High School Yearbook Photo

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Friday, August 27, 2010

On the Record: Gentle but Bold, "Agent Double-O-Soul"

45 years ago today, this was rockin' you!

The month: August. The year: 1965. Agent 007 was a hit
at the box office. The Man (and GIRL) From U.N.C.L.E. and
I Spy were big on the boob tube. Spy mania gripped America. Records like “I Spy for the FBI,” “Secret Agent Man,” and “Agent Double-O Soul” captured the imagination of teenaged boys like me. My friends and I derived a vicarious thrill from listening to those songs and imagining ourselves immersed in the wonderful world of espionage... swingin' on the Riviera
one day and then layin' in the Bombay alley next day.
Sounds like a plan!

I suppose that’s why I found the Shady Dell so appealing.
It satisfied my craving for excitement, adventure and danger. At the Dell you could be dancing with the queen of the hop one minute and locking horns with one of the tribe's dominant males the next. However the threat of occasionally getting my nose bloodied did not act as a deterrent. As far as I was concerned the benefits of being a Dell rat far outweighed the risks.

My initiation period as a Dell rat apprentice in the fall of 1965 was tantamount to fraternity hell week. In order to earn my stripes, win respect, and fit in with the gang, I first had to endure some hazing. The only difference between hell week and Dell week was that I didn’t get to wear a pledge pin on my uniform!

“Agent Double-O Soul” by Edwin Starr emerged along with its instrumental flip side during August of '65, the same month that yielded another all-time Dell blockbuster, “Big City Lights.”

Like that killer bee by Sam the Sham, “Agent Double-O-Soul” was already positioned as a jukebox giant by the time I first made the Dell scene.

Both the vocal side and the instrumental B side remained Dell favorites through the early months of 1966.

As a result, "Agent Double-O-Soul" ranks in the top 25 on my list of the 200 Greatest Hits of the Shady Dell.

Edwin Starr’s string of excellent releases for Detroit’s Ric-Tic label continued with “Back Street,” a song that was popular in the weeks leading up to Christmas 1965. A soul classic, “Back Street” is nevertheless another example of Shady’s Law. It halted at #95 on the Billboard chart!

“Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.)” followed in February and March of 1966.

“S.O.S.” broke into the top 50 nationally and ranks as #158 on my list of the Dell's Top 200.

“Headline News” charted in May of 1966 but was another poor performer for Edwin Starr, peaking at #84 on Billboard.

Here in the U.S., Edwin Starr failed to achieve the level of success that he deserved. It was a different story across the pond where Starr was idolized by soul fans in the UK.

Starr was arguably the biggest name on the Northern Soul circuit. In case you're not sure, let me explain what is meant by the term Northern Soul.

Northern Soul does not refer to soul music recorded in
the northern music capitals of the USA (Detroit, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia), even though most of it was. The term was invented by British music historian and author
Dave Godin to describe an underground club scene in the northern part of England north of London that caught fire at the start of the 1970's. Club patrons danced till dawn to rare American soul and R&B records spun by renaissance deejays. Fundamental to Northern Soul was the process of discovering and popularizing obscure songs by little known artists. American soul performers who never made the charts stateside were worshiped in England.

Figure B-XL: killer bees...not to be taken lightly!
Another important aspect of northern soul was the killer bee phenomenon. Seldom heard B sides of 45's became crowd favorites in those UK clubs and were played more heavily than the American endorsed A sides. It is exciting to remember that the same thing had already been happening at the Shady Dell for many years!

The Northern Soul all-nighter is regarded as the forerunner of the modern rave culture. Far from being a passing fad, the Northern Soul movement has continued to grow and is now more popular than ever. Northern soul deejays, remix artists and fans are sworn to keep the faith, a slogan Godin adopted from the American black civil rights movement.

Just as it was with Tommy Hunt and many other deserving black artists who languished while white artists and white sounding black arsits thrived, Edwin Starr had to go abroad to get his props.

Thanks to millions of Northern Soul enthusiasts around the globe, Edwin's music and his memory live on.

Have a Shady day!

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