I knew I was in for a bit of intimidation the minute I opened the package from the good folks at Rock Beat Records who’d sent me a copy of their new soul rarities CD boxed set called Groove & Grind Rare Soul. There on the cover is a bit of collector geekery that even a stamp collector could understand. Cleverly, under an image of a magnifying glass is an imaginary postage stamp featuring the profile image of a singer shouting into a vintage stage microphone.
The stamp would have been cool enough but they flipped the image upside down in reference to one of the rarest stamps, the “Inverted Jenny” stamp with the an upside down bi-plane. Circa 1918, this is commonly known as one of the rarest stamps in existence.
So, the notion that the contents of this collection would contain some rare gems of music should not be underestimated.
The cliche “rare as hen’s teeth” comes to mind …
Now, the next thing I did before even reading through the beautiful, full color 100-plus page laminated-hardcover book-styled package was to look through my own collection of what I thought were pretty rare singles. Many of them are. I’ve been collecting old soul and R ‘n B records (albums and 45s) intently for the past 10 years and my collection has grown quite a bit. I have some singles on Goldwax and obscure labels like Scorpio, MarVLus and Mankind. Its fun stuff! A few years ago, i picked up 175 obscure-looking singles at an estate sale which I have not even finished going through or even playing once! So I expected to find at least a little bit of overlap in those stacks with this set.
Nope. Virtually zip.
I found that I have one single in this collection by a fellow named Billy Sha-rae, a song called “Do It” on the Hour Glass label. That’s not to say that my collection is lame — no, some of the stuff I have rocks and swings like nobody’s business. I have other records by some of the artists on this set including Bettye LaVette, Ike & Tina Turner, Lou Courtney and so on. I’ve got other groups on some of the labels on this set like Groovy, Satch, Bell, Shout, Minit, Okeh and Brunswick.
I’ve got a Parliaments single on Revilot Records (yeah, as in early George Clinton).
For collectors of so – called “Northern Soul” — a name given to (according to the wiki) a British music and dance movement in the late 1960s, an outgrowth of the Mod movement that gave us bands like The Who and The Small Faces — this set is a wonder. Northern Soul, however, isn’t about English music — it is about relatively obscure soul and R ‘n B sides from North America, particularly the United States, which is a lot of the kind of music found in this set.
So for the most part, the records here on this set are not from legendary labels like Motown and Atlantic Records; you won’t find those singles which (depending on your age) you may have grown up with from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. Those records are great in their own right, but that is not what the Northern Soul thing seems to be about. These collectors are seeking the stuff that got lost in the shuffle, great songs that got overlooked for any number of reasons. Great songs that people can discover with completely fresh ears; these are often times songs with killer hooks and dramatic breaks that can be sampled without fear of it being an overused beat.
This music is still super popular there and (as I have learned from other collectors) many a British DJ has scoured America in search for obscure sides to be sampled and worked into their sets. They love the groovy drum breaks especially….
So, here on Groove & Grind, you get more than 100 rare tracks by artists whom I venture to guess that most of you haven’t heard of before and music that would probably qualify to be considered so-called Nothern Soul. Sure there are some early rare bits by the likes of Ike & Tina Turner and Bettye LaVette and even a pre-Huff Kenny Gamble. But mostly you’ll be exploring songs by the likes of Tyrone (The Wonder Boy), The C.O.D.s, The Flint Emeralds and The Tenth Dymentions.
Not all of these tracks are sourced from the original master tapes and the producers are upfront about that fact. Some of these tracks are so obscure they are taken from actual discs.
I am cool with that. In general the set sounds real good. My aforementioned Billy Sha-rae single sounds fuller than the CD; however, my single wears the war wounds of heavy party play in the form of surface scuffs that reproduce as tics, pops and some distortion on the record so the CD version, while some what thinner sounding, is desirable.
Compromise, folks, sonic compromise.
Yeah, that is one of the downsides of trying to collect these obscure records: if you find them, most times they have been through a fair amount of play on not the best playback equipment, so the records are often somewhat scratchy and such. And there in lies the impetus for the sort of crate digging some of us engage in — its an almost never ending search for the holy grails of a better condition copy than we already have. Accordingly, some people who have not the patience nor desire to dig around through random boxes and crates of disorganized records are prepared to pay good coin for pristine copies.
]]>And that is where a great CD collection like this shines: its a great way to get your hands on this music without spending endless hours and costly dollars tracking down the individual discs. I just depends on how into it all you might be.
The only thing I’m a little disappointed about in this set — and this is my only nit — is that a handful of tracks bear the signature phasey-pumpy artifact of being sourced from a low bit rate MP3 type file. So, yeah, I am guessing here that those tracks were so good they decided to include them even though they were possibly sourced from an MP3 circulating among collectors on the web. Again this is just a guess folks, so don’t hate me if it turns out I’m incorrect (advance mea culpa!). Maybe it was just a mastering quirk of some sort or a manufacturing anomaly. Stuff happens, ya know.
That said, all in all this is a fine and fascinating collection containing some great music.
Some of my faves so far are “Follow My Heart” by Big Dee Irwin, which sounds like a richer voiced Marvin Gaye singing a Dusty Springfield tune. You simply can’t not love a song (“Do You Know What Life Is All About?”) with a brilliant intro that finds singer Hoagy Lands testifying : “I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know you know that I know and I’m telling you all I know…”
The appearance of this set also signals that I need to do more research to put my own collection of rare soul 45s in perspective. I mean, it’d be nice to know why the single I have from Alvin Cash and the Registers didn’t make the cut here. Does “The Funky Mule” by Marvin Holmes & The Uptights (on Boola Boola Records — for real folks, I own this!) rank among hardcore collectors? How about “Thock it to me Honi” by Juggy on the Sue Records label?
Ok, one last point: I was quite shocked to find the VERY reasonable price this set is selling for on Amazon: less than $40! So that adds up to less than 40 cents per song? Almost too reasonable. Wow! That’s pretty cheap. Its a cool deal for us consumers, I guess.
If I were you I’d grab a copy of this set quickly before they disappear from the store shelves, virtual or otherwise!