When Bruce Springsteen performed his new single on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on 14 November, it was to rapturous applause and the ecstatic US talkshow host leaping from his seat to declare that the Boss had “crushed it!”
But 3,300 miles away, Springsteen’s performance of the lost Motown classic Do I Love You (Indeed I Do), from his new album of soul covers, Only The Strong Survivewas reigniting a debate that has raged for almost half a century.
Originally recorded in 1965 by Frank Wilson, Do I Love You has regularly topped lists of the all-time greatest northern soul records – but it almost languished unheard. It was only thanks to the appetite for soul music in clubs such as Wigan Casino, Manchester’s Twisted Wheel and Blackpool Mecca during the 1970s that the record was rescued from oblivion in the vaults of the Motown record label. How exactly that happened has been the subject of much disagreement in the still-burgeoning northern soul scene ever since.
Russ Winstanley, of Wigan, is the self-proclaimed man who “discovered” the song. One of the founders of Wigan Casino – which attracted thousands of soul fans from 1973 until its closure in 1981 – he DJ’d at the club on its very last night, and the final song ever played there was Wilson’s Do I Love You. And Winstanley says he’s the man responsible for it being an underground hit.
In the early 1970s, while scouring old catalogs in search of rare, unheard tunes to play at the Casino, he spotted a blank space in Motown’s 1965 offerings. “We used to get some of the big American artists over here to play in the north, and I was talking to them about this record that had been deleted from the catalogue,” Winstanley says. “I was intrigued. A while later, it just arrived in the post.”
Winstanley won’t say who he thinks might have obtained the copy from the Motown files. “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. I mean, I know it was 50 years ago, but…”
The northern soul DJs were very competitive and protective about their finds, and to stop rivals knowing what he was playing, Winstanley says he covered up the label with a fake one, proclaiming the record to be by “Eddie Foster”.
However, Winstanley’s story is hotly disputed. Northern soul DJ Richard Searling, of Bolton, points to a charismatic figure on the 1970s scene called Simon Soussan, based in Leeds but of French-Moroccan origins. Soussan, he says, would go to America like a vinyl detective, on the hunt for rarities for the DJs back home.
Searling, author of a northern soul history called Setting The Record Straight, says: “The copies of the record that were in the Motown vaults were … borrowed. Then Soussan sent one to the Casino in about 1975. He’d already put a new label on it, saying it was Eddie Foster. Nobody had any idea it was Frank Wilson until a long time later. It was Soussan who discovered the song.” And where is he now? “Out there somewhere,” says Searling. “Probably.”
“It definitely wasn’t Soussan,” Winstanley insists. “The record was sent to me by one of the groups I’d been talking to.”
One thing both can agree on is that Do I Love You was an instant hit with the Wigan Casino crowd. “It was massive from the very first play,” Searling says. “A huge hit from the off. It became a Wigan Casino classic.”
“The reaction was incredible,” adds Winstanley. “Really, it’s the perfect northern soul record.”
The record was deleted from Motown’s catalog because at the last minute they decided not to release it. Wilson, who died in 2012 aged 71 from prostate cancer, gave an interview to Searling in 2001 and said that just before the record’s scheduled release on 23 December 1965, Motown founder Berry Gordy took him to one side to tell him he had a choice: did he want to be an artist, or did he want to be a writer/producer? According to Wilson, it was a “no-brainer”, and he went on to work with artists including Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and the Four Tops.
Winstanley says 500 vinyl demo copies of the song were produced to send to radio stations, but then all but one were destroyed when it was decided not to release it.
Searling says only six were produced. Other sources claim 250 were made. Whatever the truth, only a tiny handful of copies were put into the Motown vaults in Detroit, and forgotten about, until almost a decade later when someone – either Soussan or Winstanley’s unnamed soul artist – liberated one or more.
According to Searling, there are perhaps three of the original demos still in existence, two of which he believes are in the UK. Winstanley says he sold his copy for £1,000 in 1978. Last year the very same copy is believed to have changed hands on the private record collector market for £100,000.
For more than four decades, the track remained venerated in the UK but unknown in the States. Then, in 2019, the eventual winner of Strictly Come Dancing, the actor Kelvin Fletcher, and his dance partner Oti Mabuse, performed a routine to it. By last year, the song had been used in at least two TV ads, one for eggs and one for fried chicken.
Now Springsteen has given it a new lease of life. BBC Radio 2 made it record of the week, and Springsteen appeared on Zoe Ball’s breakfast show, saying it is one of his favorite tracks on the new album.
He said: “I was listening to a northern soul compilation on iTunes or somewhere and I realized this was one of the greatest undiscovered Motown songs I’d ever heard. In the States it’s completely unknown, totally unheard of, and I thought, if I can get anywhere near Frank Wilson’s range I’m gonna cover this.”
The row over who discovered Do I Love You notwithstanding, northern soul fans are at least united in applause for Springsteen. Searling says: “Whatever purists might think of his cover of Do I Love You, he has brought the song to a new audience at last.”