DJ Jonathan 'Night Train' Toubin's top 6 Detroit killers: a playlist

Jonathan Toubin is seriously one of the best DJs on the planet. Who knew he’s also a great music writer? Check his annotated playlist below, and don't forget to drop by UFO Factory when he DJs this Saturday. The New Yorker-via-Texas is world famous for dusting off obscure 1950s and 1960s rock and soul 45s that you have no choice but to dance to. In fact, his Detroit appearance will include his infamous dance-off, where a panel of distinguished local judges will select a first place winner of a $100 prize. 

My favorite Detroit dance party tracks are those from the dawn of the soul era. This was when traces of R&B, gospel, doo wop, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll were fusing to make a new sound. The rock ‘n’ roller in me loves the way the bands tear into the songs with pounding drums, driving bass, and blazing guitars. And as a dance party DJ, I love songs from the twist era because of how loud the upbeat drums are in the mix.

Though the production on these tracks was often lower fidelity, looser, and architecturally simple, there’s an immediacy, economy, and rawness that makes this very appealing to anyone who grew up on punk rock and other contemporary underground music. Finally the minimal song structure and arrangement combined with the wild emotion of the playing and singing is something contemporary ears can relate to.

1. Contours “Whole Lotta Woman” (Motown, 1961, national version)
The transition from the static figure in the first couple of bars to the piano and sax sliding is so dramatic but also effortless and the way to get any party started and not let go. The entire band syncopates a forceful and unique groove layered with doo woppy backing and gospel shouting on top. This record is alive and I never get sick of it. Plus it has great lyrics and the original press sounds amazing to boot. So distinctive and perfect that if every record was this good we wouldn’t need DJs. I picked up the rougher regional version at People’s Records a few years back and that one’s also a killer!

2. Nathaniel Mayer “I Had a Dream” (Fortune, 1963)
Nathaniel Mayer may just be my favorite soul artist. He only has a handful of singles but they are some of the rawest and most supreme sides known to man. Its so hard to pick one as I also play his stellar smash hit “Village of Love,” “I Want Love and Affection (Not The House of Correction),” “From Now On,” “Leave Me Alone,” “I Know A Place,” “Don’t Come Back,” “Mr Santa Claus,” “Well I Got News,” and more.

3. Falcons “Let’s Kiss and Make Up” (Atlantic, 1963)
Even if Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, and Mack Rice never amounted to anything as solo artists, The Falcons would still be one of the quintessential groups in both soul and Detroit music history. While the raspy post-gospel vocals are the show, both sides this killer diller platter are elevated to all-time soul supremacy with the super-charged backing of the The Ohio Untouchables (who later morphed into the Ohio Players). This is definitely one of axe hero Robert Ward’s finest moments and one of the craziest guitar tones ever sliced into wax!

4. Dusty Wilson “Can’t Do Without You” (Bronse, 1964)
I have no idea who Dusty Wilson is but, like many a Detroit classic, I heard it first from the Detroit Cobras. A killer blues guitar break intro, chuggin’ rhythm, lyrics about playing Russian roulette with six bullets in the gun, and soulful backing ladies that come out of nowhere on the chorus to take this thing to another level.

5. Gino Washington “Puppet On a String” (Son Bert and Ric-Tic, 1964)

Though Gino had very few sides, like Nathaniel Mayer, I play so many of them so regularly that its hard to single one out. Though I probably turn his rockers like “Out of the World,” “Gino’s a Coward,” “Come Monkey With Me,” and “I’m Coming Home” the most, his ballads are also where its at and this one is by far my favorite of that bunch. More suicide soul! There’s also a stellar earlier version on Correc-Tone.

6. Nolan Strong “Yeah Baby (It’s Because of You)” (Fortune, 1963)
I’m sure you don’t need me to state the historical importance and timeless quality of virtuosic vocalist Nolan Strong. This late-period post-Diablos dancer is my favorite of his upbeat vocal performances – particularly the desperate screams on the breaks that push deep in the red and would leave even the highest-pitched classic metal singers eating his dust.

About The Author

Mike McGonigal

Metro Times music editor Mike McGonigal has written about music since 1984, when he started the fanzine Chemical Imbalance at age sixteen with money saved from mowing lawns in Florida. He's since written for Spin, Pitchfork, the Village VOICE and Artforum. He's been a museum guard, a financial reporter, a bicycle...
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