Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Soul Music

Karen: Lately I've been listening to "Sixties on 6" on Sirius Radio on my commute, and one of the DJs mentioned that June is National Black Music month. That got me to thinking. Growing up, we listened to a little bit of everything, including quite a bit of what  in those days was called 'Soul' music. I don't hear that term used much now. And truthfully, I'm not even sure I can define it adequately. Some people might say that's what any type of music played by African Americans (other than jazz perhaps) was called. But I think there's more to it. When I think of soul, I think of songs sung with heart-felt emotion. Whether it was happy or sad, you could feel it in the singer's voice. You knew what they were going through. It was passionate and real and  it connected. It was real stories about the everyday concerns about real people. In that respect, I suppose it had a lot in common with country music.

Karen: But it's gone now, at least the type of music I recognize as soul music is gone. There are a ton of 'vocalists' out there today, many of whom wouldn't have a career without artful production work and auto-tune, and as far as I'm concerned none of them can come close to performers like Aretha Franklin or Otis Redding. Gone are people singing and dancing and having a good time; now it seems like every performer has to come across as tough and menacing. Everything is so much grimmer. It actually parallels the way comics have gone, now that I think of it. I mean, you'd never see five guys wearing lemon yellow suits singing and dancing nowadays. They'd be laughed off the stage. But the Temptations were amazing performers with great songs.

Karen: And as I get older, I come to appreciate certain songs more and more, like this one by the Queen of Soul:

Karen: Of course Soul's roots are in Gospel music, which is very evident when performed by certain singers, such as Aretha. I suppose over time it only makes sense that Black music would change, just as all music does. But I confess I miss the more upbeat, melodic sounds of the 60s and 70s. I guess that's just where my brain is stuck and what I prefer. Sure, my Itunes has some rap songs in it, but you'll find far more Smokey than Jay-Z. What about you? Do you enjoy a little soul in your day? Who really gets you smiling or singing along?


Fred W. Hill said...

Good topic, Karen. My recollections of radio in the '70s was of far more variety on most stations than would be the case by the early '80s when music genres were increasingly segregated. Of course, these were mostly Top 40 stations, so they'd play whatever was popular with the general audience, whether pop, rock, soul, country, disco, even a little jazz, as well as some of the most popular oldies. So I'd hear David Bowie; Earth, Wind & Fire; Buck Owens; the Spinners; the Beatles; Elton John; the Bee Gees; Aretha Franklin; Lou Rawls; Stevie Wonder; Fleetwood Mac; Donna Summer, etc., etc. Admittedly I'm more into rock than other genres, but I do like variety and good music is good music, no matter how else it is categorized.

Humanbelly said...

I tried for a bit to think of what specifically characterizes Soul Music, apart from the Gospel and Rhythm & Blues roots (w/ Jazz and Rock & Roll influences), and its origins w/ primarily Southern and Black artists, and upon looking up the definition, saw that it is "characterized by deep intensity of feeling and earthiness". And that sounds pretty good to me. You know who fits that bill so well right now is Adele, of all folks. If you warped her back about 40 years or so, I think you'd be finding her in the Soul section at Kemp Mill Records.

I have to say that I've been listening to a LOT of current pop radio (on a non-rap or hip-hop station) with my daughter in the car for the past year or so, and there are a lot of artists and songs that are making me feel like it's 1978-ish again. Adele, Fun, Mumphord & Sons, Of Monsters & Men, Lady Gaga (for all of her extraterrestrial odd-ness, she's incredibly clever w/ putting together a terrific musical phrase), Lumineers, Phillip Phillips, Pink, some of Taylor Swift, some of Katy Perry. I find that I like a solid 2/3 of what I hear these days in that Top 40 format, which is probably about what the proportion was in my radio-listenin' youth. Right now that "When I'm Gone" song (Anna Kendricks, I think), has me in devoted thrall.

Now, the other 33% of what's on? Pretty much what you describe, Karen-- over-produced, auto-tuned, written-by-committee, boy-bandified, vocally unsupported chaff. We seem to be in a horrific drought as far as legitimate male voices go. Justins Timberlake & Bieber? YAARGH! Please, lads, listen to Elvis, listen to Paul McCartney, listen to Billy Joel, listen to Roy Orbison, the Righteous Brothers, Freddie Mercury, Steven Perry (sorry Karen), and any number of other male pop/rock vocalists who learned how to sing properly w/ full, open voices and not a trapped-in-their-sinuses adolescent whine.

Oooooh, that just makes me nuts.

Oops-- gotta get to work!


Edo Bosnar said...

Of the pre-1980s 'Black' music, I always preferred funk (i.e., Sly & the Family Stone, George Clinton's Parliament and Funkadelic, Betty Davis), but there are quite a few soul artists whose work I really enjoy.
I definitely agree with you about the Temptations, and a few others that immediately come to mind are Jackie Wilson, Wilson Pickett, Lou Rawls and Nina Simone. I also really like mellower ballads of Bill Withers and Shuggie Otis.
By the way, I can't comment on most of the newer artists HB mentioned, but I think there still are some modern heirs to the traditional soul we all seem to like. I'm thinking mainly of Jill Scott, but also Esperanza Spalding - o.k., I know her style is more jazz fusion, but I think it can be considered soul as well (just checked her Wikipedia page, apparently one of her genres is 'neo-soul').

Doug said...

The Temptations have been high on my list lately, regularly playing "Cloud Nine" and "Ball of Confusion" during the breaks between innings when I do the PA at our school's baseball games.

I also really like Al Green and the aforementioned Bill Withers.

It's funny that Karen slotted this post to run today -- my wife received an email from Broadway in Chicago yesterday saying that "Motown: The Musical" is hitting the road and will be coming here soon. We have decided to attend as a family, with my sons being very enthusiastic. While they listen to today's artists, we have made sure that they have a musical heritage that stretches back through the decades. Whenever we go, I'll be sure to post some thoughts afterward.


dbutler16 said...

I think of it as "Motwon Music" rather than soul, but whatever you call it, there are some sonic gems there. I love Diana Ross & the Supremes, as well as the Temptations and The Four Tops, to name but a few. Some of my earlier CD's were greatest hits collections of them. Sadly, in this age of itunes, I wind up listening to playlists with hundreds and hundreds of songs, and wind up losing sight of individual albums and songs.

Doug said...

Playing off dbutler's last comment about playlists and losing sight of individual songs, etc.

I was at Target a few days ago and they were selling...


I about fell over. I cannot recall the last time I was in a retail store and saw 33 1/3 RPMs for sale. The albums Target was carrying were significant, such as the Beatles' Let It Be, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, AC/DC's Back in Black, etc.

But was that ever great to see!!


MattComix said...

I think I was first introduced to Soul through "blue-eyed soul" by way of Hall and Oates.

My main introduction to Soul as a kid is that my Mom bought the soundtrack to a movie called The Big Chill which she played nearly every morning. Oddly enough I found myself liking it. Especially "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye.

Humanbelly said...

Yeah, Matt-- of the bajillion covers of "Grapevine", Marvin Gaye's is my personal favorite.

With Hall & Oates: When I was in Junior High, there was a big trend among my Afr.Amer. classmates to form "groups" that would work out lip-synch routines to songs (on 45s)-- usually soul or funk-- and they'd perform them at our talent shows or at lunchtime or whenever. One group of six guys did Hall & Oates' "She's Gone", and were, well, adequate, I guess (six guys doing a simple back-up singer routine to a song that had two vocalists?), but the kicker was that they didn't know Hall & Oates were white guys. Heck, neither did I, to be honest. (I mean, 7th grade, we're all a bunch of, what, doofy 12-year-olds?) There was initially denial, then embarrassment as ribbing set in, and then ultimately resigned acceptance, since it was the only routine they'd worked up. And they really thought they were all that when performing, so we saw it a couple of more times over the next few weeks, and they happily committed to it w/ all necessary gusto. Rising to whatever dubious level of "cool" that 12-year-old boys are ever capable of. In their own minds. Bless 'em.

Veronica Goins ultimately won the informal talent show w/ a determined piano rendition of the The Entertainer.

(Tangenting wildly)

david_b said...

Wonderful topic today. I'm a die-hard for old soul, like Otis, Quincy, Sam&Dave, Barry, Marvin, Gladys Knight, Booker T (I know, it's blues, not soul, but still..), you name it..

There's a 'stillness of the night' feeling that is well, magic.

When I was stationed in Kuwait both times, I wanted to play with the black church services held each Sunday, but my duties typically had me too busy on Sundays to play regularly, but to groove in the church services with 'my brothers of color'...? It's always majestic. Unfortunately, I was stuck with playing the 'white bread' methodist church services which were fine, as a musician playing slide blues, I missed out on so much. Occasionally we'd have some evening worship gatherings a couple times a year, so I made up for it then.

You want some classic, I'm talkin' CLASSIC guitar soul..? I present to the BAB 'Soul Court' none other than Mr. Clapton on 'Wee Wee Hours'..:


With good ol' Keith and Chuck Berry backing him up. Ohhh, such a groovin' guitar solo, Chuck makes him do two. For us other musicians much like Chuck Berry here, it's time to just 'take a knee' and give the guy his due.

Edo Bosnar said...

So, HB, your classmates only lip-syched that H&O song? I think I would have voted for Veronica, too (what can I say? I like ragtime).

david_b said...

Actually, forgot to include this pic at one of those worship evenings in Kuwait..


"Always have to have your horn section ready on those nights.."

Garett said...

Hey David, cool to see you playing your guitar. Bill Withers is the first that comes to my mind for '70s soul.

Karen said "every performer has to come across as tough and menacing". I was watching some basketball hilights this morning and noticing how the player who makes a big basket walks away with a grim look on his face. No smiling allowed? Was basketball always like this? In baseball they high-five, in soccer they go crazy and run around, etc.

Doug said...

Garett, in regard to your sports reference, NBA-TV ran a documentary on Julius Erving last night. What a classy guy -- none of the posturing you reference. Times were different, that's for sure.

I think that's why I try to stay stuck in the Bronze Age...


dbutler16 said...

Real records in a store, Doug? That's great! The retro thing must be in style, I guess. I wonder how well they will sell.

david_b said...

I just bought the Ramones self-titled first album at an Exclusive store since the cover photo is PURE ATTITUDE.. I bought it to frame in my mancave.

I suspect that's what a lot of casual buyers are doing.

Not sure how many typical folks still have turntables to play 'em on. Luckily I still have a lot of vinyl albums with covers in great condition. My fav story is my Mom picking up a covered Beatles "Butcher Cover" at a rummage sale for a mere quarter.

Ah.., long before eBay, rummage sales RULED.

Karen said...

Listening to Sixties on 6 you hear that kind of variety that was found on AM stations way back when - although I'm beginning to wonder if they have more than about 150 songs. But still, I enjoy the station for bringing some sunshine into my day. I've found that the 60s artists I tend to gravitate to are acts like the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Hendrix, and I tend to forget some of the lighter acts, to my own detriment. I've also been reminded how much soul music I used to hear as a kid, and how much it was a part of everyday life. As a matter of fact, Doug and I are going to run a post in the near future about the music that was played in our homes by our folks growing up, so be ready to jump on that bandwagon!

Anonymous said...

I was never really into soul/Motown stuff, but I LOVE the Arthur Conley song "Sweet Soul Music" which mentions people like Sam & Dave, Pickett, etc.

Mike W.

Karen said...

I also wanted to follow up on my remark about how everything has shifted from smiles and laughter to snarls and threats. As Garrett mentioned about basketball, it's become pervasive. It's important to be seen as tough, dangerous, vicious, etc. and it seems like that's been a part of the culture for several decades now. It's almost as if the anti-hero has become the standard. That bothers me.

I don't know what it says about what our culture is telling our young men, that they think the way to be 'cool' is to appear as if they'd just as soon punch you in the face as talk to you. I don't want to get too deep here -this is a pop culture blog after all -but what sort of view of manhood do they have?

It's funny, the other morning I was pulling in to the parking garage, and I saw two young guys: one whipped his car into a spot and was blaring his music as loud as could be, obviously thinking he was just the coolest thing ever. The other was a kind of nerdy looking guy, trying to get his infant child out as well as his back pack. And I thought, that dad is much more of a man that Mr. Cool over there. Why can't we get those values across to boys?

OK, off the soapbox.

Marc said...

I'm a big fan of Soul and all the genres it encompasses. Great topic indeed!

Hard to believe no one mentioned the Godfather of Soul. You can't talk about soul music and leave out Mr. Dynamite, the one and only James Brown. He stayed pretty relevant well into the 70s, especially as a producer for his label Polydor. All of his associated acts, The JBs, Maceo Parker and the Macks, Lyn Collins all spawned hits of their own. The man left quite a legacy, especially considering how many Hip Hop artists site him as one of their main influences.

david_b said...

Ok, my turn..

I agree with you Karen on many points. Not to get too far into the 'lack of consequences' permeating our society, but I'm deeply concerned with today's world.

It's great that movies like 'Avengers' celebrates heroes and doing what's right. I believe alot of permissiveness a generation ago has gone too far.

Quite simply, I do not recognise this world in many ways.

Many people thought the Watergate scandal would improve our eye on and attention towards illegal government activities. In many respects, the opposite has occurred; it has made us weary of 'yet another scandal' and it gets put on the back page in the news cycle. Why..? It doesn't bring ratings or sell papers, not sensational.

Unbiased integrity in Journalism..? Sorry to say, but 'Ha'.

Doug said...

All too true, Karen, David, and others. As one who is around young people all day, every day, I have often joked (though with a tinge of warning) that we are witnessing the decline of Western civilization. I said to a much-younger colleague a few weeks ago that I fear for these teens -- who among them has any sense of a worldview? What do they know (or care) about religion, politics, or economics? It's tough on them, after all, when their biggest concern is tweeting about the crappy cafeteria food they just were served and wasted.

However, in better news, today's post inspired me to put on my Soul/R&B playlist, and I've had the best of times sharing my day with Sam Cooke, Bill Withers, the Jacksons, the Commodores, Aretha, Diana Ross, the Four Tops, the Temptations, Odetta, the Godfather himself, the Drifters, Rick James, Robert Cray (love that guy), and many more. The sun shines.


redartz said...

Doug- I share your love for Robert Cray; great stuff. My playsists also tend to be pretty eclectic, but there's a lot of Philly Soul in there. Spinners, OJays, Stylistcs; these and others carried me through the pre-teen years. Later gained a deep appreciation for the 60's crowd; Motown, James Brown, etc. Then of course there's Tina Turner; what a voice. Her performances can knock a man flat. Listen to "River Deep, Mountain High"; see if it brings chills to your spine.

And fear not, there is hope for the next generations. My youngest has great musical taste, and even named his cat Sinatra!

Graham said...

I think today they compartmentalize (is that a word) music too much...for example, sometimes they separate Motown from Old School Soul when there's only a gnat's hair of difference, Motown's finished work sometimes being slicker. I started out listening to Motown artists, but eventually gravitated toward the Memphis/Muscle Shoals sounds of Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, James Carr, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, then later Al Green, Otis Clay, Ann Peebles, and O.V. Wright, whose 70's version of soul leaned more toward Motown with the strings. I also listened to a lot of the Philly Soul, too...really liked Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, TP, and the O'Jays. Can't leave out the Isley Brothers either.

I review CDs (blues, soul, zydeco, gospel, etc....) for a website and a blog, so I get to hear a lot of soul artists still performing, like Otis Clay, Mighty Sam McClain, Johnny Rawls, Tad Robinson, and a bunch of others. Great to know that it's still out there for us to enjoy.

Also, if you're a fan of Boz Scaggs, his new CD, Memphis, is a fantastic set of soul music that he recorded in Memphis with lots of the musicians who recorded on the original soul classics in the 60's.

david_b said...

Graham's mention of compartmentation of music reminds me of one of the most awesome musical events from the 60s. Most of you pop music enthusiasts should obviously be aware of the TAMI Show, first done in December 1964..:


It's popularly one of the last entertainment venues that hosted a wide range of musical acts, from James Brown and his Flames, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones (best version of 'Around and Around'), Supremes, Chuck Berry, Leslie Gore, the list goes on. Quite an eclectic list by far, but this came at a point in pop music just before Motown (and the other musical styles..) started branching off into their own directions..

Here's Mr Brown for you all..:


Stones 'Around and Around' (watch Keith groove...):


In 2006, T.A.M.I. Show was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Graham said...

Thanks for that. I used to enjoy videos of the TAMI show way back when I was in college and starting to discover some of these folks. Seems like James Brown was on one of those.

That was one of the great things about radio to me in the 70's....you could hear an pretty diverse set of musicians on the same station over a short period of time. The station I listened to mixed pop, rock, and soul together, but back then it was all under the same heading (ditto in the record stores), and they had an older black guy who spun soul and funk records on Saturday nights.

I tried to listen to my kids' favorite radio station last weekend and it sounded like they played the same song for an hour. It had the same beat, the same person singing, the same everything...and this went on for most of the afternoon.

Geez, I sound like my dad.

Doug said...

Graham, I think the key word in your last post was "musicians". As Karen said, it seems that today many "artists" hide behind the manufactured sounds, including the augmentation of their voices.

Give me Peter, Paul, and Mary.


Karen said...

Hey David, guess what I just got from Netflix?

The T.A.M.I. Show!

I've been wanting to see this since I first heard Sting sing about it on "When the World is Running Down."

david_b said...

T.A.M.I. is first rate uber-awesome.. I remember first watching it at one of those cult-movie old grand theaters in Milwaukee's fashionable/hippy 'East Side' back in '82..

To witness an event where all these groups with vastly different styles of music in ONE lineup is phenominal. The WORST mistake ever is to schedule the Stones after James Brown, especially with his all-time classic 'Please, Please, Please' cape routine.

"How could anyone follow James Brown..??"

But Keith's swagger and Mick's 'copy-catting Brown' dance moves sure tries it's darndest.

I always thought it was done in '65, but I had to correct myself; the event actually occurred in October 1964.

Between this and the later Monterey Pop festival, nothing captured pinnacles of '60s Pop/Rock/Blues better.

Doug said...

Trying to get the grass cut this afternoon ahead of the coming severe weather, I still had the Soul/R&B playlist going. How about these covers?

Isaac Hayes on "Never Can Say Goodbye".

Earth, Wind, & Fire on "Got to Get You Into My Life".

Michael Jackson on "Come Together".

In between, Roberta Flack, the Fifth Dimension, and a couple of ballads from the Commodores. It was a good mow.


Anonymous said...

All I have to say is...Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders - you got to, got to, got to, see 'em live.

Mormel said...

Hey-hey, Bronze Age Babies, a sometimes-reader here, big fan of both Bronze Age and Silver Age comics although I'm a 1987 birth. Just wanted to chip in for a bit on this topic.

As a child, I was exposed to a lot of 90s 'soul', listened to it and liked it. Usher, Aaliyah, Destiny's Child, Dru Hill. I never stopped loving it. But I did stop calling the genre 'soul' or even 'R&B' after listening a bit more closely to older songs of those respective genres. I couldn't deny that modern urban contemporary was a completely different beast from 60s and 70s soul music. An important element in this is something that you guys already mentioned: the presence of an actual band of musicians providing the music. I was listening to 'Until You Come Back To Me' by Aretha, and while I'm pretty much always blown away by Aretha's vocal prowess, this time around my attention was equally drawn by the musical arrangement backing her. Similarly, I love listening to Mayfield and Stevie Wonder, because they're both multi-instrumentalists, composers, and songwriters -and the instruments are equally important to the singing. Whereas, I feel that in today's exponent of soul music, it's just singing over a beat, and not necessarily a very intricate beat. Now beats aren't bad per se, I'm a fan of early Timbaland and Darkchild, and of the Neptunes, they've made some crazy stuff. But sometimes you just want to see a brother play the horn or the guitar.

I saw someone mention neo-soul, I have to say I'm rather impressed by Raphael Saadiq. He sings a mean note live and he can play an instrument. And he transitions from contemporary urban music to old school throwback soul. I agree that the music in the charts that some call 'soul' now, is a completely different genre. But I also feel as though that genre itself has morphed several times over in the past 20 years, to the point where I enjoy urban music of around '96-'03, but am not too fond of anything that happened with it from '04 onward- for reasons of a shift in the aesthetic and the lyrical content. I nevertheless think there were and are a lot of vocalists with true talent and artistic merits, who carry on a legacy left by an Al Greene or a Gladys Knight even if contemporary 'soul' is as radically different from the original soul as contemporary mainstream rock is from rock 'n' roll.

On a final note, I want to warn about the risk of looking at this music with rose-tinted glasses, as anecdotes from artists have uncovered that Motown itself -for all the great music it brought us- also attempted to exert some control on their artists' output, sometimes favouring commercial viability to artistic integrity. Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' album was made in spite of protests from Motown's management deeming it 'too political'. Gaye had to climb some fences for the album to see the light; now it's a classic.

Doug said...

Mormel --

Welcome to the world of commenting, and thanks for your thoughts! Don't be a stranger!


Anonymous said...

I highly recommend a new spin on classic soul--Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. I saw them live a few years ago, and it was like what I imagine the old soul revue shows of the 60s were like---lots of energy, dancing (even the horn section had some moves), and virtuoistic soloing throughout.
Check her out, if you get the chance! The CD's are nicely produced, too.


Edo Bosnar said...

Mormel, definitely agree with you about Raphael Saadiq. That guy is all kinds of awesome...

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