When Soul II Soul released their debut album Club Classics Volume 1, in April 1989, the album was like a breath of fresh air. Suddenly, someone had released an album that was totally different from anything else that was around at that time. Not only was the album different from other music around in 1989, it was fresh, featured great music, music that you could dance to. Throughout, that summer, Soul II Soul was the soundtrack to the spring and summer. When you walked along the city streets, you could hear their music being played in shops, hear it in passing cars and in all of the pubs and clubs. It was joyful, happy music, that had a feel-good factor. Even now, if you listen to this album, it still sounds fresh and innovative. Not bad for an album that is now twenty-two years old.

Soul II Soul were founded in the late 1980s in London. When people first heard of Soul II Soul, they were a sound system, who played at street and house parties. The group were founded by Jazzie B, and throughout their career, the line up constantly evolved. Many different singers and musicians were part of the group’s line-up. This included Caron Wheeler, Simon Law and Nellee Hooper.

The group were constantly experimenting with music, and as a result of one of their musical experiments that they secured their first recording contract with Virgin Records. They made their own dub plate version of their song Fairplay. When Virgin Records heard the track, they offered Soul II Soul a contract. 

Their first singles Fairplay and Feel Free, both released in 1988, reached number sixty-three and sixty-four respectively. However, 1989 saw a change in fortune for Soul II Soul. The release of Club Classics Volume 1, saw Soul II Soul have two hit singles, Keep On Moving and Back To Life (However Do You Want Me), which reached numbers five and one respectively. Caron Wheeler sung the lead vocal on both tracks. For many people, she was the sound of Soul II Soul, her vocal instantly recognizable. Club Classics Volume 1 went on to reach number one in the UK and number fourteen in the US. The album went platinum in both the UK and US. In the US the album won two Grammy Awards for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals for Back To Life and Best R&B Instrumental for the track African Dance.

The follow-up album to Club Classics Volume 1 was Volume II: 1990-A New Decade. It reached number one in the UK album charts and number twenty-one in the US. This album spawned two top ten hits, Get A Life and A Dream’s A Dream. They reached number three and six respectively in the UK. Like Club Classics Volume 1, Volume II: 1990-A New Decade, went platinum. The album also won two Soul Train awards.

Soul II Soul had only one more top ten single in the UK. This was Joy from their third album, Volume III: Just Right which reached number three in the UK album charts. The album did not sell well in the US, only reaching number eighty-eight in the US. This was the last Soul II Soul album that charted in the US. In 1993 they released their greatest hist album, Volume IV: The Classic Singles 88-93, which reached number ten in the UK album charts. This was the last album they released for Virgin Records. They then moved to Island Records. Soul II Soul only released two further studio albums, Volume V-Believe, in 1994, which reached number thirteen in the UK album charts. Their final studio album, Time For Change, in 1997, failed to chart. The group split up in 1997, but got back together, to perform some live performances in the 2000s.

Having told you the history of Soul II Soul, I will now tell you why Club Classics Volume 1 is such a good album. The album starts with quite easily, one of Soul II Soul’s most recognizable tracks, Keep On Moving. It is six minutes of glorious and joyous music. Caron Wheeler has the perfect voice for the track. Her voice dominates the track, sitting proudly atop the rest of track’s rhythms. Keep On Moving has a lovely, feel-good factor. This track, twenty-two years on, still sounds good. It has a freshness, play it in any club, and it will still fill a dance-floor. A great start to the album.

Fairplay starts with another great vocal, this time sung by Rose Windross. Jazzie B has arranged the track in a way that the drums are really prominent in the mix, and Windross’ vocal is almost competing against the drum beats. This is effective though. Windross has a great voice, and has to use her full range to sing the song. It is a really good up-tempo track, one which I always enjoy hearing.

Holdin’ On Bambelela sees Jazzie B take over vocal duties. His vocal is half spoken at the start, and then he sings the rest of the track. Although not blessed with the great voice, his voice suits the song. It a song with a message, and his style of vocal gets the message across. He is accompanied by some wonderful backing singers and a really strong arrangement. The track also features some Zulu vocals by Shikisha, which bring a different and interesting dimension to the track. This is another good track, from a great album.

On Feelin’ Free Live Rap, Jazzie B performs a rap vocal, accompanied by Dolby and turntables. This is an example of hip hop when the music was all about delivering a positive message. However, since the days of tracks like this, and the early years of Def Jam, and other labels, hip hop has been hijacked by styles such as gangsta rap. This in my opinion, has nothing to do with what hip hop is really about. I like Feelin’ Free Live Rap, I ike the vocals, Dolby’s scratching and the rhythms that sit behind the track.

When one listens to African Dance it is apparent why it won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental. It is a really strong track, and features a flute solo by Kushite. It reminds me of Yusef Lateef and Herbie Mann. The flute solo is the highlight of the track. The drum beats, percussion, keyboards and piano all play a supporting roll, as the flute solo takes centre-stage, and very much steals the show. African Dance is one of the best instrumentals you will hear. 

On the track Dance once again, Kushite plays flute on the track. Jazzie B sings the vocal and gives a good vocal performance. He has chosen the correct tracks to sing the vocals on. This track suits his style of vocal delivery. The lyrics are powerful, and tell a story. On this track the drum beats and are clear and crisp, sitting towards the front of the mix. The flute is used sparingly, and the keyboards and percussion blend together well to produce another good track.

Next on the album is Feel Free. The track features Do’reen singing the lead vocal, with Carol Wheeler producing some fantastic backing vocals. Both Do’reen and Carol Wheeler have great voices and combine together well. Do’reen’s voice is strong and clear. Wheeler’s voice compliments Do’reen’s well. Feel Free also benefits from having a lovely, lush string arrangement by the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra. Throughout the track, the sound is full and loud, and benefits from a fantastic arrangement by Jazzie B. It is a great track, one that I never tire of hearing.

Do’reen performs the lead vocals on the next track Happiness Dub. Happiness Dub has a really impressive, repetitive start and some Latinesque drum beats on the track. Here the keyboards and drums feature heavily. The rhythm is glorious, all the better, for the constant repetitiveness, which highlights its quality. On the track, Do’reen’s vocal is used to good effect, it weaves in and out of the track, filling the spaces left by the rhythms. Delay is used on her vocal, but only sparingly, to highlight a word of phrase. Sometimes, effects can be overused, but not here. This track keeps up the albums quality, and is another different style to be found on the album.

Back To Life (Accapella) features Caron Wheeler on vocals. She produces what can only be called a masterful performance, singing unaccompanied for the best part of two minutes and forty-five seconds. On Back To Life (Accapella) she uses her vocal range, and uses it ever so well. When the rest of the arrangement enters the mix, it is a glorious sound. The track exudes happiness and good times, makes you feel good, and makes you want to dance. This is, quite simply, a fantastic track, and that is thanks to Caron Wheeler.

The final track on Club Classics Volume 1, is Jazzie’s Groove. Here Jazzie B half sings the vocal over a great rhythm track. It features crunching drumbeats, a brass section and Jazzie B talking about the origins of Soul II Soul. It is effective as track. There is a lot going on, sounds, instruments and rhythms droop into the mix quickly, and just as quickly as they have appeared, they disappear. Although maybe not the best track on the album, it still deserves it place on the album.

Having spent some time researching and writing this article, for a short time I have been transported back to 1989. To a time when Soul II Soul and Club Classics Volume 1 was the nations soundtrack. As I Said in my introduction, their music was everywhere. However, it deserved to be, as the album features some some glorious music, music that I believe is timeless. This album has stood the test of time well. Unlike many albums from that time, it neither sounds dated, nor is it irrelevant when compared to modern music. It is hard to believe this album is twenty-two years old. I have thoroughly enjoyed my trip back to 1989, I just wish that everything that I remembered everything that happened in 1989 so fondly.

If you have never heard this album, I suggest you quickly seek it out. It is the highlight of Soul II Soul’s career, and is also a snapshot of what music was like back in 1989. What saddens me is that Soul II Soul never had a longer and more successful career. It seems to me that having promised so much with this their debut album, Club Classics Volume 1, they should have gone on to produce many more great albums, and evolved with the changes in music. That did not happen, by 1997 they had split up, and never were to produce another album. For me, this is a shame, as they could have gone on to provide the soundtrack for a generation. Thankfully, they produced this great album and we should thank Soul II Soul for giving us Club Classics Volume 1. Standout Tracks: Keep On Moving, Fairplay, Feel Free and Back To Life (Accapella).


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