Automatic Soul: 20 essential ’80s R&B tracks

Automatic Soul: 20 essential ’80s R&B tracks

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Groove Armada’s Tom Findlay breaks down all twenty tracks from his new Late Night Tales selection.

“It is 1983 and you’ve just stepped into your Ford Capri with your girlfriend Julie. You live in Harlow, but in your head you’re really somewhere near Salou in Spain, next to your yacht. But the thing you really love is soul and they play nothing but at Sups in Loughton…” Alright, so you may not have owned a Ford Capri, gone clubbing in Loughton or even been alive in 1983, but if you had had a girlfriend like Julie she’d almost certainly have had Automatic Soul at her birthday party. And the thing is, you’ll probably have enjoyed it a little more than you let on too.

From hits like Mtume’s ‘Juicy Fruit’ and Thelma Houston’s ‘You Used to Hold Me So Tight’ to the relative obscurity of George Franklin Smallwood & his Marshmellow Band, Automatic Soul will take you there, even if you’ve never been. Compiled by Groove Armada’s Tom Findlay for Late Night Tales, it’s a focussed look at a genre not usually given such credence, packed with big drums, power synths, bombastic vocal delivery and the odd perfectly misjudged, overtly earnest music video.

With the comp out now, we asked Tom for a commentary on all twenty tracks on the album and had a little dig ourselves to uncover the records where you can find them. The sleeves themselves are a treat to behold.


Words: Tom Findlay


In 2012, I delivered a Yacht Rock mix for the Late Night Tales series, Music For Pleasure, and I really enjoyed the voyage of discovering that my ‘yachting’ took me on. With previous compilations I’ve delivered as Groove Armada (in conjunction with the other half, Andy) it’s always been a case of picking tracks from totally across the board and trying to deliver a vibe.

Automatic Soul, like Music For Pleasure, is based very much on a sound. It’s a sound that I feel has been overlooked: 80s R&B-infused music, with drum machines, synths and invariably brilliant vocals. It’s formed the bedrock of my rare groove sets for all the years I’ve played. It’s not the most fashionable, but to me it’s the perfect marriage of technology and soul, hence the title for this album, Automatic Soul. There are plenty of songs I could have included, and no doubt some that I shouldn’t, but I’ve tried to represent what’s best to me from this era. It’s not a classic Late Night Tales. It’s a pretty personal journey, which I hope some of you might be willing to share.

Late Night Tales presents Automatic Soul is out now as digital, CD and triple vinyl editions. Click here for more info and to order a copy. There’s also a launch party (spoiler: it’s not at Sups in Loughton) taking place on 16th November with sets from Findlay and recent VF mixer Bill Brewster, which you can find out more about here.

As ever you can listen to all twenty tracks in this feature via this Youtube playlist, or hear them individually as you go. Click on to the next page to begin.