Spin Doctor

Book Review


One-time Echoes contributor [and soul fan since about the end of the sixties] John Lias has been promising himself to write a book like this for more than a couple of decades. Now retired, he has finally found the time.
In short, it’s a first volume of the author’s own considered view of soul music released on album vinyl format. It comes with rules too, so as to make it a viable thing in the first place. It’s about albums only, not 45s. As far as time period is concerned, he’s decided not to include anything from artists who didn’t begin recording by the end of 1982, the following year being the one in which CDs became commercially and widely available and so took over as the format of choice. [So no Anita Baker, which seems a little harsh.] He doesn’t do compilations, concentrating instead on ‘proper’ albums. He isn’t interested in disco or gospel, except insofar as the latter concerns an artist with a discernible soul following [such as, say, Rance Allen and, no doubt in the next volume, The Winans].
What we end up with, though, is a book full of opinion. It’ll help to know that John considers soul’s peak years to be roughly 1965-1974. Not many would argue with that. And even if you do – personally I’d probably narrow its actual creative peak down a touch to the seven-year period ’68-’74 – it’s precisely that kind of debate that Spinning Around sets out to spark. Which are the best Impressions and Dells albums? Does The Isley Brothers’ sixties and seventies output stand up to the passage of several decades? [John was an avid fan of the group at the time.] Is Millie Jackson’s version of [If Loving You Is Wrong] I Don’t Want To Be Right actually superior to Luther Ingram’s? And when did Aretha’s golden period begin… and then start to tail off? Lias knows enough to offer worthwhile thoughts on albums from the screamingly obvious [What’s Going On/Let’s Stay Together] down to the more obscure and specialist/connoisseur stuff [Gloria Barnes’ Uptown]. He revises some of his own once-firmly-held opinions with the benefit of hindsight. His favourite all-time voice, he says, is Paul Kelly’s, and that has to tell you something about his angle of approach, although there’s plenty of funk in here too, including an extensive trek through James Brown’s album output [after which he admits that the Godfather was pretty much a singles guy after all].
Perfect for dipping into from time to time or as a base from which any newcomers to the music might embark [and thus save themselves hundreds of pounds otherwise buying rubbish], it’s most certainly a highly enjoyable read. The second volume is already underway. Contact john.lias@googlemail.com to order direct [£20 plus £2.80 postage] or find it on Amazon.
Chris Wells