Early Motown And Mod Culture

motown uk tourOne of the best and most interesting things about the development of mod culture is the fact that it drew from so many different interests and sources. There were plenty of different American musical genres to choose from but it was the music being created by the Motown record label that struck a chord with mods and this music was very quickly assimilated into mod culture.

There was a fresh and upbeat nature to this music, providing the perfect music for the dance floor and for mods to live their life by. This was a time to take control of life and this style of music fitted perfectly, even though it was being created by artists and musicians across the Atlantic and from a very different background.

Motown Records was the second record label started by Berry Gordy, in Detroit in 1959. The initial label Tamla Records had achieved chart success and acclaim but it was with the introduction of Motown Records that the world started to take notice of what was going on in Detroit.

The Miracles MotownSome of the initial Motown artists included Eddie Holland, Mable John and Mary Wells. The first major chart success that the label achieved was with ‘Shop Around’. This song was the first ever R&B number 1 for the Miracles and it even reached number two in the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In April 1960, Tamla and Motown merged to become the Motown Record Corporation, bringing the cream of both labels together. Before too long, the label became a massive player in the record industry with songwriters such as Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Norman Whitfield becoming as well known and as celebrated as many of the artists on the label.

Mod groups were heavily influenced by Motown acts

One of the biggest factors in the importance of Motown on mod culture was in the influence it had on so many of the major mod groups. Even if the casual mod in Britain was unaware of the records that were coming from Detroit, the music played by the top British mod groups was bringing the influence of Motown directly to them. The fact The Who and The Action both undertook a number of Motown covers was a great indicator of the importance of this sound.

There is also a great story about when Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane of the Small Faces first met each other in a record store. The two quickly bonded over a shared admiration of Motown music, which led to them forming a band. The rest was history as they say with the Small Faces going on to become one of the most important groups of the mod era.

The relationship worked both ways

One of the great things about the link between the early Motown sound and mod culture is that it was not just a one-way relationship. The influence that early Motown records had on popular mod culture is evident but when the original popularity of Motown started to fade, it was mod culture that remained supportive of the label and the acts that were signed to it. As many mods moved onto Northern Soul, the enthusiasm for the label remained. The early Motown records would become a staple part of the Northern Soul sound in the North of England, ensuring that there was always a market for record sales and live performances from groups of this era. Anyone not convinced by the link between mods and Northern soul fans only have to consider the shared love and admiration for early Motown records to see the connection.

Over the years the Motown label has acknowledged mod culture and the importance their label had on the era and the members of this youth culture. When the first mod revival kicked in during the late 1970s, Motown were swift to package a number of compilation albums aimed solely at celebrating their music that left a mark on mod culture. Anyone looking for a quick and easy introduction into the early Motown sound that left such an indelible mark on mod culture would be advised to check out these compilation albums.

When many people think of the Motown label, it is easy to focus on the superstars of the 1960s and 70s. This was one of the biggest and most loved record labels of all time but for many mods, it was that distinctive early Motown sound that was the best era for the label.

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Northern Soul And It’s Relation To The Mod Scene

northern soulWhen trying to define a youth culture or look for a starting point, it can be very difficult. This is down to the fact that there is often a fluid movement from one group to another. While some groups or cultural movements may start in opposition or as a reaction to something, providing a clearer distance between the issues that started the movement, in other cases it can be more difficult. The mod culture is a great example of this with many people citing the modernist jazz culture in London in the late 1950s and early 1960s as being the starting point of mod culture.

Clearly what is regarded as mod culture today is removed from that scene but the initial trends and themes of what would become mod culture can be linked to that era. The same can be said for the trends and cultures that grew from mod culture.

While the fashion and attitude element of mod culture was an overlying link for most members, there was quickly a divergence in the musical trends. The musical landscape in the mid to late 1960s was a very exciting one with many different paths being taken. With even the top mod groups of the time like The Small Faces and The Who taking different paths, it is no surprise to find that many mods went in different directions when the major wave of the mod movement faded away.

Youth culture movements flow from one to another

There are many different youth movements that can be traced back to mod culture and one of the most popular and enduring is the Northern Soul scene. Today, Northern Soul culture is viewed as being as vibrant and as individual as youth cultures like the mod scene or even the punk movement but looking at the emergence of this group, it is easy to see the line of development from the mod movement.

It would be fair to say that the main Northern Soul scene emerged in the late 1960s, most commonly associated with Northern England and that there was a distinct line taken from music that was popular with the mods. The quick tempo and strong bass of many of the Tamla Motown records of this time provided the impetus for Northern Soul dancers, cementing the link between the two groups.

One of the strongest links between mod culture and Northern culture lies in the Twisted Wheel venue in Manchester. Although first used as a beatnik populated coffee bar called the Left Wing, the venue was reinvented as a music venue called The Twisted Wheel in 1963. With all night parties playing American R&B, the venue became known as the place to be for mods in Manchester.

Amphetamine use was common in both groups

As the musical policy changed, the drug use remained the same and again, the link of amphetamine use between mods and Northern Soul culture was apparent too. The known use of substance abuse in the club would eventually saw the club closed down in 1971, but the link between mod culture and Northern Soul was already cemented by this point.

northern soul logoAs the movement gathered speed and popularity, there was a shift away from the popular Motown sound, differentiating from the music that was loved by mods and from a similar scene that was taking place in the south of England. The Northern Soul scene placed a greater emphasis on music that was outside of the mainstream and which originated in the mid-1960s. Even as the Northern Soul clubs in the late 60s and early 70s became more popular, the playlists of the clubs were firmly rooted in this era. This led to many formerly underground hits becoming standard songs of this movement and there was an increasing need to uncover additional underground hits from this period.

This eventually led to a split in the Northern Soul movement with some clubs and many followers deciding to allow more contemporary songs with the same spirit and feels to be included in Northern Soul sets. This was opposed by some that were of the opinion that true Northern Soul music only came from the earlier era. In many ways, this can be compared to the way that many mods feel about the mod revival movements. There are many that appreciate the fact that the scene remains alive and the range of music on offer can be added to, whereas there are some who are only interested in the first offerings of the genre.

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