New Breed R&B With Added Popcorn – Various Artists CD (Kent)
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The third of Kent’s ventures into the world of R&B dance music goes one step further into the world of musical categories by including tracks suited to the Belgian Popcorn scene. This genre of music grew up in the early 70s when like the UK’s Northern Soul scene, the hip teenagers of their day preferred the original dance music of the 60s to the records that were coming out of the US and UK at that time.
The big difference was that their favourite records weren’t “on the fours” beat, sub-Motown sounds, but had a more mid-tempo, dance rhythm that they could slow jive to; as in Nappy Brown’s 1961 Savoy recording ‘Coal Miner’ on this CD. Though that record would not have been issued in Belgium, or indeed anywhere else in Europe, these intrepid record hunters scoured mail order lists and took trips to the US to find such gems, which in turn gave the DJs with the new discoveries kudos and the admiration of their small band of fanatical followers. Davenport and Cooley’s song ‘Fever’ is often taken as the blueprint for the successful Popcorn sound and at least three (coincidentally all previously unissued) such influenced songs are present from Boyce Cunningham, Harold Atkins and the recently christened Mr A N Other. These are all black or at least black sounding vocals from R&B stables Frisco, Downey and Old Town, and as this is their debut, they will cause much interest around central Western Europe where the Popcorn world still turns.
In the mid 80s when Northern Soul’s accepted beats became more varied, many sounds originally played on the Popcorn scene like Sam Fletcher’s ‘I’d Think It Over’ were then spun on the Northern scene too. That co-operation and cross pollination between collectors and scenes has continued so much, that erstwhile Northern fans have been converted into full-on Popcorn believers. The more dated of these sounds, to Northern Soul ears, have been programmed into the New Breed R&B club scene, which often earns itself a separate room at Northern venues, but the biggest records often cross over onto the main Northern dance floors.
This CD is still aimed primarily at that late 50s / early 60s R&B crowd and has avoided the poppier excesses of the Popcorn scene which has featured records by Petula Clark, The Ames Brothers and Tommy Dorsey’s Orchestra at its nadir. The opening track will make all lovers of black music from the golden age happy, if not delirious. For some five or more years I have been spinning Luther Ingram’s unissued master tape version of Fred Bridges and Harrison Smith’s ‘Oh Baby Don’t You Weep’ at Northern Soul and R&B clubs all over Europe. Virtually from the very first spin it has been a success and has gone on to acquire “massive” status. Many people will buy this CD for the compelling vocals and insistent rhythm of this opening track alone; some may not even care what the other 23 tracks are.
New Breed R&B is a relatively recent era and style to have collectors and connoisseurs shine the spotlight on it, so the chances of finding obscure releases, unissued master tapes and acetates of this style of music is still high. Paul Clifton’s ‘She Wobbles When She Walks’ on the tiny Teen Post label is a very high quality R&B recording that combines a tough R&B approach to a catchy pop song. This now popular formula is also followed on here by Gene Burks, Billy Bland and Lena Calhoun among others.
The grittier end of the soul spectrum is provided by Goldwax’s Barbara Perry whose ‘A Man Is A Mean Thing’ has to be heard to be believed. It features a tempo acceleration midway through the recording that Jeremy Clarkson would be stunned by. Barbara Brown, Albert Washington and the Charmaines also give us tough, uptempo soul productions which are ideal for the dancefloor, while the myth of Mr Dynamite’s James Brown inspired opus ‘Sh’mon’ is finally nailed.
More previously unreleased material comes from Gladys Tyler whose ‘Someone Else Has Taken My Place’ has been played from acetate by top, pioneering, R&B DJ Roger Banks for nearly ten years now. Another Gladys, this time Ms Bruce, comes up with a newly discovered R&B track with the moody ‘I’ve Got a Feeling For You Baby’ which will please fans who love to dance to something new.
60s R&B tracks include Banny Price’s in-demand ‘You Love Me Pretty Baby’ which now fetches up to £250 a copy, while Marry/Merry Clayton’s very rare first 45 ‘I’ve Got My Eyes On You’ has a price tag in excess of that. It was the musical quality, popularity and scarcity of these discs that elevated them to such a high priced status. Other straight blues records come from BB King with the interestingly titled ‘Beautician Blues’ and the unissued King James ‘Whatcha Gonna Do’ a hip variation on ‘What’d I Say’. Eugene Church, Vernon Green and Terry & Jerry’s contributions are mainstream late 50s R&B which suit today’s club goers to a Tee. That must make the original blues aficionados smile, though this compilation shows they should not rest on their laurels; the New Breed is already here. By Ady Croasdell -Ace Records