Soul Train History Book: ‘620 Soul Train’

620 Soul Train photoBy the early to mid 1980s, Soul Train’s popularity reached far beyond the U.S.  Fans overseas who watched Soul Train couldn’t wait to find out what artists were going to perform, as well as catch the program’s latest fashions and dances.

Soul Train’s international popularity gave its creator Don Cornelius the idea to create a British version of his program specifically for audiences in the U.K.

Titled 620 Soul Train, the dance program aired in mid-1985 and, like the U.S. version, featured guest stars and talented dancers. The program also broadcast music videos and classic clips from Soul Train’s archives.

620 Soul Train was hosted by ex-Soul Train dancer and former Shalamar member Jeffrey Daniels. Due to Daniels’ popularity with British audiences (he had just finished a run with London’s West End Musical Starlight Express), Cornelius thought he would be the perfect host for the show.

On the first episode were Millie Jackson, Cashmere, and British soul group Loose Ends, as well as music videos by Jenny Burton, DeBarge, and the Mary Jane Girls.

Future recording artists on 620 Soul Train included Sister Sledge, Steve Arrington, Ashford & Simpson, Sir Elton John, Pennye Ford, Phillip Bailey, Billy Ocean, Dan Hartman, and Five Star.

Like Soul Train’s U.S. version, 620 Soul Train was highly energetic and entertaining and had a flavor of its own. However, there was no Soul Train Scramble Board or Soul Train line on the program. These were mainstays on Soul Train’s U.S. version that didn’t go across the pond to its sister program. Nevertheless, the show was very popular in the U.K. during its short-lived run.

620 Soul Train didn’t even have an original Soul Train theme (it was strange that Soul Train’s U.S. theme song at the time, “Soul Train’s A Comin’,” wasn’t utilized for the show), nor an animated introduction like the U.S. version. Jeffrey Daniels simply came on the set amidst the dancers, introduced himself, named the acts who were going to perform on that day’s show, and then introduced a song that the dancers danced to.

As far as the stage set, with the exception of the words “620 Soul Train” in neon on the backdrop, there were no Soul Train tracks or any neon Soul Train signs on the set. The set had more of a space age art deco type look, and several dancers danced on the floor while others danced on elevated platforms.

The only dancer from Soul Train’s U.S. version who danced on 620 Soul Train was William McByrd. 620 Soul Train’s dancers were highly skilled and did some great footwork that could have given some serious competition to the U.S. Soul Train dancers. Pop-locking, which had not been regularly featured on Soul Train’s U.S. version since the seventies, was heavily featured on 620 Soul Train. This was a testament to how popular locking had become around the world.

620 Soul Train ended its run before the end of 1985, but it nevertheless was an indication of just how popular Soul Train become around the world. Indeed, Cornelius spread some “jolly good smashing” love, peace and soul from the U.S. border over to the U.K.

—Stephen McMillian

Journalist, actor, filmmaker, dancer, performer, writer, poet, historian and choreographer. That’s Stephen McMillian.

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