Soul II Soul are a British (London) band who shot to fame with their debut album Club Classics Vol.1 in 1989 and created a sound and a movement which would be pivotal to British Black music.
What this album did was capture a moment in time and at nearly 30 years on it will still continue to transport you back to a time in the late 80’s / early 90’s when music was changing.
The production stands up against anything from the modern era and being a Brit and a Londoner there is something about Soul II Soul and this album in particular that makes me a little bit proud. This is a London album, this is a British album and everything is on display with these mesmerising 10 songs.
Kicking off the set is the absolutely stunning “Keep On Movin'”. One of the big hits from this album and one of the most famous Soul II Soul songs the vocals are provided by Caron Wheeler.
It is these vocals mixed with the electronic drum production from Soul II Soul writer, producer and leader Jazzie B sees the song take almost a Dance music turn but I feel it is a song that you can listen to in different ways because whilst this is classed a as ‘dance song’ I have this more of a chilled out retrospective atmospheric track.
Quite frankly, no matter how many times I hear this song I will never turn it off. It always sounds good whether it is in the height of summer, or the cold nights in winter. It is one of the best songs of all time in my humble opinion and I have no problem saying it.
The 2nd track “Fairplay” is another favourite of mine. Perhaps it doesn’t stand the test of time as well as the opener but this is just one of those great tunes that prove that the Brits can do funky just as well as their American counterparts. The bassline groove and the vocal performances from Rose Windross merge perfectly.
I always thought this song (which was actually the lead single) was bogged down by the two big hits “Keep On Movin” and “Back to Life (However do you want me)” and on anyone else debut album it would have been the surefire hit that it deserved to be.
The dance scene is more touched on with “Holdin’ On”. This has Jazzie B singing/speaking on this African influenced track. It also has a slight disco feel with the sound of Chic prevalent in portions of the track.
Again this is a wonderfully constructed track with the instrumentation kept simple but effective. This is almost a sermon with Jazzie B gaining more confidence as the song progresses into the second verse.
The Hip Hop genre is firmly touched on with “Feeling Free'”. This song just flows brilliantly and again I cannot stress how brilliantly this sounds even now. There isn’t anything about this song that doesn’t feel fresh and you could drop this in the middle of a funk/R&B or Hip Hop set and it would go fit. Jazzie B sounds slick, confident and this song knows exactly what it is meant to do.
“African Dance” is a fusion of all the Soul II Soul sounds. That African sense of rhythm, the drum machine Hip Hop style and the inclusion of Jazz elements flow through the song is a rhythmic concoction bathed in Soul.
This track moves into the next “Dance” which sees the same tune carry on just with Jazzie B coming in with his sermon like vocals. You can imagine him standing on a podium directing people. His off key singing and chanting is deliberate in delivering his message. It’s engaging and striking. It sounds like nothing I have heard.
“Feel Free” is a more downtempo groove but retains a real hard funky edge. Featuring the distinctive vocals of Do’reen this track has real personality. The instrumentation is almost like a band jamming with Do’reen strolling on stage and freestyling the whole thing because this track is just plain cool.
“Happiness” is just fucking brilliant. The New York house music vibe is mixed with that Soul II Soul classic British sound. This song merges all the black music genres into one with the vibe being so smoothly soulful, the melodic structure just hits a part of me that makes me want to close my eyes and just get lost in the atmosphere this beautiful song creates.
“Back To Life (However Do You Want Me) [Acapella]” is the 9th track. It’s not what you are expecting because we all know this song but this is just a stripped down Acapella journey. It’s great to hear the superb vocals from Caron Wheeler highlighted in such a way but when the beat kicks in near the end it just teases you for what will come in a few tracks time.
And when it does it is a piece of magic. If I said that “Keep On Movin'” was one of the greatest songs of all time then where the hell do I put “Back To Life”??.
This song IS Soul II Soul. This is the anthem, this is the moment of magic where every element from the vocals, to the musical arrangements and the structure of the song just come together in the most gorgeous way. This song is a treat for the ears and whilst I’ve heard it so many times in my life I never hear it and think “oh ill turn this off” because its a classic.
The acapella version goes straight into “Jazzies Groove” where the funk really turns up. Jazzie B gives you the lowdown on Soul II Soul and how they came about. Despite it being almost someone having a chat with you the massive beats and horn section on this track make it so damn brilliant. An exceptional song.
The future of Soul II Soul
A happy face
A pumpkin face for a loving race
“Club Classics Vol.1” is a seminal moment for UK black music. What Jazzie B and his crew did was fuse all the different sounds together to make a collection of songs that continue to amaze me.
As you can tell, I love this album. Its just brilliant.