Hit songs rarely made the Northern soul dance floor. The point was to elevate the mundane and reveal its rough beauty.
Casino ClassicsArtists: Various Artists
Label: Cherry Red
Release Date: 2015-08-28
The Wigan Casino was the center of the Northern soul scene in England during the late '60s to the early '80s. Billboard magazine once voted the club “The Best Disco in the World". At one time, it claimed a membership of over 100,000 people. The Casino also started its own record label and between 1978-1980 released a number of singles and two compilation albums of American soul and some exclusive tracks. This three-CD set collects everything the label ever issued on the Casino Classics label.
Now a word about Northern soul music. It was never meant to be the best music. A song’s legitimacy depended on its obscurity and to a certain point, its second-ratedness. DJs took pride in playing the unheard and insignificant track. Hit songs rarely made the dance floor. The point was to elevate the mundane and reveal its rough beauty. There was an element of colonial appropriation here, as if the unevenness of a song was a part of its authenticity.
As a result, some of the songs are the lesser known tracks by artists who had hits. For example, Philly crooner Len Barry is represented here by “I Struck it Rich” instead of “1-2-3”, Florida’s James and Bobby Purify’s “Shake a Tail Feather” instead of “I’m Your Puppet”, the Windy City’s Ramsey Lewis Trio by “Wade in the Water”, not “The In-Crowd”. The selections here are still relatively well-known, especially when compared with other material on this collection, but they were favorites at the time because the songs were not as popular.
Indeed, the opposite is also true. Several of the songs here were not popular until rediscovered years later by Northern soul DJs and played at the clubs, like Lorraine Silver’s winsome “Lost Summer Love”, Dean Parrish’s anthemic “I’m on My Way”, and the Carstairs’ emotional “It Really Hurts Me Girl”. These artists, and several others represented here, had their careers resuscitated by clubs like the Wigan Casino and the Northern soul movement.
The whole damn quirkiness of the scene can be seen in the range of material here that goes from the superb -- like Al Wilson’s soulful parable “The Snake” to the clear-voiced English songstress Tammy St. John, whose version of the Chiffon’s “Nobody Knows What’s Going On (In My Mind But Me)” seems to take all of the mystery out of the song, to the sci-fi television kid’s show theme from “Joe 90” -- and all seem to fit right. Shows at the Wigan went from 2:00 to 8:00 am and one needed this kind of mix to keep people interested and dancing, although apparently the use of speed was also a factor.
The three discs come with good liner notes with informative text, color pictures, bonus tracks, etc., and the set is handsomely packaged. However, the real treat is coming across lost gems like the sweet classical joys of the Toys’ “A Lover’s Concerto” and rollicking with the Show Stoppers on “Ain’t Nothing’ But a House Party” or hearing cuts that later became known by other artists such as Gloria Jones’ “Tainted Love” (redone by Soft Cell) or the Just Brothers’ “Sliced Tomatoes” (incorporated by Fatboy Slim on “The Rockafeller Skank”, or just hearing the joyful confusion of acts like the Playthings and the Flirtations copy the style and content of Motown girl group hits and coming up with something different and delicious. There’s good stuff here for pop music connoisseurs searching for that perfect track.