'Possibly some of the most important music produced that has helped shape the future of electronic dance music has been released on Street Sounds.'
The biggest musical revolution of the 80’s was the rebirth of black music as a mainstream, commercial genre. Morgan Khan made what was being considered hip with clubs goers, import specialist record shops and pirate radio accessible to the mass consumer. Street Sounds forged a place in history by being the most innovative record label pioneering the new music genres: Hip Hop/Electro, R‘n’B, Disco, House, Garage and Jazz-Funk.
The Street Sounds label with its Hip Hop/Electro compilations reflected the mood of a new generation. The UK Fresh concerts at Wembley Arena were and still are the biggest Rap festivals ever to be held in Europe. In 1985, Street Sounds launched the first lifestyle magazine entitled the Street Scene which heralded a wave of imitators including MixMag, DJ and Ministry.
Back in the early 1980s, a collection of soul LPs (and cassettes, but not CDs as they had not yet hit the shops) came along which, for many of us, changed our worlds forever.
Each Street Sounds edition was something to get truly excited about. Why? Because you could be certain that every release would contain all of the very best dance tracks of the day. Not the usual two-and-a-half minute album versions, either, but the full length, extended and often exclusive remix versions, some tracks running to over 10 minutes. Eight or so of these tracks, all for under a fiver. What value! Just take a look at the listings on our full review page, and you will see how many soul gems made their way on to these albums. A small taster of these can be found on the page, too.
Released every two or three months, always on a Friday and exclusively from Our Price (which even had a section whole dedicated to just StreetSounds) before all the other record shops, these collections of soul masterpieces were must-haves back then. And, in fact, they still are today.
In the eighties, things were a little less sophisticated than today. It was trendy to wear roll neck sweaters by “designer” labels such as Pierre Cardin and Lyle & Scott. Believe it or not, a yellow and pale-blue tracksuit top was the sought-after garment of the day, courtesy of tennis gear manufacturer Sergio Tacchini. Footwear was as important then as it is now, and apart from Kickers and Wallabees, the height of fashion was the Nike Bruin (similar to the Nike Wimbledon, but with a red tick), or if you preferred, the Adidas Gazelles. We all drove around in Escort RS Turbos and Golf GTI 16vs, or at least cars that looked like GTIs, watched Moonlighting, Highway to Heaven and Strike It Lucky, were into Eddie Murphy’s films and comedy, and clubbed at places like Crackers, Mingles, and Bagleys. Or if you went “Up West”, it might be to the Limelight, or Legends, or Shaftesbury’s. Charlie Nicholas and Leisure Curls (pronounced “leesha”, so said the ad’s) led the way for hairstyles. It was hip to wear braces with jeans.
While many of these trends thankfully haven’t survived the test of time, the Street Sounds compilations have become classics which represent the very best of a fabulous era, for music if not fashion. The fact that these albums maintain such a huge following today is testament to their creator, legend Morgan Khan.
The man behind these collections also created the incredible Streetwave record label, a couple of years earlier. This was responsible for many amazing artists during the 1980s. And the empire didn’t stop there, either. We also had a series of “The Artists” collections, which brought together the definitive tracks (or “cuts” as they were known then) on one LP, together with detailed artist info; “Slow Jams” and the “Love Ballads” collections, which provided a supply mellow sounds; the incredible “Dance Decade” box set comprised over 150 tracks; “The Anthems”, which gathered together cult dance-floor classics from the 70s and 80s; “Jazz Juice”, featuring some outstanding classics from the full jazz spectrum (Cybil Shepherd even featured); and, of course, the Electro and House collections that were equally pivotal in changing the face of music themselves. In fact, the Electro series was largely responsible for introducing Hip-Hop to the UK and paving the way of Hip Hop culture.
There were other collections too, including a Solar Box set and some spin off albums such as the “Hi Energy” series. Morgan also created the Westside label, which many consider gave birth to the house, acid and hip house revolution in the UK. Khan deserves great credit for his contribution to the UK music scene.
It is the Street Sounds collections, in particular editions 1-10, that we recall most fondly. Not only for the amazing soul music, but also some of the most creative and original cover artwork ever. In today’s world of plastic CD cases, the magic of the album cover has been lost. But the identity of the brand was established as much by the LP sleeves as the amazing music that filled them. These days, the covers themselves are sought-after and we know of many who have framed them as pieces of artwork.
But it would not have mattered if these records came in brown paper bags. On the dance-floors, in our schools, in our front rooms and in the cassette players of our Vauxhall Novas, these were the albums which we played to death. Anyone who wanted to compile a set of the definitive 12 inches of the mid 1980s need look no further than these Street Sounds gems.
In 1983, TV personality Kenny Lynch, a UK soul star of the 60s and 70s, was enjoying rising sales of his 1980s comeback single, “Half The Day’s Gone And We Haven’t Earned A Penny”. He told how, once the track appeared on Street Sounds later that year, sales of the single ceased almost immediately. Such was the enormous power these compilations yielded over soul music sales.
Today, many of you probably have at least one Street Sounds record, be it in the garage, somewhere in your loft, or if you are like me, as central part of a prized record collection. If you haven’t played them in a while, why not give them a whirl to remind yourself just how good 80’s soul is to this day. Or if you no longer own a record player, you can always ask a mate to tape it for you. Actually, perhaps best not to, in case home taping is in fact still killing music.
A clear sign of the popularity of these records was recently demonstrated by the positive response to the brilliant Soul AM show on Unknown FM. Soul legend Master J dusted down a vast Street Sounds collection, dedicating the entire two-hour show to these masterpieces. Numerous requests for favourite tracks flowed, and the special buzz of the mid 1980s returned once again to the airwaves. We suspect some of the listeners may have dug out their favourite Gabbicci sweater to mark the occasion.
[Article courtesy of Radiocafe Soul Sounds - www.radiocafe.co.uk/streetsounds]
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