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Not the worst Northern collection
on 15 December 2004
This is the CD all fans of the KFC adverts had been waiting for. I bought it (rather mindlessly) at Woolworths as it looked a pretty good 'party mix'and ideal for livening up a dull journey. I first played it in my car as we set off on our hols to the Lakes this year. Disc one kicked off with a storming mix of Bob Brady's - "Everybody's going to the Love-in" followed by Laura Greene's evergreen "Moonlight, Music and You". So far so good, we were fair dancing up the motorway, however by track three it was clear that all was not well. Frank Wilson's majestic "Do I Love You" (by far and away the rarest Northern Soul record) is the reason many people would want to own this CD, however this was not the version I knew and loved - wrong backing track, weak vocals, and all the tell-tale hallmarks of an Ian Levine remake. A quick examination of the sleeve revealed the worst, fifteen of the tracks had all received the dreaded Levine treatment!
I'll explain, Ian was one of the big wheels when Northern Soul first emerged in the early seventies, a DJ at the famous Blackpool Mecca - where he took the bold step of playing 70s soul records to revive a scene that was sinking in a morass of sixties inertia. In the mid seventies he began producing his own 'Northern' records using established soul singers performing over his rather cheesy backing tracks. These sides have a certain tacky charm but they don't sit very easily next to the classic 'Detroit' productions and they didn't earn him many friends amongst the Northern cognoscenti. Nevertheless Levine continued to churn these things out with monotonous regularity even convincing such luminaries as Edwin Starr and Kim Weston that their classic Motown tracks would benefit from a 'Levine' makeover. His productions on this CD range from some of his earliest credits like Evelyn Thomas's "Weak Spot", to his later dire efforts including Frank Wilson and a truly appaling version of Yvonne Baker's "Didn't Say A Word". The original versions are all available elsewhere on CD and are definitely worth tracking down.
I've listened to this compilation several times since our 'rainy' fortnight in the Lakes and to be honest......... it's not that bad. Forget the fifteen Levine productions, this CD still has another thirty classic Northern tracks (in some cases beautifully remastered) and since it's starting to become available at bargain bin prices I'd say it's well worth investing in. There are fantastic 60s stompers from The Tempos and Dobie Gray. First timers will be blown away by cuts like "The Snake" and "Landslide". The Flirtations "Nothing but Heartaches" is fist-clenchingly fabulous, whilst the awesome 70s tracks by The Montclairs and The Carstairs demonstrate what the young Ian Levine was really about.
If you're looking for authenticity and detail, check out any compilations on the Kent or Goldmine labels, but for those who are just dipping their toe into the wonderful world of Northern, this ain't a bad place to start!