OK, so we've figured out that Northern Soul is based primarily around the playing of Black American soul records and that added to that, many records by artists neither black nor American have been played under the banner of Northern Soul. Well here's a double header demonstrating a kind of US/UK crossover.
Madeline Bell was born in Newark, New Jersey. She arrived in the UK in 1962 as part of the vocal group, The Bradford Singers, appearing in the gospel show Black Nativity. It was in the UK that her career took off. She became an in demand session singer, most famously singing backing vocals on many Dusty Springfield recordings.
Between 1963 and 1969 Madeline released a string of singles on UK labels, most notably Philips, without ever having that one big hit. Her version of Evie Sands "Picture Me Gone" was released in October 1967 b/w "Go Ahead On" (Dusty Springfield sings backing voacals on Madeline's version of "Go Ahead On" after Madeline sang backing vocals on Dusty's version released as the b-side to her single "All I See Is You" in 1966).
The version I have here is the US Philips release which was the b-side to Madeline's take on "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" which reached number 30 in the US charts in 1968.
Although never a hit in the UK "Picture Me Gone" found an appreciative home on Northern Soul dancefloors. Me, I've loved it since I first heard it, never tiring of it. That little solo guitar part at about 2 mins 26 seconds sends you hurtling into the last 30 seconds perfectly.
Boys and girls I give you Madeline Bell and "Picture Me Gone". Great song, great performance, great record...so why wasn't it a hit ?
Now, after a US artist that came to the UK to make a name for herself before having a hit in the US, how about a US EP track that had to come to the UK to find fame and a release on a single of it's very own.
Willie Mitchell was born in 1928 in Ashland, Mississippi. By the time he was in high school he had moved to Memphis, Tennessee. He'd been playing the trumpet from a young age and at high school featured in local big bands. By the 1960's Willie was working at Hi Records where he was involved in engineering, producing (the likes of Al Green), scouting talent and eventually running the label...oh and he made a few records too!
"The Champion (Part 1)" was originally released on a 6 track EP titled "That Driving Beat". It started to pick up plays at Northern clubs in the early 70's and became so popular that it was issued as a 7" single in it's own right by Decca, on the London label in 1976, with "The Champion (Part 2)" on the flip side, naturally.
Mitchell's records are famed for their stomping bass drum sound (usually supplied by drummer Al Jackson of Booker T & The MG's fame). Some Northern Soul records are often described as "Stompers".
If you ever needed to know what a "Stomper" sounds like just lend an ear to Willie Mitchell and "The Champion (Part 1)"...bangin'
The world of Northern Soul is a rare old beast. Yes it's a style of music based mainly on the playing of rare, black American soul records, primarily from the 1960's. But...if a record has "the sound" it get's played. This has resulted in some very strange things being played on the scene, such as "Theme From Joe 90", Muriel Day's "Nine Times Out Of Ten" (the b-side to an Irish Eurovision Song Contest entry, and yes, you're right, it's awful) and more than one record by Tom Jones (yes that's Jones the Voice from that hotbed of Soul & R'n'B, Pontypridd in South Wales) including this one:
I've often said that if "It's Not Unusual" hadn't been a major hit it would have fit right in on the Northern dance floor (have a listen to The Dells version). Well in the mid 60's Tom was knocking out covers of US soul tunes and R'n'B flavoured dancers to great effect. Check out his take on Ben E Kings "I Can't Break The News To Myself" or "Dr Love".
"Stop Breaking My Heart" was originally released in 1966, and was a complete flop. This copy I have is a 1970 issue of his cover of Shirley Bassey's 1963 hit "I Who Have Nothing" (which was also originally recorded by Ben E King) with "Stop Breaking My Heart" tucked away on the b-side.
Written by Tom's manager, Gordon Mills (who also wrote "It's Not Unusual") and produced for Gordon Mills Productions, right from the intro this is a huge sounding record that gallops along at a fair old pace. I particularly like the slightly disinterested sounding backing vocalists droning "don't you break my heart" between filing their nails and chewing gum (or so it sounds to me).
So with thanks to Dave, for pointing out all this Jonesy goodness to me, please enjoy Tom Jones and "Stop Breaking My Heart"...hotdamn