A brief history of Soul Music

by Piero Scaruffi
A chapter of my History of Popular Music

TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.


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(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Popular Music")

Soul Music


The Founding Fathers of Soul Music

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The gospel revival and doo-wop merged into the great season of soul music. Soul music was enabled by the commercial boom of "race" music, that had led to the creation of channels and infrastructures run by black enterpreneurs for black artists. This class of black enterpreneurs hired and trained a generation of session musicians, producers and arrangers (not to mention songwriters) who were specifically meant to serve the needs of black music.
Sould music was also enabled by an unstoppable trend towards black and white integration, as more and more white folks accepted the idea that black culture was not evil or degrading, simply different (African instead of European). The sociopolitical inroads made by jazz also helped legitimize black pop music with the white masses.
Soul music was also, indirectly, helped by rock music, precisely because rock music made white pop music sound so obsolete. Rock music buried white pop music but did not quite offer an alternative. On the other hand, rock music legitimized black pop music (rock music was basically a white version of rhythm'n'blues), and black pop music did offer an anternative to the Italian crooners and the likes.

As the civil rights movement staged bigger and bigger demonstrations and increased African-American pride, soul music became more than party music for young blacks: it became a rallying flag for the black nationalist movement. While never truly political in nature, soul music's ascent in the pop charts came to represent one of the first (and most visible) successes of the civil-rights movement.

Soul music was born thanks to the innovations of a generation of post-war musicians who, essentially, turned gospel music into a secular form of art.


Los Angeles-based vocalist (inspired by Charles Brown and therefore Nat King Cole) and pianist Ray Charles Robinson, soon to become the most famous blind person in America, succeeded by setting mundane lyrics to gospel tunes, famously in I Got A Woman (1955), and coined a hybrid blues-jazz-gospel group sound with the lengthy What'd I Say (1959), before turning into one of the first crossover black artists with Hoagy Carmichael's Georgia On My Mind (1960), Percy Mayfield's Hit The Road Jack (1961), Don Gibson's I Can't Stop Loving You (1962), Fred Rose's Take These Chains From My Heart (1963), an ideological turn illustrated by the best-selling album Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music (1962).


Georgia's vocalist James Brown and his band (featuring Jimmy Nolen on guitar, the inventor of the 16-note strumming style that defined funk music once and for all, Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis on alto sax, Maceo Parker on tenor sax, Fred Wesley on trombone, and, in the 1970s, William "Bootsy" Collins on bass), clarified the relation between sexual lust and religious fervor via Please Please Please (1956), Try Me (1958) and I'll Go Crazy (1960). It took several years for the rest of soul music to catch up with his intuition, but eventually his monotonous and anti-virtuoso style created a new kind of music. Brown coined a frenzied style of choppy rhythms and jazzy horns, coupled with stage histrionics and a grotesquely choreographed show, first documented on Live At The Apollo (1962). At the same time, his visceral falsetto shrieks amid guttural lascivious wails (and lyrics full of sexual innuendos) invented a new narrative form. With Out Of Sight (1964), Papa's Got A Brand New Bag (1965), I Got You (1965) and Cold Sweat (1967), Brown coined a purely-percussive style of soul, the predecessor of "funk". and associated himself with black nationalism starting with Say It Aloud I'm Black and Proud (1968). The novelties Give It Up (1969), Mother Popcorn (1969) and Superbad (1970) further streamlined the idea and led to the quintessential Brown-ian funk songs, Sex Machine (1970), with Bootsy Collins on bass (and a piano figure that virtually invented house-music), and King Heroin (1972). The deadly combination of psychotic falsetto, metallic guitar strumming, fractured bass lines, noisy horn section and pulsing polyrhythm was dance-music to the square.


Chicago-raised Sam Cooke, who had already contributed Be With Me Jesus (1955) and Touch the Hem Of His Garment (1956) to the Soul Stirrers, used his crisp melismatic tenor to deliver Bumps Blackwell's You Send Me (1957), one of the biggest hits of the era, and some of the most imitated ballads of the pop-soul genre: Lou Adler's Only Sixteen (1959), Lou Adler's Wonderful World (1960), and then, after producers Hugo (Peretti) & Luigi (Creatore) adopted him, Twistin' The Night Away (1961), Cupid (1961), Bring It On Home To Me (1962), Another Saturday Night (1963), the prophetic A Change Is Gonna Come (1964).


Detroit-born Jackie Wilson, McPhatter's substitute in the Dominoes and perhaps the greatest vocal gymnast of the era, benefited from three Berry Gordy compositions, Reet Petite (1957), To Be Loved (1958) and especially Lonely Teardrops (1958), that formed the model for lavishly arranged melodramatic ballads exuding his sexual charisma such as A Woman A Lover A Friend (1960), Doggin' Around (1960), Baby Workout (1963) and the acrobatic, multi-octave Danny Boy (1965).

Brown and Charles (the two sound stylists) were raised in the South, whereas Cooke and Wilson (the two vocal virtuosi) were fully urban.

Another of the soul pioneers, Detroit-based vocalist "Little Willie John" Woods introduced the quavering gospel falsetto (that James Brown learned from him). The melancholy of Need Your Love So Bad (1956), perhaps his most intense performance, and Sufferin' With The Blues (1956) established the quintessential soul mood, while his versions of Otis Blackwell's Fever (1956) and of Titus Turner's All Around The World (1958) created an even more passionate style of singing.

New York gospel singer Roy Hamilton, who had achieved stardom status with his interpretation of Alex North's Unchained Melody (1955), created a gospel-tinged pop style, best epitomized by later material such as Don't Let Go (1958), that was influential on soul music.

Soul Singer-songwriters

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Soul music was perceived a music of vocalists, but songwriters were, from the beginning, no less important to define the style.

Chuck Wills was a delicate and evocative singer from Atlanta, who penned his own My Story (1952), You're Still My Baby (1954), I Feel So Bad (1954) and It's Too Late (1956), before striking gold with CC Rider (1957), an adaptation of Ma Rainey's standard from the 1920s.

South Carolina-born baritone Brook Benton (Benjamin Peay), a former member of the Golden Gate Quartet, was the main songwriter of this generation, dishing out A Lover's Question (1958), a hit for Clyde McPhatter, It's Just A Matter of Time (1959), Thank You Pretty Baby (1959), So Many Ways (1959), The Ties that Bind (1960), The Same One (1960), Kiddio (1960), etc.

Another South Caroliner, Don Covay moved away from his dance novelties Bip Bop Bip (1959) and Pony Time (1961) to pen soul ballads such as You Can Run (1962) for Jerry Butler, Letter Full Of Tears (1962) for Gladys Knight, his two classics Mercy Mercy (1964) and See Saw (1965), and the mega-hit Chain Of Fools (1967) for Aretha Franklin.

Bobby Womack, Sam Cooke's guitarist, wrote Lookin' For A Love (1962) and It's All Over Now (1964) that crossed over into rock'n'roll, and later would reinvent his career as a romantic soul balladeer with That's the Way I Feel About 'Cha (1971) and Woman's Gotta Have It (1972).

Nina Simone (Eunice Waymon), the "high priestess of soul", an eclectic interpreter of both blues, jazz and pop classics, composed My Baby Just Cares For Me (1958), Mississippi Goddam (1963), Four Women (1966), and Young Gifted And Black (1969). Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood (1964) was written for her by songwriters Bennie Benjamin and Sol Marcus. As the controversial lyrics of these songs prove, the angry young woman of soul music also represented the link with the folksingers of the "Movement".

Chicago's soul music was dominated by the artistic persona of guitarist, songwriter, arranger and vocalist Curtis Mayfield (1), whose Impressions created a smooth, majestic, orchestral, jazzy style with carefully crafted vocal and horns arrangements to accompany his allegorical messages: For Your Precious Love (1958), one of the candidates to first soul record, Gypsy Woman (1961), the rumba-like It's All Right (1963) the anthemic Keep On Pushin' (1964) and People Get Ready (1965), the baroque Choice of Colors (1969). As a solo artist, Mayfield pioneered the format of the extended message-oriented psychedelic funk-pop shuffle on his concept albums Curtis (1971) and Roots (1972), and then applied the idea to the danceable soundtrack for the film Superfly (1972).

Soul and Rock

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While they had little in common, soul and rock interacted from the beginning.

Cleveland's shouter "Screamin'" Jay Hawkins, the first great gothic perfomer, who had studied opera and whose stage antics were the horror counterpart to the sexual histrionics of most black singers, experimented bizarre vocal styles in his demented melodramas I Put A Spell On You (1956) and Constipation Blues (1967), with Plas Johnson on sax.

Virginia's demonic soul-rocker Gary "U.S. Bonds" Anderson coined the rough, exuberant rhythm'n'blues sound of New Orleans (1960), Gene Barge's Quarter to Three (1961), School's Out (1961).

Soul Styles

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Soul music retained its vocals-driven image, typical of all pop music, but, like so much pop music, its hits became increasingly dependent on the skills of the arrangers and producers. In other words, soul music mutated transparently from a vocal style into a sound style.

This mutation took place mainly in four places: New York, Memphis, Detroit, Philadelphia. And it corresponded with four independent labels, respectively: Atlantic (founded in 1947 by white songwriter Ahmet Ertegun), Stax (founded in 1959 by white country fiddler Jim Stewart), Tamla Motown (founded in 1959 by black enterpreneur Berry Gordy), and, much later, International (founded in 1971 by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff).

The sound of Atlantic was largely the invention of producer (and former critic) Jerry Wexler, hired in 1953. The peak of Atlantic's reign on soul music came when (1967) Wexler started working with arranger Arif Mardin and engineer Tom Dowd.

Former Philadelphia preacher Solomon Burke transferred the fervor of his sermons into the stirring rhythms of black dance music. Needless to say, his live shows became legendary for their delirious intensity, second only to James Brown. His material ranged from Virgil Stewart's Just Out Of Reach (1961), possibly the first country crossover by a soul artist, to Bert Berns' Cry To Me (1961), Gene Pitney's If You Need Me (1963), Alain Toussaint's Got To Get You Off My Mind (1964), Bert Berns' Everybody Needs Somebody To Love (1964), his own The Price (1964), perhaps his vocal masterpiece, and Don Covay's Tonight's The Night (1965).


Wexler's greatest discovery was Aretha Franklin, a Detroit gospel singer whom Wexler turned into the female counterpart of Ray Charles, pitting her exuberant and aggressive vocals (that mixed blues phrasing and melisma) and her romantic lyrics against sensual and agitated rhythms. But Franklin's strategy was, in a sense, the opposite of Charles': instead of secularizing sacred music, Franklin sanctified her own private life. Charles transferred religious love into bodily love, while Franklin exalted bodily love as a vehicle to salvation or redemption. She staged with church fervor the most intimate female emotions, such as the need to be loved, the frustration of not being loved, and the ecstasis of being loved. Compared with the attitude, the material was negligible, and it came from disparate sources (blues, pop, soul): Ronnie Shannon's I Never Loved A Man (1967), Otis Redding's Respect (1967), which she transformed into a piano-based anthem of female pride, Ronnie Shannon's Baby I Love You (1967), Don Covay's Chain Of Fools (1967), Carole King's and Gerry Goffin's A Natural Woman (1967), which acted as the complementary anthem to Respect, her own Since You've Been Gone (1968), her own Think (1968), Burt Bacharach's I Say A Little Prayer (1968).

Vocalists of other big cities shared the same spirit.

Fontella Bass was perhaps the most vibrant soul singer of the Chicago area, breathing life into Oliver Sain's Don't Mess Up A Good Thing (1965) and Raynard Miner's Rescue Me (1965), with the young Maurice White on drums, before joining the jazz avantgarde (the Art Ensemble Of Chicago). Predating Franklin, her touch was bluesier and less poppy.

Los Angeles-based vocalist Dobie Gray (Leonard Ainsworth) recorded in a sandpaper voice Billy Page's The In Crowd (1965), the quintessential mod anthem, Out On The Floor (1966), and Mentor Williams' Drift Away (1973).

Southern Soul

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The sound Of Stax, an elegant hybrid of rhythm'n'blues and country'n'western with simple arrangements and sober rhythms, was largely the sound of its session musicians (and their first producer, Chips Moman). The Mar-Kays' instrumental hit version of Chips Moman's Last Night (1961) pretty much set the standard for all subsequent Stax productions: punchy horns section (two trumpets and two saxophones) and powerful rhythm section (groovy organ, staccato guitar, bass and drums). The band's guitarist, Steve Cropper, one of the most original guitarists since Lowman Pauling, whose stinging riffs bridged country and blues, joined saxophonist and keyboardist Booker Jones and drummer Al Jackson to form Booker T. & The MGs, that released the similar instrumental shuffle Green Onion (1962), while trumpet player Wayne Jackson formed the Memphis Horns. These remained the house bands for all Stax musicians.

Among the classics crafted by this "team" were: Carla Thomas' Gee Whiz (1961), produced by Chips Moman, and B-A-B-Y (1966), written by Isaac Hayes, songwriter William Bell's You Don't Miss Your Water (1962), Rufus Thomas' dance novelties, such as Walking The Dog (1963) and Do The Funky Chicken (1970), Eddie Floyd's Knock On Wood (1966), a Cropper composition, Arthur Conley's Sweet Soul Music (1967), an Otis Redding rewrite of Sam Cooke's Yeah Man that sounded like the label's aesthetic manifesto, Albert "King" Nelson's Born Under A Bad Sign (1967), a William Bell song that crystallized the Stax ensemble sound, the hits for Johnnie Taylor (another ex-Soul Stirrers), such as Isaac Hayes' I Had A Dream (1967) and Who's Making Love (1968), and those for Sam (Moore) and Dave (Prater), Hold On (1966) and Soul Man (1967), both composed by Isaac Hayes, etc.


The Memphis sound was epitomized by Wexler's productions for Wilson Pickett, setting the singer's wicked and visceral delivery against Steve Cropper's lean/mean guitar and against the house band's majestic explosions of sound (frantic horns, gospel choir, fearsome drums). Steve Cropper composed his classics In The Midnight Hour (1964) and 634-5789 (1966). Then came equally invigorating performances for Chris Kenner's Land Of 1000 Dances (1966), and Bonnie "Mack" Rice's Mustang Sally (1967). Funky Broadway (1967) was the cover of a genre-defining song, already written and performed n James Brown's vein by Arlester "Dyke" Christian, the voice and the brain behind Dyke & The Blazers.


The moving voice of Georgia-born Otis Redding, who died at 26, created a new emotional standard for southern soul. Equally important were the tight arrangements of guitarist Steve Cropper, in which the instrumental backing de facto replaced the gospel choir, turning the traditional call-and-response structure into a dialogue between voice and horns, and between voice and guitar. His own These Arms Of Mine (october 1962) and Pain In My Heart (september 1963), which was a cover of Irma Thomas' Ruler of My Heart (1962), Steve Cropper's Mr Pitiful (december 1964), his own Respect (july 1965), a metaphorical declaration of black pride camouflaged as a sexual plea, opened an almost metaphysical dimension to soul music, backed by one of the greatest rhythm sections of the time (Cropper on guitar, Booker T. Jones on piano, Donald Dunn on bass, Al Jackson on drums, and occasionally Isaac Hayes on organ). His version of Jerry Butler's I've Been Lovin' You Too Long (april 1965) became the quintessential seduction song. The last two gems that he composed with Cropper, Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa (august 1966) and Dock Of The Bay (december 1967), were increasingly tender, ethereal and extraterrestrial.

Overton Wright cried and sobbed in That's How Strong My Love Is (1964), You're Gonna Make Me Cry (1965), and Eight Men Four Women (1967), three of the most melodramatic performances of southern soul, as well as wailing in the intense and haunting Willie Mitchell productions of Ace Of Spades (1970), A Nickel and a Nail (1971), and I'd Rather Be Blind Crippled and Crazy (1973).

Another influential Memphis singer, James Carr recorded Baker and McCormick's Pouring Water On A Drowning Man (1966) and especially Chips Moman's poignant Dark End of the Street (1967), as well as two Obie McClinton compositions, You've Got My Mind Messed Up (1966) and A Man Needs A Woman (1968).

If Memphis was the epicenter, it certainly wasn't the only source of southern soul.

The queen of New Orleans soul was Irma Thomas, who penned three self-written gems such as Don't Mess With My Man (1961), Ruler Of My Heart (1962) and Wish Someone Would Care (1964), as well as premiering Jerry Ragavoy's Time Is On My Side (1964).

Joe Tex (Joseph Arrington), from Texas, sang witty stories in a rather limited falsetto against Memphis-style arrangements, alternating his singing with sermon-style raps. Hold What You've Got (1964) was the first southern soul song to become a national hit, followed by The Love You Save (1965), the dance novelty Skinny Legs And All (1967) and I Gotcha (1972). His album From the Roots Came the Rapper (1971) was one of the first instances that a street poet was called a "rapper", and included extended versions of Burt Bacharach's I'll Never Fall In Love Again and Jim Doris' Oh Me Oh My.

The purest phrasing was Percy Sledge's, the devoted Alabama tenor of When A Man Loves A Woman (1966), composed by Jimmy Hughes' organist Andrew Wright and bassist Calvin Lewis, and featuring "church" organ by Dewey Oldham, who composed Sledge's other two jewels, It Tears Me Up (1966) and Out Of Left Field (1967). Another impeccable demonstration of his country-soul style was Take Time To Know Her (1968).

The next big thing to happen to southern soul was Isaac Hayes' extended orchestral raps, that debuted on Presenting (1967) with a lengthy cover of Erroll Garner's Misty, and that matured on the four-song album Hot Buttered Soul (1969), including colossal covers of Jimmy Webb's By The Time I Get To Phoenix and Burt Bacharach's Walk On By. This style of subdued singing and lavish production was further revolutionized by the soundtrack to the film Shaft (1971), that added a strong funky undercurrent, setting the stage for disco-music.

Willie Mitchell organized another artistic colony in Memphis by hiring veterans of Booker T. And The Mg's and producing the mellow hits of singer-songwriter Ann Peebles, notably Slipped Stumbled and Fell In Love (1971), I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down (1973) and I Can't Stand The Rain (1974).

Mitchell's southern-soul productions also propelled the erotic hymns of Al Green: Green's own Tired Of Being Alone (1971) and Mitchell's Let's Stay Together (1971), Look What You Done To Me (1972), I'm Still In Love With You (1972), as well as Green's own Take Me To The River (1974). These productions expressed the ultimate contradiction of soul music, the tension between sex and God.

Detroit Soul

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The sound of Detroit's soul music was the sound of Berry Gordy's Tamla Motown, the greatest success story of a black enterpreneur in the music business.

Gordy borrowed the concept from the assembly lines of Detroit's car industry: Tamla's hits were manufactured on industrial scale by a team of skilled professionals. Composers and producers included the trio of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland (alias H-D-H), the duo of Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, as well as Norman Whitfield and Smokey Robinson. Session musicians (the Funk Brothers) included bassist James Jamerson (one of the most influential bassists of all times), drummer Benny Benjamin, saxophonist Hank Crosby, trombonist Paul Riser, trumpet player Herbie Williams, guitarists Robert White, keyboardists Joe Hunter and Earl VanDyke.

Gordy's "Motown sound" was the least "black" and most "white" of the various soul styles. His hits were catchy and elementary. Arrangements overflew with strings and other orchestral instruments. Rhythms were driving and infectious. The vocals and the instrumental backdrop had little of the psychological sophistication of southern soul: Tamla's hits were emphatic and epic. The "call-and-response" structure was largely abandoned, and the new center of the song became the melodic "hook". The lyrics targeted the lifestyle of teenagers.

The first hits were, actually, plain party music: Barrett Strong's Money (1960), written by Berry Gordy, the Miracles' Shoparound (1960), written by Smokey Robinson, the Contours' Do You Love Me (1962), written by Berry Gordy, Martha (Reeves) & The Vandellas' Dancing In The Street (1964), written by William Stevenson, pianist Frederick "Shorty" Long's Devil With A Blue Dress On (1964), and saxophonist Junior Walker's instrumental Shotgun/ Hot Cha (1965).

H-D-H, the greatest tunesmiths of the era, also wrote Heat Wave (1963) and Nowhere To Run (1965), whose booming arrangement was an exercise in excessive rapture, for Martha & The Vandellas, Please Mr Postman (1961) for the Marvelettes, Can I Get A Witness (1963) and How Sweet It Is To Be Loved by You (1964) for Marvin Gaye, and virtually all the hits for the Supremes, a female trio (the most commercially successful in history), and for the Four Tops, a male quartet.


The simple, infectious melodies of the Supremes embodied the romantic exuberance of the Sixties: Where Did Our Love Go (1964), Baby Love (1964), Stop In The Name Of Love (1965), I Hear A Symphony (1965), My World Is Empty Without You (1965), You Can't Hurry Love (1965). On her own, Diana Ross indulged in vocal tours de force for Ashford's and Simpson's Ain't No Mountain High Enough (1970), Gerry Goffin's pathetic Do You Know Where Are You Going To (1975), and Pam Sawyer's and Marilyn McLeod's erotic disco monolith Love Hangover (1976).

The Four Tops excelled both at melodrama, as in Baby I Need Your Loving (1964) and Reach Out I'll Be There (1966), both marked by Levi Stubbs' blues lament and highly emotional harmonies, besides H-D-H's cataclysmic arrangement (the latter a concerto for piano and strings), and at sprightly party dance music, such as I Can't Help Myself (1965) and Same Old Song (1965). With the mystical overtones and morbid introversion of Standing In The Shadows Of Love (1966) and Bernadette (1967) they transcended passion and ghetto.

The H-D-H trio rank among the greatest pop phenomenon of all times. Their songs were a simplified form of soul music, but these were the kind of black music that white radio stations had no problem broadcasting. They were meant to inspire dances at private parties, they complied with the conventions of the romantic ballad, they were sung by polite singers, and they implied no more than the usual stories of falling in love and heartbreak. There were none of the controversial elements of the Afro-American culture that had alarmed white American parents when their children were listening to rhythm'n'blues.

Norman Whitfield penned some of the most dramatic and creative productions, from the epochal I Heard It Through The Grapevine (1967), a concentrate of anxiety (largely packed by the instrumental choreography of piano, guitar, drums, strings and horns), sung by Marvin Gaye and later Gladys Knight And The Pips, to most of the Temptations' classics, from Edwin Starr's War (1970) to Rare Earth's I Just Want To Celebrate (1971).

The Temptations, featuring baritone David Ruffin and tenor Eddie Kendricks, were more stylish than the Four Tops thanks first to the baroque productions of Smokey Robinson's My Girl (1965) and Since I Lost My Baby (1965), and then to the psychedelic visions of Norman Whitfield: Cloud Nine (1968), Runaway Child (1969), I Can't Get Next To You (1969), Psychedelic Shack (1970), Ball Of Confusion (1970), and the suite Masterpiece (1973), ever more bizarre despite lighter fare such as the ballad Just My Imagination (1971) and the funky Papa Was A Rolling Stone (1972).

William "Smokey" Robinson was both a gifted melodic composer, a fluent vocalist, a consummate poet and a creative arranger. He composed the Miracles' Shoparound (1960), Mary Wells' My Guy (1964), the Temptations' My Girl (1965) and Since I Lost My Baby (1965), Marvin Gaye's Ain't That Peculiar (1965), One More Heartache ((1966), and I'll Be Doggone (1965). The Miracles were his own group, and they delivered his best material: You Really Got A Hold On Me (1963), The Tracks Of My Tears (1965), I Second That Emotion (1967) and the baroque, breathtaking The Tears Of A Clown (1970). Robinson did not merely create catchy refrains, he created mini-dramas or mini-symphonies. He also became the epitome of the romantic soul vocalist of the post-Cooke era.


One of the most expressive male vocalists of the era, Marvin Gaye (1), capable of impersonating both the party dancer, the romantic lover, the hostile mod/punk and the political activist, breathed life into H-D-H's Can I Get A Witness (1963) and How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You (1964), Smokey Robinson's I'll Be Doggone (1965), One More Heartache ((1966) and Ain't That Peculiar (1965), Norman Whitfield's I Heard It Through The Grapevine (1967), Ashford's and Simpson's Ain't No Mountain High Enough (1967). Gaye the songwriter exploded in 1971, with the socially aware and orchestrally-arranged concept album What's Going On (1971), one of the albums that shifted the emphasis from the "song" to the ambience. The less intense and dense Let's Get It On (1973) was more sound-oriented and returned to his erotic persona, a transition towards the abstract melodic fantasies of I Want You (1976), co-written with Leon Ware.


Stevie "Wonder" Judkins/Morris (3), the blind multi-instrumentalist enfant prodige of Henry Cosby's Fingertips (1963), Henry Cosby's and Sylvia Moy's Uptight (1966) and My Cherie Amour (1969), Ron Miller's and Bryan Wells' A Place In The Sun (1966) and Yester-me Yester-day (1969), grew up to become an adventurous composer and arranger. Wonder crafted concept albums that moved from the format of the extended song towards the format of the electronic-funk-jazz-pop jam via production tours de force: Music Of My Mind (1972), a collaboration with electronic musicians Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil of the Tonto's Expanding Head Band, the first collection written, produced and played (mostly) by himself (already a veteran at the age of 22); Talking Book (1972), with the funky work-out Superstition and the romantic You Are The Sunshine Of My Heart; Innervisions (1973), a social fresco of symphonic proportions; the monumental and ambitious Songs In The Key Of Life (1976); and the mostly instrumental Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants (1979). Till the end, his artistic life was schizophrenic in its attempt to please both the masses, with catchy tunes such as I Just Called To Say I Love You (1984) and Part-time Lover (1985), and his spiritual alter-ego.

In 1973 Motown moved from Detroit to Los Angeles, a sign that an era had finished.

The importance of soul music

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Soul music was, fundamentally, a consequence of rock music. The leadership went from the blacks (rhythm'n'blues) to the whites (rock'n'roll) back to the blacks (soul). Soul music was everything that rock music was: dance music, personal expression, teenage angst, political rebellion. Rock'n'roll had stolen the body (the sound) of rhythm'n'blues, and soul music stole the soul (the spirit) of rock'n'roll.

From the musical viewpoint, the aesthetic priorities of soul music were rather different from those of blues music. The singer was still the center of action, but the arrangement (the ambience, the soundscape) was way more important than in rhythm'n'blues. The great figures of soul music were, first and foremost, arrangers.

The mystical element of blues music was largely lost, replaced by sociopolitical awareness and a philosophical inquiry into the meaning of life; or simply by enjoyment of life. In many ways, one could claim that soul music was the result of black musicians adopting the European stance about artistic matters: intellectual, creative, melodic.

At the same time, soul music introduced a new form of dancing: elegant, sensual and nonetheless primal.

Philly Soul

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During the 1970s, Tamla Motown was replaced at the helm of soul music by Philadelphia International. Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff added lavish orchestrations and disco rhythms to the new wave of Detroit's soft soul music. Their house band, the MFSB, was their equivalent of the MG's. Their sound was defined via the Intruders' Cowboys to Girls (1968), Jerry Butler's Only The Strong Survive (1969), the O'Jays' Back Stabbers (1972), female trio Three Degrees' When Will I See You Again (1974), and, above all, If You Don't Know Me By Now (1972) and Don't Leave Me This Way (1976) by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, featuring the young Teddy Pendergrass. The other local producer-composer, Thom Bell, created an even softer sound via the Delfonics' La-La Means I Love You (1968), the Stylistics' Betcha By Golly Now (1972), the Spinners' I'll Be Around (1972), etc. In 1974, Philadelphia ruled the charts (Bell had eleven hits, Gamble & Huff had ten).

Art Soul

With the cerebral and elegant productions of Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul (1969), Marvin Gaye's What's Going On (1971), Curtis Mayfield's Superfly (1972), and Stevie Wonder's Music Of My Mind (1972), soul music had recognized its crisis, and entered a new era. Instead of the assembly-line approach and the song format of the early era, the new era valued an author-oriented approach and the suite format.

A typical product of the era was Los Angeles' multi-instrumentalist Shuggie Otis, the son of Johnny Otis, who embraced the aesthetics of Sly Stone and Marvin Gaye on his fourth album, Inspiration Information (1975), a work that he composed, played and produced on his own, a stylistic tour de force, heavy on drum-machine and keyboards as well as strings and horns, that concocted an orchestral and sometimes electronic blend of funk, soul and psychedelic-rock.

However, the 1970s were a decade of steady decline for soul music. First it was funk music that reduced the market for soul musicians (and, in fact, many of them simply adopted the funky beat). Then it was disco music that made soul music sound antiquated as party music. Finally, hip-hop music introduced a completely new paradigm (both vocal and rhythmic) for black music.


See this chapter for soul of the 1950s.
See this chapter for soul of the 1960s.
See this chapter for Phoebe Snow and Millie Jackson.
See this chapter for soul of the 1970s.
See this chapter for soul of the 1990s.
Bibliography:

Southern, Eileen: "The Music of Black Americans" (Norton, 1971)
Cotto, Massimo: "Enciclopedia del Blues" (1994)
Gillett, Charlie: "The Sound of the City" (1970)
Hardy, Phil & Laing Dave: "Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music" (1990)


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