There is a lot of love for Motown out there
It’s amazing really just how much love there is for Motown out on the Ceroc dance floor, especially when you realise most of the people packing Ceroc freestyles across the country weren’t even born, when the likes of The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Edwin Starr and Marvin Gaye were creating their eternal dance anthems.
1966 is considered to be the golden year of Motown. It’s the year of The Isley Brothers This Old Heart of Mine, The Temptations Get ready, Edwin Starr’s (SOS) Stop her on sight and my all time favourite Motown track Marvin Gaye’s Little darling (I need you). That’s fifty-two years ago!
A growing Motown retro scene
So much love is there for the dance anthems that came out of the tiny Hitsville Studio in Detroit, that there is now a growing retro scene that is packing dance halls across the country. In Derby over four hundred people pack the Rolls Royce Pavillion on the first Friday of every month and dance their socks of until one in the morning. For those that want to dance all through the night there is also a thriving Weekender scene.
Why has Motown endured for so long?
Let me use one of the tracks, from Tim’s set on Sunday afternoon, to explain the enduring qualities of Motown’s magical formula.
Towards the end of his set Tim played a run of four tracks that literally set the dance floor on fire. The first three of these tracks slowly built the vibe out on the floor, and then Tim played what many consider to be the greatest Soul dance anthem of all time.
You’re going to have to wait to hear what track sent every Soul Boy and Soul Girl into Dance Heaven, but let me start by looking at the first of those four tracks in Tim’s storming finale – The Isley Brothers This old heart of mine.
The Motown beat is so easy to dance to
One of the reasons that Ceroc has become so popular is because it’s easy. No need to worry about your footwork – just remember to step back at the end of each move and keep in time with the music.
Keeping in time with the music is not easy sometimes, but it’s a lot easier when the music has a simple four-four beat. That’s why Motown conquered the dance floors – its dance anthems are all based on four beats to the bar.
So here is one of the easiest tracks you’ll ever Ceroc to – the aforementioned This old heart of mine.
We resonate with the ‘Boy meets Girl’ lyrics
There’s another reason that the Motown songs were taken to peoples hearts – the words. The Motown song writers stuck to a simple formula with their lyrics. All the songs were based on the familiar coming of age story of ‘Girl meets Boy – Girl falls in love with Boy – Boy doesn’t want Girl – Girl pines for Boy’. It works the other way too – ‘Boy meets Girl, and so on’.
Here’s my coming of age story. Paul meets Girl, Paul falls in love with Girl, Girl doesn’t want Paul so he plays This old heart of mine for six months to try to mend his broken heart. I also played Smokey Robinson’s Tears of Clown every night too, but that didn’t work either!
Let’s hear it for The Funk Brothers
There is a third reason why Motown was king on the dance halls of the late ’60s and early ’70s – the little known studio band, led by pianio and organ player Earl Van Dyke, know as the Funk Brothers. These guys created a dance sound like no other, and Tim got his set of to a cracking start by playing a track that showcased every ounce of their ground breaking talents.
Right from the first beat of Stevie Wonder’s Uptight (Everything’s alright) you feel the energy from a drum beat that just never lets up. Listen carefully and you’ll hear the tambourine accompanying the drums. It’s not long before they are joined by a catchy guitar lick and blasting horns that add layer upon layer to the sound production.
Go back and listen carefully to the introduction again, and you’ll hear a bass line that takes this song to another level. This bass line was created by one of the greatest bass players to ever walk the planet. His name is James Jamerson and he helped create, along with his brothers on drums, tambourine, saxophone, piano and guitar what we know as the Motown Sound.
Sadly, along with the rest of The Funk Brothers, Jamerson got very little recognition at the time for his contribution to the greatest back catalogue of dance music ever produced.
I wondered how Tim would play it
When I saw that Tim was doing an afternoon Motown and Soul set in The Boudoir I couldn’t help wonder how he would play it. Motown and Soul Ceroc class nights have grown in popularity over the past few years, but DJs handle their playlists in different ways.
Marc Forster of Ceroc Beds & Bucks is often credited with starting the trend when he taught and DJ-ed at Ceroc Passion’s Peterborough class venue. When I visited Marc, at a Buckingham Motown & Soul night, he mixed in 1970s Disco tracks, like McFadden and Whiteheads Ain’t no stopping us now with his Motown selection (see link below).
DJ Chad Bloomfield approached it a little differently, when I reviewed a Ceroc Passion class night at Peterborough (see link below) by adding in tracks that were contemporaries of The Motown hits. Tracks like Fontella Bass’ Rescue me and those from Motown’s great rivals the Stax and Atlantic record labels.
Northern Soul enters the mix
At last years June Southport DJ John Baker was given a slot in The Cyclone Room labelled ‘Motown and Northern Soul’. This gave him a chance to mix in Northern Soul tracks, like What’s wrong with me baby by The Valadiers. I thought John did really well, so I was disappointed that Motown and Northern Soul were left off the programme for September.
So how would Tim play it? What musical genre would he mix in with his Motown tracks if any? Well, Motown actually made up most of Tim’s playlist. Here were all the well loved classics and everyone had the four Boudoir dance areas rocking.
Here are just a few: Martha Reeves Dancing in the street, The Four Tops Reach out (I’ll be there), The Temptations Ain’t too proud to beg, Marvin Gaye’s I heard it through the grapevine and The Velvelettes He was really saying something – all joyfully danced to.
Southport goes all Twisted Wheel
But half way through Tim threw in a couple of Northern Soul tracks and suddenly a corner of The Boudior resembled The Twisted Wheel in ’70s Manchester. Here’s one of Tim’s Northern Soul picks Sweeter than the day before by The Valentinos. In the video you can clearly see the distinctive style of dancing that was created in the Northern clubs, and that now got a showing in front of Tim’s decks.
Had I better explain Northern Soul?
Because Tim played two Northern Soul classics in his final scorching run in, I think I’d better explain the origins of Northern Soul before I go any further. By the early ’70s dance music was changing, and Motown had no choice but to follow as a funkier beat created by the Godfather of Funk Mr James Brown slowly took over.
Stevie Wonder, was one of the first Motown stars to adopt a more funkier style, with his mould breaking super hit Superstition in 1972. In fact Tim paid homage to Wonder’s new funkier sound by playing Signed sealed delivered. The Southport crowd loved it, but back in 1972 some people weren’t happy with this new sound.
The North-South divide
In the dance clubs of London and the South East the dancers took to James Brown and his funky new rhythms, but the guys and gals in the industrial cities of The North wanted more of their beloved old style Motown tracks. And so DJs made their way over to the US to trawl through second hand record shops, looking for tracks that were made in the simpler four-four style of the original Motown Sound.
The records that these DJs came back with turned them into Gods on the Northern Soul scene. Two of the biggest were Ian Levine and Kev Roberts. It’s Kev Roberts who now runs the Gold Soul events across the North of England including the aforementioned one at Rolls Royce in Derby, and he continues to have a great influence as the retro Northern Soul scene gains ever more devotees.
The story of ‘Tainted Love’
A great example of how tracks, that were gathering dust, suddenly became Northern Soul hits, is the story of Tainted Love. This track was originally recorded back in 1965 by Gloria Jones but never achieved any notable success. However club owner and DJ Richard Searling, came across a copy during a trip to the US in 1973.
Recognising its similarities to Motown he played it at clubs around Lancashire, where it gained its Northern Soul cult status. One of the dancers in those clubs was a youthful Mark Almond who would go on to rework the song with synthesizers and make Soft Cell’s Tainted love the best-selling single of 1981.
Tim played a more recent rock infused version from Imelda May which captures the breakneck pace of the Gloria Jones original.
Tim works the floor to a euphoric finale
It’s surprising how many of these Northern Soul devotees suddenly show themselves, when Northern Soul records are played at Ceroc events, and it was the same on Sunday afternoon, as Tim worked the dance floor towards a climax of Northern Soul euphoria.
Tim had chilled the pace a little before hand with Otis Redding’s Mr Pitiful and Edwin Starr’s Time, but as the strains of The Isley’s This old heart of mine quickened the pace slightly, I suspected we were in for a thumping end to what had been a joyous trip down dance music memory lane.
Its the coldest day of the year, but the music is going to get seriously hot
This Southport Weekender coincided with the year’s lowest temperatures. Thankfully it was sunny and the doors to the Boudoir were thrown open to allow people to enjoy dancing outside. Thank goodness, because there would not have been enough room otherwise to accommodate all the people Tim’s slot had attracted.
You don’t need me to tell you what an accomplished DJ Tim Sant is. The man knows his music whether its chilled or full on, and in the next four tracks he showed he knows his Motown and Soul music too. He starts off with the aforementioned This old heart of mine. There is no one who loves dancing that doesn’t appreciate this tracks rightful place in the Dance Music Hall of Fame.
Now bring on The Four Tops greatest dance hit
I know that The Four Tops Reach out (I’ll be there) sold more records, but its not the song to jack up the atmosphere on the dance floor. That track is I can’t help myself with its famous ‘Sugar pie honey bunch’ tag line. Written and produced by Motown’s No 1 writing team of Holland – Dozier – Holland (They also wrote This old heart of mine) the track has everything we love about Motown dance tracks.
It has the inevitable Boy meets girl lyric – I can’t help myself, I love you and nobody else – and a performance by the Funk Brothers that shows how crucial they were to Motown’s success. I know you just want to dance to it, but please appreciate Earl Van Dykes piano intro that sets the rhythm going and James Jamerson’s bass lines that give the track its great dance-ability.
Even the tambourine, hitting the beat on two and four, gives this track that something special, and I know it’s only brief but catch the sax solo – how many times have we heard that guy on Motown tracks.
Tim jacks it up again with a Soul Boy classic
I know music is personal. I know you can not really understand what it means for me to hear a track that takes me back to the Nottingham Palais in my youth. But Tim picked this track not for me, but for everyone because its just a great dance track. He picked The right track by Billy Butler for another reason too – it had just the right feel to take the vibe on the dance floor to the next level.
This song has many of the elements of Motown and it’s one of the reasons it became a Northern Soul classic. As I danced myself in to some kind of nostalgic Dance Heaven I noticed the Northern Soul Girls were loving it too. In fact everyone was loving it, and why not. This is what a full on dance track should be – four beats to the bar, nice and simple with a thumping beat.
It has something else – a build up to the chorus that has, anyone who knows it, screaming out the ‘Woo-woos’. So carried away did I get, that at the end of the dance I felt obliged to explain my excitement to my dance partner, and to thank her for sharing one of my Southport highlights.
Tim plays the Greatest Northern Soul Anthem of all time
OK, so a lot of Ceroc DJs play this song, but what made this special was that Tim had worked the floor to where this was the only track he could have played. How else were you going to follow two of Holland – Dozier – Hollands greatest hits and everyone wooping it up to The right track. It was as if our subconscious knew it was coming, and when it did you could feel the euphoria burst out all over the four packed dance areas.
To understand the emotions that this song generates in the people who pack the retro Motown and Soul nights, you have to know a little about its history.
The song was recorded in The Hitsville studio of Motown with The Funk Brothers adding their special magic. The singer Frank Wilson was one of Motown’s top writer/producers. Gordy Berry, the founder of Motown, was worried that he might lose Wilson if he became famous as a singer. The legend goes that Gordy had all the copies, but two, destroyed.
One of these copies was found by a Northern Soul DJ searching through filed away demo tapes at Motown, and the rest is history. Part of the emotion of dancing to this song, to some of us at least, is the realisation that without that discovery our dance journeys wouldn’t be complete. Here then is Frank Wilson’s Do I love you (Indeed I do).
I get feedback from The Soul Girls
I knew that people would share my enthusiasm for Tim’s set, but as always I wanted to get some other peoples views. I rushed over to chat with some of the Soul Girls who had put on the amazing display of Northern Soul dancing. I first spoke to Paula, a fellow dancer from Nottingham’s Ceroc Heavens classes and freestyles:
So Paula, I know you are a really keen Northern Soul fan, so what did you think?
Once she caught her breathe, she gave me her verdict:
One word Paul – AWESOME!
I next got to talk with Nadine who learnt her Ceroc moves at Buckingham with Ceroc Beds & Bucks. Here’s her take on it:
Tim’s set was fabulous. I was a Northern Soul dancer long before I found Ceroc. I’d just love Ceroc to find a way to link it some how with Northern Soul.
Please, let’s do it all over again.
As I said before, I was disappointed that Motown and Soul were left off the programme for September. I’m sure that after all the positive feedback, that Tim will ensure that his set is repeated at June’s Southport meet up. Hopefully Do I love you (Indeed I do) can become one of the enduring traditions of Southport Weekenders, just as it has for the retro Motown and Northern Soul scene.
I see that Kieran Moore has been given a Motown and Soul set at this weekend’s Camber Weekender. I suspect that the people are in for another great hour of nostalgic dance fun, and I wish Kieran all the best.
With regard to Nadine’s thoughts about Ceroc some how linking with Northern Soul, I’ll put my thinking cap on. After Tim’s great success at Southport it’s surely worth some thought.
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Coming next: Mark O’Reilly’s Sunday Night Thunderball Room Set set