Backbeats is a relatively new compilation series coming out of the UK on the Harmless label (h/t to Herc for turning me on to these wonderful discs). Faithful readers know of my love for Rhino compilations, but they face some stiff competition from this series. This disc is subtitled "70s Modern Soul Stunners" and that's mostly true. The liner notes state that this album was "conceived and compiled with love" by legendary Northern Soul DJ Ian Dewhirst. Many of the tracks were originally released on the Buddah label. 23 tracks over almost 80 minutes, so hold on tight:
- Happy Feelin' - Earth, Wind & Fire (1975): any '70s EW&F is good EW&F. Yeah, I'm feelin' happy.
- Once I've Been There - Norman Conners (1976): classic Philly soul/disco complete with disco strings, wah-wah guitar, and falsetto vocals from songwriter Phillip Mitchell.
- Her Mr Melody Maker - Johnnie Taylor (1978): this song is a waste of Taylor's wonderfully soulful voice. Still, it's a nice disco tune in the same vein as what Barry White was doing with the Love Unlimited Orchestra around the same time.
- Are You Ready For This - The Brothers (1974): a very danceable instrumental, heavy on the hi-hat. The Brothers were originally from Mauritius, but there's not even a hint of island sounds on this one.
- I Couldn't Believe It - David Ruffin & Eddie Kendricks (1987): former members of The Temptations singing a late '80s shuffle over a drum machine. Definitely of its time, it's a catchy song, just out of place on this disc.
- Love Don't Come No Stronger - Jeff Perry (aka Jeffree) (1975): another shuffle, this one slightly better than the previous track. Catchy chorus, but it's not driving me to the dance floor like the other tracks.
- Am I Cold, Am I Hot - Bill Harris (1975): a hidden gem! A great disco single that with which I was previously unfamiliar. Written by Van McCoy ("The Hustle"), this is one of the highlights of this compilations.
- Keep On Trying - LTG Exchange (1974): While I can appreciate the attempts at incorporating all the rhythms and sounds of disco, funk, and salsa, the group just isn't talented enough to pull it off.
- What About My Love - Damaris (1983): This has a definite '80s sound to it and is a little slow to be included here, but I'll be doggone if it isn't one of the better songs here.
- I'm In Need Of Love - Lou Courtney (1974): A great funk tune that has just the right touch of disco. I wonder why I've never heard of Courtney before; he's got a spectacular voice.
- Make Me Believe In You - Patti Jo (1973): When I first heard this, I thought it sounded a lot like Curtis Mayfield's Superfly and then I looked to see who wrote this song. You guessed it: Mayfield. Still, I like Superfly, so this one's good, too.
- Talkin' 'bout Poor Folks Thinkin' 'bout My Folks - Lou Edwards & Today's People (1972): this one is more Stax-influenced R&B than any other song on the disc. I like it. Bonus points for including a record 4 apostrophes in the title.
- Didn't Say A Word - Patti Austin (1971): for an obscure b-side, this is awesome. I guess awesome obscure b-sides are what Northern Soul was all about. With a chord progression lifted straight from the James Bond theme, this sounds like a Supremes tune to me.
- This Time Around - S.O.U.L. (1973): sort of a smooth cross between Al Green and Marvin Gaye. I was unfamiliar with this Cleveland-based group. According to the interwebs, S.O.U.L. stands for Sounds Of Unity and Love
- Lead Me On - Gwen McRae (1970): this bluesy minor key song isn't doing much for me.
- I'm Hopelessly In Love With You - The Modulations (1975): If I had been married in 1975, this would have been the song played for the newlywed dance. Good stuff.
- Get Out Of My Life - Sharon McMahan (1973): how have I never heard of Sharon McMahan until now?!? Wow, what a voice! Another one of the disc's top tracks.
- You Made A Believer Out Of Me - Betty Lavette (1975): the rare disco tune that actually needs more hi-hat.
- Ripe For The Pickin' - The Trumains (1977): I like the groove of this one. Ignore the bizarre guitar solo and this is a good tune.
- Funny How We Changed Places - Debra Anderson (1974): Now we're back to full on disco and I love it. We had a lot more flute solos in disco tunes, didn't we?
- Lady In Red - Ronnie Dyson (1975): I'm digging this one, too. Reminds me of Carl Carlton's version of Everlasting Love. I like the way the female background vocals play off Dyson's pleading lead and the atypical syncopated disco drum part.
- Can We Share It - Rick Shephard (1975): a run-of-the-mill disco track. Nothing horrible, nothing outstanding.
- Home Is Where The Heart Is - Bobby Womack (1976): All the goodness you'd expect from mid-70s Womack. Spoken word intro, breakdown section, and funky clavinet part. Perfect way to wrap up this joint.