Following the demise of Sheffield’s legendary King Mojo club in late ’67, several would-be promoters attempted to fill the gap. One such hopeful was the Up in the Streets of Harlem, held in a small village hall near Chesterfield. Short-lived (locals were aghast at the prospect of a weekly club), the name showed the fascination of the supposed glamour and mystique of the big city. There’s plenty of that included on “In The Naked City”, with tales of urban heartaches and heartbreaks - but also triumphs, too.
The Bert Berns-penned Drifters title song is included here and although not the most famous of their “city” songs, it’s a perfect example of the hip uptown sound of the era that this CD covers. The compilation, by Mick Patrick and Tony Rounce, was partly inspired by the classic mid 60s Clyde McPhatter Mercury album, “Songs Of The Big City”, so it’s only fair that he gets a track himself and it’s his ‘Second Window, Second Floor’, from that great album.
One of the main attractions of these thematic Kent comps, is that the listener often gets to hear well-known songs, performed by artists that are not automatically associated with them. Here, for example, isn’t the aforementioned Drifters version of ‘On Broadway’, but instead there’s a swinging one by the Cookies (who recorded it first), Aretha’s ‘Spanish Harlem’ makes a rare CD appearance rather than Ben E King’s and a typically beautiful version of ‘Concrete Jungle’ by the great Arthur Alexander – a Joe South song more readily associated with the Tams. Let’s also not forget a superb version of ‘Up On The Roof’ (with bits of ‘Some Kinda Wonderful’ thrown in) by Latin artist Ralfi Pagan, no stranger to quality interpretations of soul songs.
As usual even the most seasoned collector gets to hear surprises. Entirely new to mefor example, were Audrey Freeman and Wayne Bartlett. I’d also never heard ‘I Found A Daisy (In The City’ by blue eyed Barry Darvell’s (whose ‘Geronimo Stomp’ has been on my wants list for years).
Although New York is the city that’s always associated with this type of soul, artists from other parts of America are included. Here are Chicago artists Walter Jackson, Dee Clark and Jan Bradley, plus Eric Williams from Los Angeles – all with similar tales of city existence. Then there’s the unique, jazzy sound of Collette Kelly’s ‘City Of Fools’, released on Memphis label Volt, her only record I understand and quite groundbreaking when first played in the UK’s Northern Soul clubs 20+ years ago. Another perennial Northern club play that fits this concept well is the Imaginations version of ‘Strange Neighbourhood’, also recorded by Gene McDaniels and Tommy Hunt, but it’s this Cincinnati group’s version here.
Cheap rent tenements, thin walled rooms, dead end jobs, bustle, crowded streets, noise, night life – they’re all here, with the most dramatic evocation coming from the incomparable Jackie Wilson, with his ‘No Pity In The Naked City’ – a fabulously arranged masterpiece of desperation, inspired by the cool 60s TV show of the same name.
Hopefully Vol 2 might be a possibility? There’s certainly enough tracks out there!
By John Marriott