DJ Russell Gibbs sends me back in time

At the recent Southport Weekender, I was blown away by a Saturday afternoon hour-long Motown and Northern Soul set served up by DJ Russell Gibbs.  When I got home the memory of the wonderful vibe that Russell created prompted me to revisit an article I first published on my blog three years ago.  I couldn’t help revising it and promoting the idea of a 30 minute Motown and Soul set once again.  Here is the revised version of the article:

How about a 30 minute Guest Slot

I keep going on about wanting to dance to more Motown tracks at Modern Jive freestyles.  I’ve even suggested a freestyle dedicated to Motown and Soul tracks, but there comes a time when you have to put up or shut up.  Think I might have to shut up!  You see there is no way that I’d be confident a selection of Motown and Soul tracks would be able to satisfactorily fill a four-hour freestyle playlist.

Sure there are four hours of Motown tracks alone, but they are not all suitable for Modern Jive dancing.  I suspect it might just get a bit tiresome and I would fall flat on my face.  But before I shut up, I’ve come up with a face-saving idea.  How about I ask if anyone would be interested in me doing a Motown & Soul Guest DJ Slot for say 30 minutes.

Many Motown Tracks were first released in the UK on the Tamla Motown label

My playlist is ready just in case

Now I’m a very positive person, and in my dreams at least, I might get the offer – best to be ready then.  So here is my 30 Minute Motown and Soul Playlist. I hope it will help promote the campaign to get more Motown played at our freestyles.  I’ve included tracks that are already enthusiastically received but also showcased some that still have to find their way on to DJs playlists.  I’ve embedded the music for each track and written a few background notes that I hope you find interesting.

1: This Old Heart of Mine – The Isley Brothers

This catchy Isley Brothers’ song is one of the most loved in Motown’s extensive back catalogue.  It is already established as a favourite at modern jive freestyles and is perhaps a safe bet to start this wished-for playlist.  The image above is a photograph of the actual record when it was first released in Britain.

The name Tamla Motown was an amalgamation of the two main labels that Berry Gordy used to distribute recordings in the USA.

The name Motown is a short form of ‘Motortown’ the nickname for Detroit, where Gordy had his Hitsville recording studio.  This old heart of mine was written and produced by the team of brothers Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier (hereafter known as Holland-Dozier-Holland).  They were the most successful of the Motown songwriting teams, creating 25 No 1 hit singles and there are seven of their compositions in this playlist alone.

2: Little darling (I need you) – Marvin Gaye

Second up is another from Holland-Dozier-Holland.  Marvin Gaye’s Little darling (I need you) gets a spin at freestyles and is possibly my favourite Motown track to modern jive to.  In the UK, the first we really heard of Marvin Gaye, was his duets with Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell – It takes two and You’re all I need to get by.  This track proceeded both of those but failed to register in the UK Top 40, yet it is the most popular Marvin Gaye track at retro Motown Nights – played more regularly than his biggest hit I heard it through the grapevine.

3: I got a feeling – Barbara Randolf

Holland -Dozier-Holland (yes them again), originally wrote this song for the Four Tops but this version by Barbara Randolph is the better known.  Again it failed to make the UK Charts but DJ’s have established it as a firm favourite at retro Motown Nights.  I’ve yet to hear it at a modern jive freestyle, but I think it deserves a whirl on the decks.

This track didn’t actually make it on to the first draft of the playlist but one of the readers of the blog suggested I include it – so credit to Anne for reminding me just what a great dance track this is. If anyone wants to suggest tracks for a future playlist then please leave a comment at the end of this post -its always great to hear from you.

4: Get Ready – The Temptations

My next choice is one of the best known Motown dance tracks of all time – Get Ready by The Temptations.  What is less widely known is the fact it was written by Smokey Robinson.  Everyone knows Smokey Robinson as a performer (Tears of a Clown and Tracks of my tears being just two of his greatest hits) but he was, in fact, one of Berry Gordy’s original associates and was once Motown’s Vice President.

He is perhaps understandably less known for his songwriting talent but has written many famous Motown tracks, including My Girl again for the Temptations. Smokey’s song writing genius was suitably recognised by him being inducted into The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

5: There’s no stopping us now – The Supremes

Now for the Supremes and the fourth Holland-Dozier-Holland track.  Go to a retro Motown night and they might only play one Supremes track, which I guarantee will be this one. Quite surprising really, when you consider it was originally released as a B Side to Love is here and now you’re gone. Give credit to the DJs, who have searched through the Motown back catalogue to find the best tracks to dance to.

The song first appeared on the LP The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland along with You keep me hanging on and a version of the Four Tops It’s the same old song.  This track has so many ingredients of a Motown production including a characteristic saxophone solo that I love.

6: Wade in the water – Ramsey Lewis

If I ever get to do my dream ticket I’ll be in Dance Heaven when I play this next track.  It was a favourite dance track back in the days when I regularly attended The Nottingham Palais and was played alongside classic Motown and Soul tracks like The Isley’s This old heart of mine, Junior Walkers Road Runner and Booker T and The MGs Time is tight.  Like so many things from my youth, it disappeared from my life, until about 4 years ago when I attended a retro Motown and Soul Night at The Westgate Suites, Long Eaton.

At the start of the evening, I was taking advantage of an empty dance floor to do a bit of modern jiving before the disco dancers crowded the floor out. The previous track had ended and I waited to see if the next track was suitable to jive to, out of the air came the sound of a trumpet that hit every dance memory cell in my brain. Is there a more distinctive intro to a dance track than the opening to Wade in the water?

This weekend Wade in the water will be played at just about every retro Motown and Soul night.  It does get an occassional outing at Ceroc & Modern Jive events but I think it deserves more plays.  It has the perfect beat for Ceroc and Modern Jive dancing and when it is played it gives me one of my most enjoyable dances of the night.

7: Stop her on sight (SOS) – Edwin Starr

I’m a great fan of Edwin Starr and I remember buying his hit Twenty-five miles as a young man.  Sadly this track wouldn’t cut it on the modern jive dance floor and I wasn’t sure if any of his greatest hits would either.  One of the freestyles I attended while thinking about the songs I’d like to include in this playlist, was at Kelham Hall.  DJ Mark O’Reilly was spinning the tracks.  Suddenly I heard a very distinctive piano intro, which immediately connected to my Soul Boy past.

I was lucky to dance with a great partner and had the best dance of the night.  The Edwin Starr track Mark had dug out of The Motown Vault was Stop her on Sight (SOS).  If further confirmation was needed how danceable this track is, it was played again last week by another Mark – Marc Forster at his, Ceroc Beds & Bucks Addison Centre Freestyle.  Again I had one of the best dances of the night.  A safe bet for my guest DJ slot then?

8: Rescue Me – Fontella Bass

While this is not a Motown track it was on every DJs playlist in the discos of the late sixties and early seventies.  I’d somehow forgotten about this great dance track with its catchy bass line and trumpet intro.  I was dancing at the Ceroc Motown and Soul themed class night at Peterborough when the bass riff hit my brain. I was instantly transported back to the Nottingham Palais.

The song has an interesting pedigree. The backing vocals were done by Minnie Riperton and the musicians included two of the future line up of Earth Wind and Fire – Maurice White, the founder of the group, on drums and Louis Satterfield who created that amazing bass line.  Interestingly Maurice White also played drums for Ramsey Lewis and features on Wade in the water.

9: How Sweet it is (To be loved by you) – Junior Walker and The All-Stars

I wanted to feature a Junior Walker track in the playlist and first considered his greatest hit (I’m a) Road Runner.  While I adore his saxophone solo on that track, the song is a little jerky, so I’ve chosen How Sweet it is (To be loved by you), which has a much smoother rhythm.  This track is rightly already getting played at freestyles.

This song was originally written by Holland-Dozier-Holland for Marvin Gaye, but Walkers track has a little more energy.  It is a testament to Berry Gordy’s genius that he would get several of his acts to record the same material.  The resulting recordings added to the richness of the Motown Sound. The most famous example of this was when he had Marvin Gaye re-record Gladys Knight’s I heard it through the grapevine. Sadly few remember the original.

10: You’ve got me dangling on a string – Chairman of The Board

Time for the final two tracks, so here’s one of my favourite Motown and Soul tracks of all time, to hopefully build the vibe before my big finish.  Eventually, Holland-Dozier-Holland fell out with Berry Gordy and left to found their own record label – Invictus.  Their first two hits were Freda Payne’s Band of Gold and Chairman of The Board’s Give me just a little more time.  While they had moved their production techniques along, you can still hear the Motown groove in these tracks.

You’ve got me dangling on a string, Chairman of the Board’s later offering, has Motown stamped all over it.  It is pure dance joy and you are guaranteed to hear it at retro Motown nights and I have a smile on my face the whole song.  If I ever get to dance to it at a Ceroc or Modern Jive Freestyle I’ll be in Dance Heaven.

11: Do I love you (Indeed I do) – Frank Wilson

Some consider this to be one of the greatest Northern Soul hits of all time, and it is a fitting track to bring any Motown & Soul slot to an end.  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.   Berry Gordy, 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 my final track – Frank Wilson’s Do I love you (Indeed I do).

Will the phone ring?

Now let’s see if the phone rings.  Probably not, but thanks for letting me indulge myself anyway by spotlighting these classic tracks.  They keep the dance floors full at modern-day Motown and Soul Nights.  Hopefully, they’ll keep the Ceroc and  Modern Jive dance floor rocking too.

Postscript: Motown & Soul sets are now established

Since I wrote this article, Motown and Soul slots have become very popular at Ceroc Weekenders.  Tim-Sant Turner established the afternoon Motown & Soul Hour at Southport before passing the baton to Russell Gibbs.  Back in February, I enjoyed a two hour Motown & Soul set at the Swish Weekender where Kieran Moore showed his Soul Boy credentials.

A lot of organisations now run Motown & Soul class nights.  Below I’ve put links to the many Motown & Soul events I’ve reviewed.  The reviews contain many more of the well-loved tracks that now get played at these speciality hours and class nights.

Many of the DJs running these events include some ’70s Disco and Northern Soul classics in their playlists.  I have decided to create a Guest Disco playlist next and later a Guest Northern Soul playlist.

Time to dance around the kitchen

This playlist is now available on my Spotify Channel, so follow the link and you can dance around the kitchen to this collection of guaranteed floor fillers.

Motown & Soul for Ceroc & Modern Jive Volume 1

Reviews of Motown and Soul Freestyles and Class Nights

Ceroc Rolls Royce: Derby Motown Class Night

Ceroc Beds & Bucks: Buckingham Motown & Soul Class Night

Ceroc Southport Weekender – Chris Uren’s Motown Freestyle

Ceroc Southport Weekender – John Baker’s Motown & Northern Soul

Ceroc Southport Weekender – Tim Sant’s Motown & Soul set

Jive+: Oxford Motown Megamix

Ceroc Heaven: New Years Eve Motown Hour

Ceroc Surrey: Aldershot Soul Freestyle

Ceroc Surrey: Mychett Soul Night