. A close cousin to proper 60s Soul and Blues, they share a lot of the same DNA. With a cool factor that is through the roof, it doesn’t take a genius to understand why Mods have been fans of this American art form for decades. Dominated by pioneer Black artists like John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles and Bo Diddley, the tempo is slower with a primal edge to it.  The harmonica is an instrument that was made to play RnB but that wouldn’t be heard in a typical Soul tune. The piano also has its place of choice.

Many white artists have built successful international careers by drawing in the RnB well. The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Creation and The Small Faces all had a Mod army following them early on.

New Breed: 

New Breed is basically a rebranding of early 60s RnB. Many Blues artists of the period were trying to capture the new blossoming sound of Soul and ride the wave. The result is a raw and brash sound that has captured a large Mod audience. At first, you might think that New Breed is not dance floor worthy, being too downtempo, but a lot would disagree. It's the perfect type of music you can slip in after a few high energy Northern Soul tracks, to give the dancers a few moments to catch their breath. When I hear New Breed, I feel like snaping my fingers instead of clapping my hands.



Popcorn, just like Northern Soul, does not only represent a sound but a whole scene that grew around it. Picture rural Belgium in 1970 where a few DJs started playing a melting pot of obscure Soul, RnB, Latin and even Ska at Dicotheques called The Popcorn and The Groove. When the rest of the world was playing Pop and Rock, Belgian DJs like Gerry Franken and Gilbert Govaert were spinning what was dubbed "Popcorn Oldies" and slowed down the pitch in order to create a more mellow beat. So Popcorn can be best regognized by its tempo rather then the sound. Just like many of the styles I'm tackling, the definitions seem to be everchanging and hard to pin down. Here's a few favorites of mine that seem to be accepted as Popcorn classics.


Boogaloo is a perfect mixture of latin grooves, Mambo with some obvious sweet Soul influences. Highly infectious and danceable, it is somewhat the precursor to Salsa. The term itself has been incorporated in many classic Soul songs without necessarily being “real” boogaloo. The piano, congas, handclaps, vibrant horns are part of the boogaloo landscape. This type of music will want to make you order a few Mojitos, grab the first pretty lady on the dance floor and make her twirl the night away.

Chicano Soul:

Very popular in the Latin Low Rider community of East L.A., this particular type of Soul revolves around ballads and the slow, down-tempo B-sides of records. Most of the songs have a strong Doo-Wop feel to them. Love, intense emotions and broken hearts are popular subjects. In the 60s, groups with Latino artists where praised and the main circuit centered around cities like Phoenix, San Antonio, Albuquerque with L.A. being the epicentre. I was exposed to this type of music when I attended a night in Chicago organised by the Soul Summit crew that was held on a Sunday evening. Talk about a smooth vibe.


Gospel will want to make you wave your hands in the air and have Jesus as your friend. Divine intervention? Maybe… If this was the type of music I heard in the churches around my neighborhood, I might be tempted to attend mass on Sunday mornings but since I believe in Mod, I’ll have to settle for some heavenly records that join Gospel and Soul in perfect harmony.

Gospel grew out of the black Pentecostal churches. It has close ties to Jazz, Soul, Blues and RnB. Many Soul singers were schooled in church and owe their formative years to Gospel choirs. Allen Toussaint, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson praised the name of their Savior at one point in their career. James Brown was even known to have formed a gospel quartet while in prison.

What makes a good Soul-Gospel song? You need a strong backing choir, a passionate singer, some handclapping and the good Lord as a source of inspiration. You’ll hear less horns in a gospel song than on your average Soul track but you can usually count on a piano or an organ being present.


A little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of surf, some dirty jazz, a tad of greasy RnB, throw in some sexy Soul and you have all the marks of a good Tittyshaker track. Imagine a burlesque dancer , in a smoky Las Vegas style boudoir, twirling her tassles faster then an airplane propeller and you're not too far from the picture.

Your typical Tittyshaker tune is usually instrumental or has minimal vocals. It could easily be the soundtrack of a beach or Hot Rod B-movie.


This is where we get into nebulous territory. You can get 5 Soul connoisseurs into a room and you’ll get 5 different answers. It’s like going to Comicon and asking 5 nerds who is the best Star Trek captain. (Just in case you’re wondering, Picard is hands down the best)

Like the name indicates, Crossover is a transition period for Soul. It started in the late 60s and finished in the early 70s. You can squeeze it somewhere between Northern Soul and Modern Soul on the Soul continuum. Personally, I think of Crossover as Northern Soul when they started adding xylophones, flutes, violins and bells. You'll find that it's usually a bit slower than your typical fast paced Northern Soul track.

Modern Soul:

Modern Soul is sometimes hard to distinguish from early Disco. You can sense a definite change in direction in the early to mid-seventies. This is where we once again enter a hard to define area. Recorded for the club scene, it has dance on its mind. Drum machines, electronic keyboards and production effects started making apperences.

I know it’s the latest craze in Europe and some parts of the US but Modern Soul is just not my thing. I try to keep an open mind but for me, it doesn’t fit in the Mod realm. I know, I know… Mod = Modern. In this case, I just can’t push myself to appreciate it. Just like Northern Soul records, some go for astronomical prices. But who knows, maybe one day you’ll see me praise it.