Ever since the birth of rock ’n’ roll, youth cults have come and gone. Some have been nothing more than passing fads. Others have lasted longer. None of the youth cults of the past sixty years have enjoyed the same longevity as the modernists.
Their longevity is unrivalled, and is celebrated on Modernism, a new compilation from Kent Dance, an imprint of Ace Records. It’s the much-anticipated followup to Modernists-A Decade Of Rhythm and Soul, which was released back in March 2015. Fifteen months later, and Modernism features another twenty-four tracks that provided the soundtrack to life as a modernist. Their story began in nearly sixty years ago.
The modernists came to prominence in the late fifties. Their name came about because of their love of modern jazz. However, by the early sixties, the modernists had become mods.
Musically, mods had eclectic taste. Mods embraced American R&B and soul music. Especially labels like Stax and Tamla Motown. They also listened to ska and reggae. However, mods didn’t turn their back on British music. The mods enjoyed pop and rock music. Groups like The Rolling Stones, The Who, Small Faces and The Kinks were perceived as “mod” groups. However, music was only part of the mod movement.
Image was everything for mods. They carefully tried to cultivate an air of coolness. The suits they wore were often tailor made. Sometimes, their suits were made out of cashmere, with narrow lapels. They also sported button-down collar shirts, thin ties and wool or cashmere jumpers All this was de rigueur a mod around town. So were fishtail parkas, desert boots, Chelsea boots and bowling shoes. A few mods even took to wearing makeup. In sixties Britain, this didn’t go unnoticed. However, mods were unlike no other youth subculture. Mods even had their own mode of transport.
Lambretta or Vespa scooters were the mods’ choice of transport. They drove them around town, where they visited dance-halls, coffee bars, and cinemas. At cinemas, mods took to watching French and Italian films. This was all part of a sense of continental coolness they were attempting to cultivate. After all, image was everything to the mod. So was music.
Every time there’s been a mod revival in the last fifty years, at the heart of the revival has been music. Whether it was in the late-seventies or mid-nineties, music and fashion was at the heart of these mod revivals. The music being made during the mod revivals during the late-seventies and mid-nineties, was inspired by the music of the sixties. For mods of all vintage, this was a golden era for music. However, the music on Modernism is a return to the early years of the mod.
The majority of music that features on Modernism, was released between 1958 and 1967. That’s apart from two tracks that weren’t released until the nineties, and two unreleased tracks Modernism. It features twenty-four tracks, including contributions from Teddy Reynolds, Joe Mayfield, Eddie Bo, King Carl, Chuck Jackson, Bob and Earl, The Shirelles, Lou Johnson, Leroy Harris, Sammy Jones, Jackie Lee and Darrow Fletcher. That’s just a tantalising taste of the musical delights that awaits the listener to Modernism. So dust off your mohair suit, dawn your fishtail parka and climb a aboard your Vesta, as I pick the highlights of the musical adventure that’s Modernism.
Opening Modernism, is a previously unreleased version of Teddy Reynolds’ Ain’t That Soul. The song was written by Teddy Reynolds, and released ias a single by Speciality Records in. By then Teddy Reynolds’ career had spanned two decades. It began in 1950, and for the next twenty years he continues to release singles. This included Ain’t That Soul in 1969. However, the version on Modernism was recorded at an earlier date. Despite that, it’s funky, soulful and guaranteed to get the mods on the dance-floor.
The name Bernard Jolivette probably won’t mean much to most mods. That’s unless they’re the type to pore over the credits on singles. If they are, they’ll know that Bernard Jolivette was a successful songwriter,who lived in Louisiana. He wrote a number of hits, and influenced the chord structure of the swamp pop ballad. Away from writing songs, Bernard Jolivette released a string of single as King Carl. Unfortunately, commercial success eluded these singles. This includes Blues For Men, which was released as a single on the La Lousinianne label in 1965. Tucked away on the B-Side was one of Bernard Jolivette’s compositions, Everybody’s Feelin’ Good. It’s an irresistible dance track that even today, would have mods heading for the dance-floor.
In 1964, Chuck Jackson was signed to Wand, when he released Beg Me. It was penned by Rudy Clark; arranged by Stan Green and is produced by Luther Dixon for Ludix Production. It’s a typical New York production, and showcases a talented singer, Chuck Jackson. He delivers a needy, pleading vocal, which is answered by female backing vocalists. It’s potent combination, and when Beg Me was released, the single reached number forty-five in the US Billboard 100 and number five in the US R&B charts. It was no surprise when Pye decided to released Beg Me in the UK. Quickly, it became a favourite in mod clubes, and even today, that’s still the case.
During his career, Chet Ivel released around twenty singles. This includes Chet “Poison” Ivey and His Fabulous Avengers’ 1968 single The Poo Poo Man. It was released on the Bee and Cee label, but failed to find an audience. How different things might have been if the B-Side Soul Is My Game had been released as a single. This Chet Ivey composition is stomping slice of dance-floor friendly boogaloo.
Back in the sixties, The Shirelles were trailblazers. They were one of the earliest girl groups to enjoy commercial success. Soon, others followed in their footsteps. However, when The Shirelles were signed to Scepter in the sixties, some of the music the recorded was never released. This was no reflection on the quality. So in 1987, Ace Records released Crossroads In Your Heart. It was written by Luther Dixon and George Kerr. Although there’s a rawness to this stomper, it’s a reminder of another era, when girl groups ruled the roost.
Joan Moody’s The Life Of The Party is another B-Side. It was penned Freddie Dobbs and Scott Douglas; while it was produced by Lee Porter Ronald Miller. The Life Of The Party was the flip-side to We Must Be Doing Something Right, which was released in Sylvia Records on 1965. When copies of We Must Be Doing Something Right made their way across the Atlantic, they eventually became a favourite on the UK Norther Soul scene. However, when curious record buyers flipped over to The Life Of The Party they discovered another side that would go down well on the mod or Northern Soul scene. Wistful and tinged with irony, it’s a hidden gem that might even be The Life Of The Party.
When Lou Johnson released his The Magic Potion Of EP on London Records in 1964, little did he realise that two decades later, it would be a much prized item amongst eighties mods. The EP featured four very danceable songs. They had been favourites of the first generation of mods. One of their favourites was Bacharach and David’s Magic Potion. It was one of the legendary songwriting partnership’s finest songs. Lou Johnson delivers a heartfelt and soulful version of Magic Potion, which fifty-two years later, sounds just as good.
Leroy Harris only ever released the one single, Crow Baby Crow. It was released on the Swan label in 1966. Hidden away on the B-Side was I’m Gonna Get You. It was written by Leroy Harris and Ellis Taylor, who produced the two sides. They feature Leroy Harris and his band The Teardrop Review. They’re the perfect foil for Leroy Harris’ vocal, and create a jaunty, dance-floor friendly arrangement that sounds as if it’s been inspired by an o James Brown track. The result is a real hidden gem. Alas, this was Leroy Harris’ only single. He returned to Kansas, where he was a regular fixture on the club circuit.
Fifty years ago, in 1966, Joe Johnson set off to J.D. Miller’s Crowley studio in Louisiana. That was where he was due recorded several tracks, included We Gonna Rub Part 1. Whie most of the tracks were released, one lay in J.D. Miller’s vaults, We Gonna Rub Part 1. It never saw the light of day until Ace Records unearthed this bluesy slice of soul for one of their compilations. We Gonna Rub Part 1 makes a welcome return on Modernism, and is a reminder of a truly talented artist.
Sammy Jones released Cinderella Jones as his sophomore single. It’s a William Miler composition that was released on Wand. Accompanied by some of the Big Apple’s finest session players, Sammy Jones unleashes a vocal that veers between impassioned and needy, before becoming a sassy vamp. By then, Sammy Jones seems to be paying homage to Otis Redding. There’s similarities in their delivery, during what’s another long-lost soulful gem.
Back in 1966,Darrow Fletcher was signed to the Groovy label, where he released a couple of singles. This included Gotta Draw The Line. On the flip-side was the Maurice Simpkin penned I’ve Gotta Know Why. It was a favourite amongst the mod scene, who had taken Darrow Fletcher to their heart. No wonder, given this delicious slice of soulful music.
My final choice from Modernism is Listen To Me (Baby), from Ralph Ventsha and Red Julian Combo. It was penned by Ralph Black, and released as a single in 1958 on the Vistone label. With its slow, bluesy, late night sound, it would be the perfect way for mods to end the evening. It’s certainly the perfect way to close Modernism.
Modernism, the eagerly awaited followup to Modernists-A Decade Of Rhythm and Soul, is a welcome addition to what looks becoming a regular series. Just like its predecessor, Modernism documents and celebrates a youth cult that’s enjoyed unrivalled longevity, the mods.
Across Britain, between 1958 and 1967, mods spent nights listening to, and dancing to the music on Modernism. Artists like Teddy Reynolds, Joe Mayfield, Eddie Bo, King Carl, Chuck Jackson, Bob and Earl, The Shirelles, Lou Johnson, Leroy Harris, Sammy Jones, Jackie Lee and Darrow Fletcher were all favourites of the mods. Their tastes were discerning and eclectic, ranging from American R&B, blues and soul music. They also listened to ska and reggae, plus some of the music being released in Britain during the sixties. Mostly, the mods looked across the Atlantic for musical inspiration.
The trawled record shops, ordering imports and even, ordered direct from American labels. There was a great deal of one-upmanship, with collectors and DJs competing to get a copy of a record first. That can’t have been easy in the late-fifties and sixties. So collecting the twenty-four tracks on Modernism would’ve expensive and time consuming. Record collectors needed patience as they awaited the elusive singles. Weeks and sometimes, months would pass by before the single wound its way across the Atlantic. Nowadays, it’s changed days.
Now it’s possible to buy a compilation like Modernism which features some of the best music from the early days of the mods. Modernism was compiled by Dean Rudland for Kent Dance, an imprint of Ace Records. It’s a fitting reminder of the music the mods danced to in the late-fifties and sixties. This was a dawn of new era, when a new youth culture was blossoming.
Over fifty years later, and there’s been several mod revivals. However, the mods have never really gone away. Across Britain, mods of every vintage continue to celebrate the music of their youth. Modernism will bring back memories when they used to dust off their mohair suit, dawn their fishtail parka and climb aboard a Vesta and head to places like Blackpool, Brighton or Skegness.