Curtis Mayfield & Johnny Pate Godfathers of Chicago uptown soul
The ‘Don’ – Groovesville was the epitome of the Detroit sound

For several years I’ve thought about compiling a chart of my favourite vocal sounds associated with the northern and rare soul scene. After many days, nights and months listening, and re-listening, to some two to three hundred candidates, I’ve arrived at my Top 100 (plus 50 Bubbling Under).

The ubiquitous Mike Terry northern genius

The scene is more dynamic than was predicted 40 years ago – today it’s more eclectic and soulful than when I first encountered it in the mid 1970’s. My chart reflects this in that there’s far more late 60’s to early 70’s crossover/70’s rare groove than there would have been in the distant past. That said, there’s still plenty of traditional ‘oldies’ in there.

George Kerr & Richard Tee
east coast maestros worked with artists like The O’Jays and Linda Jones

In keeping with the spirit of the scene, I’ve omitted high-charted hits by major artists, and selected sounds which one was unlikely to hear, at the time of release, on general radio or at the local disco. Of course, some may have been played on specialist shows or at soul clubs. I’ve decided also to include only one entry per group/lead artist. All releases are US singles unless specified otherwise.

Lorraine Chandler

For each artist/group I’ve attempted to give a brief recording bio, focusing on either my own personal choices, or the tracks of most interest to the northern/rare soul scene. When I say ‘this side of the pond’ I mean the UK. Often I use the term ‘recently’ in reference to something that happened over ten years ago, please excuse this, anything that happened since the CD revolution seems recent to me.

Phillip Mitchell wrote many fine tunes

Over the years the ‘scene’ has come in for plenty of stick, with some justification. Never mind, it has defied critics, survived with a fair amount of integrity and moved on. Had it not done so, I doubt that I’d have heard many of the sounds that make up my chart.

Keeping the faith,
Tim Sawley,
First published March 2019 (last corrected June 2020)

Legendary Fame & Hi studios,
southern soul features well in my chart

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