11/17/15

Demon/Harmless's BACKBEATS Series: Contemporary Soul from Classic Motown Artists

There are only three more discs in the Backbeats series to review and today, we're gonna knock out two!  (The final disc will appear in December.)  Both of today's albums are unique within the entire forty-two disc Backbeats series as hey are both sourced form a single label, Ian Levine's Motorcity Records.  Levine, a popular and influential Northern Soul DJ formed the label in 1988 to exclusively record material with classic mostly Motown artists from the Sixties and Seventies. Though his label went bankrupt in 1992 after recording over 700 songs with over 100 former Motown artists, Ian continued to record artists until 1997, finishing up another 80 or so tracks.  Levine even continued recorded hundreds of new music tracks long after the label was all but gone to make the previously recorded vocal tracks sound more authentic and less dated with their drum machines and synthesizers.  Yet despite his best intentions and efforts, today's two volumes in the Backbeats series are probably the lowest rated and critically reviled almost specifically because the quality of backing tracks does not match the quality of the vocalists.  As always, listen with open ears and keep an open mind.

Today's first album, collector's number 36 for you playing along at home, is boldly titled Unexploited & Underrated with the subtitle More Contemporary Modern Soul Gems. Featuring 18 tracks "compiled with love" by Simon White, the album has many familiar names and some familiar voices as all the artists were established artists with Motown or one its many subsidiary labels.
Our second album, collector's number 38, is more aptly titled Memories & Souvenirs. It is subtitled Contemporary Soul from the 80s, 90s and 00s and is more of the same music as heard on the album above. This time around, Ralph Tee is the curator.
Ian Levine's dream was a noble but ultimately failed one, never achieving popularity or reportedly the ability to compensate the artists.  Though obviously still possessing some of, if not all of, their previous vocal talents, the acts were saddled with sub-par though well-intentioned material and Motorcity would have proven to be a blip in the history of British Pop Music had one of the songs not broken from the pack and landed in the Top 20 in 1991.
That song kicks off the Memories & Souvenirs album and was a remarkable re-emergence for the artist Frances Nero, who had recorded but two sides for Motown's Soul label after winning Motown's nationwide talent contest in 1965.  That lone single is highly sought after by British collectors of both Motown and Northern Soul, often fetching $150-$200 when copies surface.
One of the benefits of Motorcity's more recent existence is almost all of the recordings are readily available, both on compact disc and via Spotify.  I might be mistaken but these two albums might be the first in the history of 41 Backbeats albums where all the songs are present and accounted for in their respective Spotify playlists.

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