sun 25/08/2019

Reissue CDs Weekly: Jon Savage's 1965–1968, Modern & Kent Northern Soul | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Jon Savage's 1965–1968, Modern & Kent Northern Soul

Reissue CDs Weekly: Jon Savage's 1965–1968, Modern & Kent Northern Soul

Comps showing how it should be done

The high Sixties in action on the sleeve of ‘Jon Savage's 1965–1968 – The High Sixties on 45’: rioting on L.A.’s Sunset Strip in 1966

Last month, this column pondered a vinyl-only R.E.M. reissue. Despite the mystifyingly high sales price of original pressings, reissuing a best-of mostly collecting easily available tracks seemed a tad unnecessary. Moreover, it lacked imagination. If vinyl is an ascendant format, why not do something interesting or say something new? The questions again become apposite with the arrival of two imaginative new vinyl comps which set the (relatively) recognisable in unfamiliar contexts and promote fresh appreciation of what might be repeatedly trodden ground.

Jon Savage's 19651968 The High Sixties on 45 is a double-album spin-off from four double-CD sets dedicated to the years 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1968. In turn, these were inspired by Savage’s 2015 book 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded. Los Angeles Modern & Kent Northern Soul is an explicitly titled 14-track single album collecting dancefloor fillers from the catalogues of the two titular labels. Although the cuts were recorded between 1965 and 1970, some are archive finds first issued in the ensuing years – mostly on CD. Side Two’s opener, Jimmy Bee’s “Wanting You”, is a previously unheard version of a 1970 Kent single – a new mix made from the session’s multi-track tape which adds backing vocals deemed superfluous for the original 45.

Jon Savage's 1965-1968 - The High Sixties On 45Each release will appeal to a different audience. The High Sixties on 45 has the name of its compiler in the title to attract attention and, along with the book and related CD tie-ins, presumably has a reach wider than dyed-in-the-wool Sixties-heads. The fine liner notes and track-by-track annotation on the inner sleeves add heft. Modern & Kent Northern Soul must be aimed at soul fans looking to plug gaps in what they already have on vinyl and is likely to be the more limited draw of the pair. Both comps, though, are the acme of what they set out to be.

Rather than being a best-of of its CD counterparts The High Sixties on 45 – the title is nod to Greg Shaw’s significant Highs in the Mid Sixties series of albums – each side of the double album captures the flavour of its dedicated year, tracking new developments in pop's frantic evolution: the surge resulting in the creative split between the single and the album.

From opening with The Poets’ wired “That's The Way It's Got To Be” to ending with MC5’s brutal, rare and rough preview single version of "Kick Out the Jams”, this reading of four pivotal years centres on, as Savage puts it, “the 45rpm…the funnel through which so much had to flow. Whole worlds had to be compressed into those two to three minutes – a perfect discipline for musicians and producers.” As a distillation of the period directly defining much of what happened in popular music – whether through inspiration or reaction through rebuff – for the next 20, 30 years, The High Sixties on 45 is defined as cyclonic by its 25 tracks: each of which, on its own, is emblematic.

Los Angeles Modern & Kent Northern SoulModern & Kent Northern Soul is more straightforward but still has an agenda as it’s about taking what were obscurities or recent discoveries and relating them to and collectively shaping for a scene defined by the constant search for unfamiliar tracks fitting the ever-changing and various northern soul templates. In this spirit, Arthur Wright’s instrumental of Mary Love’s “Lay This Burden Down” and a previously CD-only early version of Wally Cox’s “This Man Wants You" pull off the twin-track trick of preaching to the converted and engaging obscurists.

However, as with The High Sixties on 45, it’s about the overall experience. Modern & Kent Northern Soul creatively looks at the catalogues of two related labels to generate an experience analogous to bringing a tuned-in DJ into the room. A great and consistent listen; evocative of a packed club too.

Both comps revel in knowing their onions and do so without being high-handed, which is what the best reissues ought to do. Seek them out. It won’t get better.

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