The music style most associated with northern soul is the heavy, syncopated beat and fast tempo of mid-1960s Motown Records, which was usually combined with soulful vocals. These types of records, which suited the athletic dancing that was prevalent, became known on the scene as stompers. Notable examples include Tony Clarke’s "Landslide" (popularised by Ian Levine at Blackpool Mecca) and Gloria Jones’ "Tainted Love" (purchased by Richard Searling on a trip to the United States in 1973 and popularised at Va Va’s in Bolton, and later, Wigan Casino). According to northern soul DJ Ady Croadsell, viewed retrospectively, the earliest recording to possess this style was the 1965 single "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" by The Four Tops, although that record was never popular in the northern soul scene because it was too mainstream.
Other related music styles also gained acceptance in the northern soul scene. Slower, less-danceable soul records were often played, such as Barbara Mills' "Queen Of Fools" (popular in 1972 at the Golden Torch) and The Mob’s "I Dig Everything About You". Every all-nighter at Wigan Casino ended with the playing of three well-known northern soul songs with a particular going home theme. These came to be known as the "3 before 8" and were: "Time Will Pass You By" by Tobi Legend, "Long After Tonight Is Over" by Jimmy Radcliffe, and "I'm On My Way" by Dean Parrish. Commercial pop songs that matched the up-tempo beat of the stompers were also played at some venues, including The Ron Grainer Orchestra’s instrumental "Theme From Joe 90" at Wigan Casino and The Just Brothers’ surf-guitar song "Sliced Tomatoes" at Blackpool Mecca.
As the scene developed in the mid and late 1970s, the more contemporary and rhythmically sophisticated sounds of disco and Philly Soul became accepted at certain venues following its adoption at Blackpool Mecca. This style is typified musically by the O'Jays' "I Love Music" (UK #13, January 1976), which gained popularity prior to its commercial release at Blackpool Mecca in late 1975. The record that initially popularised this change is usually cited as The Carstair's "It Really Hurts Me Girl" (Red Coach), a record initially released late in 1973 on promotional copies - but quickly withdrawn due to lack of interest from American Radio stations. The hostility towards any contemporary music style from northern soul traditionalists at Wigan Casino led to the creation of the spin-off modern soul movement in the early 1980s.