Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Travel Across America With The Top 15 Northern Soul tracks about the USA

Every Mod, Soul or 60s DJ has their own style. I like to think that I have forged my own over the years. For one, I like to spin obscure ready for the dance floor covers of known hits. In Quebec, we have plenty of French covers of those.

One thing I like to do, from time to time, is go off on a theme. I'll play tracks that have a common thread. For example, last year, on Valentine's day, I played a 90 minute set with 45s that all had the word "Love" in the title. Most of the time, the dancing masses don't notice anything but on the rare occasion, I'll have someone come up to the DJ booth with a smile and say: "I see what you're doing there!"

On this blog, you'll find posts like The Top 12 Soul & RnB Tracks About Money, The Top 15 Tracks About Dogs and The Top 20 Soul and RnB Tracks About Monkeys. Those lists might have your favorite tracks missing and there's a perfectly reasonable reason why. If I don't personally own the record, I can't add it the list. As simple as that. Also, I'll try to go for the songs you've never heard of before.

Now that I laid down the rules, here is my selection of the top Soul tracks about American cities. When I say "Northern Soul", I use the term loosely. Some fall under the Blues umbrella, others under the Mod Jazz moniker, a few can be considered RnB while some are plain Garage. Some tracks are about states instead of cities. I hope you'll give me some creative licence. They are compiled in no particular order. If you want to listen to all the tracks while reading this article, head over to The Parka Avenue Podcast on Mixcloud.

Let's start our journey on East coast in the city of all cities, New York. Frank Sinatra said it best: "If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere". And a lot Soul singers did try.

1) Bobby Bennett - Big New York - Phil L.A. Of Soul

This piece of dance floor friendly Soul came out in the States on the Phil L.A. Of Soul label in 1969. My picture sleeve copy came out in France on CBS the same year and it was also released in the UK on London Records. The thing to remember about this song is the not too subtle and direct lyric: "I want you to tell me / Can you find a chick for me". This 45 is a true double-sider with the feet shuffling Baby, Try Me on the flip.

2) New York City Baby - Billy Hambric - Soho Records

Not much is known about this New York native. It makes sense that this track came out in 1965 on Soho Records which was based at 422 Madison Ave, right in the heart of the Big Apple. I believe the record originally came out a year earlier on Lee Records, another New York label. This up-tempo number just keeps building and building! And when the strings enter the picture that's when the track has reached it's soulful peak.

Bobby was best known for being a member of The Famous Flames with James Brown.

3) New York City - The Precisions - Atco

We're not ready to leave New York just yet! This Detroit act is well known for the Northern Soul classic If This Is Love (I'd Rather Be Lonely). New York City is their last effort and came out in 1969. Nice piece of uplifting funky Soul.

4) Detroit - Little Jerry Williams - Southern Sound

Speaking of the Motor City, Little Jerry Williams, also known as Swamp Dogg came out with this ode to Detroit in 1965. This 100 mph up-tempo dancer won't let you catch your breath, just the way I like it.

5) Detroit - The Nocturnals - Embassy

You would think that with lyrics like "I'm going back to Detroit / My home, Detroit", The Nocturnals would be a Michigan based Garage ensemble. You would be mistaken. They were actually from Vancouver, Canada. Detroit was also released on the Montreal based Trans-World record label but finding a copy is not an easy task.

This 1967 party starter might sound off with some killer fuzz and be reminiscent of other great Canadian 60s Punk acts like The Haunted but one could argue that it also flirts with the best Soul and RnB acts of the time.

6) Soulville - Dinah Washington - Roulette

We're going to make a quick detour to Soulville before heading down South. Soulville will be the only fictitious stop on our musical journey. This energetic and dynamic cover of Titus Turner's much slower New Breed original is hardly recognizable. Although I'm a big Titus Turner fan, this track, from one of the most beautiful Blues and RnB voices of her generation, will always take precedence.

7) Funky Virginia - Sir Guy & The Rocking Cavaliers - D.P.G.

Let's head South, shall we? Instead of visiting just one city. let's tour the whole state. I was turned on to this record by my friend Ryan aka DJ Lord Thomas who resides in Porthsmouth, Virginia, just a few miles from Norfolk where this small label was established. I was surprised to hear that Funky Virginia is actually the b-side. This 1969 obscure piece of wax is the perfect amalgam of Funk and Soul with a classic drum beat that is sure to set a dance floor on fire. Don't take it from me, if Sir Guy says it, it must be true: "They have parties all night / They have dancing girls / The best in the world".

8) Memphis - The Young Gyants - Parkway

The promo copy of this 45 has Chuck Day and The Young Gyants as the band. C. Berry is credited as the songwriter. At first, I was wondering if Chuck Berry had performed with The Young Gyants under a different name but all the evidence I found reveals that this is not the case. Nonetheless, you'll find Berry's fast paced, hit-making signature on this one.

9) New Orleans - Eddie Hodges - Aurora

Amongst record collectors and DJs, there's sometimes a strange belief that rare + expensive = good. I don't usually fall in that trap. Here's a good example of a cheap, relatively common but also great record. This former child actor might not have had a long singing career but this track is guaranteed to make you move, move, move!

10) Rome, GA. - Albert Washington and The Kings - Fraternity

You know I can't pass up an up-tempo scorcher with a drum break, right? Well, this is exactly what you get on the b-side. Released in 1967 by the Cincinnati based record label Fraternity, Albert Washington was actually a native from this small Georgia city. You'll sweat dancing to this record just like you would on a hot and humid summer night in Rome.

11) Kansas City - Wilbert Harrison - Barrel

This is the only #1 hit you'll find on this list. There's a reason why it went to the top spot on the Billboard chart in 1959. It's pretty damn good. My copy was pressed on the Canadian label Barrel but it was originally released on Fury. In 2001, this song was given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.

12) Frisco - Rising Roberts - Corona

I just had to throw in a complete unknown track in the lot. When I heard this Soul / Psych hybrid for the first time I knew I had to own it. Throw in, not one, but two drum breaks in a song and I am sold!

There is a small city in Texas called Frisco but this opus is undoubtedly about the city by the Bay, San Francisco. I couldn't find any information about this band so if you know anything, please let us know.

13) Hello San Francisco - Sugar Pie DeSanto - Jasman

Let's stay in the Bay area a little while longer. It's so nice here and it has such a rich musical history.

Man do I love this song! I'm not a big Blues collector but this two part number might just be the one that ignites a new passion. I was already sold on Sugar Pie but the way she delivers here rivals any other track she recorded. In the song, she states that it's 1968 but it could have well been recorded in 1961. It was released two years later.

Although Ms. DeSanto was known as a prolific songwriter, especially during her years at Chess, this is a rare occasion where Bob Geddins, a legendary Blues producer from Oakland, California took over the writing credits.

14) Beaches,  U.S.A. - Gary (U.S.) Bonds - Legrand

Let's wind down this list with an overall survey of the great beaches from across the land. Many great waterfront towns are mentioned here: Malibu, Miami, Atlantic City, Ocean City. As my good friend Ben said: "This is Bond's finest record. This is a full-throttle-smacks-you-in-the-face dancer that deserves more attention!" I couldn't agree more and thanks to him, I have my own copy now.

15) Montreal '67 - François Carel - Carrousel

I had no choice to finish this road trip around North America just North of the border in my own city of Montreal. Now this is a record that had been at the very top of my want list for a long time. Not because it's expensive or extremely rare, it's because I find it unbelievably good. It's still under the radar and unknown so if you know where to look, you might be able to put your paws on a copy.

Every time I hear Montreal '67, I'm baffled that this came out of my beloved city. I'll go out and say it, this is the Canadian Green Onions. This is, hands down, one of the best pieces of Mod Jazz I know! It's not surprising since, according to my friend Félix B. Desfossés, who interviewed François Carel for his blog, names Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff as major influences. We're talking Mod Jazz royalty here! For this particular track, Carel cites the Ramsey Lewis Trio as the inspiration.

Dedicated to Expo '67, this instrumental will start off with Carel playing piano and right in the middle of the piece, will switch to his Farfisa organ. Add some hand clapping to that and you have a slice of Mod heaven. François Carel might have been the one true Mod that came out of Quebec in the 60s. According to an article that came out in 1967, he is quoted as adopting the "London Style". I strongly suggest to check out my mate's blog, Vente de Garage, for a full account of Carel's career. If you scroll down to the bottom, you'll find part of the article translated in English.

Bonus track!

Montreal La Nuit - Michel Como - Caroussel

I just could't let pass this obscure swinging Popcorn / Mod Jazz record about my lovely city in the 60s. Montreal has had the reputation of having the best nightlife since the Prohibition started in the US in the 20s. When Michel Como sings about Montreal being "a bit like Paris" and "a place for mistresses and illegal things" you know that you're going to have a good time here.

There you have it, a quick trip around the continent at a speed of 45rpm. Don't forget, all the tracks are available on the Parka Avenue Podcast here.