Since the dawn of club culture modernists have looked for the very best black American music. Here are 24 tracks that would have filled dancefloors at any time in mod’s history.
For some the iconography of the original mod scene was a siren call. Starting from about 1978 – and inspired by the Jam’s first flush of success and the publicity around the soon-to-be-released film Quadrophenia – the first of what seems to be a continual series of mod revivals began to take place. It was a look back at the popular mod images of 1965 and 1966, when the very best of the early British mod groups broke through. Within a year, as the Jam broke through to the Top 10, there was an army of parka-wearing kids attending gigs by a slew of new bands. On the whole just too young for punk, rather than reviving something they were drawing upon influences from the past to champion a new set of groups.
Some, of course, were looking for more, wanting to go deeper. They were given the chance by a group soul collectors who wanted to revive the musical fun of the original mod clubs. These included my colleagues DJ Tony Rounce and co-compiler Ady Croasdell, who with Randy Cozens ran the influential 6Ts Rhythm ‘N’ Soul club nights with a music policy that comprised a mixture of soul, R&B and whatever else worked.
Randy in particular was evangelical about the new mods getting into the sounds the original mods had danced to. He wrote to the music papers and eventually Sounds asked him to compile a list of the Top 100 original mod records. The list was of 99 records – all original UK issues – plus one made-up title, set as a trap for anyone who claimed to have all 100.
The list seemed to have little effect at first. Fans of the Jam and Secret Affair didn’t rush to find a copy of ‘It’s Rough Out There’ by Jerry Jackson, but it was a pebble in a pond whose ripples made it highly influential. Around the country small groups of mods were paying attention and spreading the word. Eddie Piller was an East London Jam fan who wasn’t yet 16 when he saw Randy’s list: “For me it changed everything. I immediately began collecting and DJing with those records, and started my own club night.”
Eddie was typical of a small sub-set of the revivalists who began to look beyond the new bands and into the esotericism of the original mod scene. At first this sat happily alongside the new groups and a love of 60s mod bands. But as the revival faded and the bands became less exciting, the lovers of soul and R&B became more distinct. When Eddie re-ran Randy’s list in his fanzine, it reached an audience ready for its message.
As the scene became smaller, groups of sharply dressed mods appeared, with their own clubs playing almost exclusively soul and R&B-based music. Seeing this as an extension of what the original mods would have liked, at first there was a bias towards records that had seen a British release. This was not only the result of Randy’s list but also the pictures in Richard Barnes’ 1979 book Mods.
For me the ultimate club of this era was Sneakers, which was at its peak in 1984-5. The venue was full, with everyone in tailor made clothes. The music was fresh to the participants, as almost all were under the age of 21. The records I heard in those years will always be among my favourites. However, more important than individual records was the ethos, with jazz, R&B, ska, club soul, latin and some white pop all mixed together.
For those who weren’t there, it might seem as if the music was lacking in ambition. There were very few US-only releases among the big dancefloor hits, but this was in the days before the internet, and dealers with US records for sale were not so plentiful. But those who cared enough began to discover the delights of US-issued records from the 1960s, whilst others disappeared off to the jazz and rare groove clubs and started hoovering-up Blue Note LPs and Curtom 45s.
Few could resist some sort of connection with the mod scene and the records they were discovering would be fed back into it. Today, clubs such as Pow Wow and its DJs Mik Parry and Gav Arno take this to its logical extreme, playing everything from soul, 50s R&B, jazz and latin to proto-funk. It is almost certainly music the original mods would have danced to, if only they could have got hold of the records in an era when imports were almost impossible to find in the UK.
“Modernism” is our take on the records mods would have, could have and sometimes actually did dance to. With our cover picture of a group of mods from the mid-80s, it may seem we have taken a bias towards that period, but in fact we are trying to depict the timeless nature of the whole world of mod. These 24 slices of rhythm and soul would sound perfect in any mod club.