Northern Soul does not refer to a music genre per se. Rather, it is the phrase used to describe the late-1960s-though-1970s dance club and music scene in northern England. The kids at clubs like The Twisted Wheel and Wigan Casino would dance all night long (literally) to fast-paced 45s of Detroit and American soul.
Unlike most types of collectible vinyl records, the Northern Soul 45s that are generally worth the most today are not necessarily the ones by the best-known artists. Gloria Jones, Jackie Wilson, and the Imperials were all popular in the clubs, but when it comes to Northern Soul 45s, the more obscure the artist, song, and label, the better.
The reason for the focus on the lesser-known 45s is the scarcity of the discs that were played, and subsequently popularized, at these clubs. In some cases, each club had its own playlist, if you will, based on the prized 45s in its DJs collection. Today, serious collectors attempt to replicate not just the sound of the Northern Soul experience, but also the sound of particular clubs by searching for the 45s that were their signatures.
For example, according to former Wigan Casino DJ Kev Roberts, back in the day the most popular Northern Soul 45 at his club was an unreleased single by Frank Wilson called "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)." Wilson, who worked for Berry Gordy at Motown, had recorded the song in 1965. Of the 250 or so demos that were pressed, only two are known to have survived. Yet this arcane track was a monster on the Wigan dance floor. In May of 2009, one of the copies sold at auction in England for £25,742.
Other collectible Northern Soul vinyl 45s include "Because of My Heart" by the Butlers with Frankie Beverly (Rouser); "No One Else Can Take Your Place" by the Inspirations (Breakthrough); "Lady in Green" by the Magnetics (Bonnie); "Show Stopper" by the Cashmeres (Hem); "Let Me Make You Happy" by Billy Woods (Sussex); and "Can’t Get Over These Memories" by Jon & the Weirdest (Tie).
One of the many interesting aspects of Northern Soul was the belated popularization of songs that had languished for years in the States only to find new life in Great Britain. The most illustrative example of this phenomenon was "Hey Girl Don't Bother Me," which was recorded by The Tams in 1964 and reached number 41 on the U.S. charts. Seven years later, in 1971, that same song charted at number one in the U.K. for three weeks, thanks exclusively to its popularity with Northern Soul enthusiasts and club DJs.