Demon/Harmless's BACKBEAT series: The Ones with All the Nothern Soul

Three Volumes Of Northern Soul

What is Northern Soul?

from allmusic:
Northern Soul, for many, is a meaningless term because it doesn't refer to any specific kind of music. For many others, it's a term that means everything. Where most soul genres are named for either the region that the music where the music was created, or for the sound of the music, Northern soul is named after where the music was played -- in dance clubs in northern Britain. During the early '70s, once the mods had run out of steam and prog rock was ruling the landscape, there were a handful of underground dance clubs that played nothing but '60s soul records, and they weren't any ordinary oldies. Instead, the DJs at these clubs were obsessive collectors, finding the most obscure American soul singles. Usually, these records sounded like Motown, Chicago soul, or New York soul, but they were records by unknown or underappreciated performers; Major Lance was one of the biggest names on the scene. These records were dubbed Northern soul because of the clubs. Northern soul continued to gain popularity until the mid-'70s, when punk and disco stole its thunder; however, it never really faded away. Some clubs remained open and there was still a collectors' market for the singles, and many rare singles were going for astonishingly high prices. Most importantly, many clubgoers, from Marc Almond to Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs of St. Etienne, went on to form their own groups, which kept the spirit of Northern soul alive.
Chances are that, unless you are an avid Northern Soul collector, you have not heard any of the songs featured on the three collections here. They are just out of HERC's comfort zone but he likes what precious little he has heard. Unfortunately, many of these songs are not available on Spotify - a ridiculously low 33% fill rate or only 35 out of 89 songs. More than enough to whet your appetite.

The term Northern Soul came into being one day in 1968 at Dave Godin's Soul City record shop:
“I devised the name as a shorthand sales term,” he says. “It was just to say ‘if you’ve got customers from the north, don’t waste time playing them records currently in the US black chart, just play them what they like – ‘Northern Soul’.” - Dave Godin interviewed by Chris Hunt

For those of you keeping score these are volumes 6, 29 and 33 in the Backbeats series.  (HERC's coverage of the first five volumes can be found HERE.)  Unlike the first six volumes of Backbeats discs, the disc above and the disc below were "Conceived and compiled with love by Kev Roberts":
When it comes to compiling a Northern Soul compilation, Harmless Records couldn’t have selected a better compiler than Kev Roberts for their latest Backbeats’ compilation Metropolis Stomp Time. After all, Kev Roberts life has been Northern Soul since Northern Soul’s heyday. Kev Roberts started off as a DJ at the legendary Wigan Casino, and in the intervening forty years, has been a promoter, owned record labels, been a radio presenter and a songwriter and producer. Then there’s the small matter of Kev compiling over 300 albums. - dereksmusicblog
Roberts wrote the book on Northern Soul in 2000, in which he listed the Top 500 singles as well as a secondary list of his personal favorites that didn't make the Top 500.  (Both lists can be seen HERE.)  Since its publication, the book has become somewhat of a collector's item, much like the records it covers.  It was recently released as an affordable ebook.

...if you’ve never bought a Northern Soul compilation, this is a good place to start. Every one a winner, without any filler describes Kev’s selection. This should give you a flavor of one of Kev’s DJ sets, forty years ago at the Wigan Casino. Back then Northern Soul was a true musical phenomena. In the intervening forty years, Northern Soul’s popularity has never faltered, and its followers appetite for compilations like Metropolis Stomp Time has never waned. However, unlike many compilations, Metropolis Stomp Time has thirty-one quality tracks. - dereksmusicblog


  1. Love. Adding all 3 to my wish list. Most Northern Soul compilations are terribly expensive and have only 12-15 tracks. Not so with these gems. This Backbeats series may cause the Harmless label to replace Rhino as my favorite reissue company.

  2. While HERC doesn't host that many dance parties, he enjoys the spice and variety that Northern soul brings to playlists.

    It's good to know that Motown and Stax aren't getting all of the love and attention though it was a little disheartening that the overwhelming majority of these songs aren't on Spotify.(Metropolis Stomp Time is available on Songza, though.)

    Sony issued a terrific four volume Northern Soul Story series back in 2007 you might like. Harmless brother label (parent label is Demon) 100 Hits also has a 5CD Northern Soul entry.

    Be on the lookout for upcoming posts on other specialty reissue labels just in time for the Holiday Shopping Season.