Published Dec 01, 2000Soul was the name ascribed to the evolving style of R&B in the 1960s, while the original style of rhythm and blues was being referred to as rock'n'roll. Heavily influenced by gospel, and pioneered by the 50s recordings of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke among others, soul retained the R&B aesthetic of music delivered with emotional intensity and honesty. James Brown recorded classic soul material (Live At The Apollo, 1963) before pioneering funk, while Aretha Franklin traversed gospel and jazz before issuing her definitive late 60s Atlantic soul output. Both artists, known as the Godfather and Queen of Soul respectively, spoke to the collective pride and assertion that were crucial themes in the civil rights movement. It can be argued that soul mirrored the aspirations of African-Americans in the changing political, economic and social landscape moving from rural to urbanised areas. The stridency has noticeably faded, but the spirit of pioneering artists is present in contemporary artists.
Motown & Stax
Founded by Berry Gordy in 1958 in Detroit, Motown's superbly crafted songwriting, production and hook-filled numbers for countless artists provided a formulaic yet irresistible sound that captivated mainstream America in the 60s. In contrast to the polished sound of Motown, Stax sported one that was uncompromisingly raw, rugged and highly influential. A crucial element of the Memphis soul scene that also produced Al Green, Stax provided a forum for the unbridled intensity of gospel-influenced artists. As well as establishing sounds synonymous with their names, Motown fused Tin Pan Alley & R&B compositional styles and Stax's output was the result of some of the first integrated creative environments for white and black musicians, speaking to the political pressure for desegregation.
Motown: Smokey Robinson & the Miracles "Tracks of My Tears"; Diana Ross & the Supremes "Stop! In the Name of Love"; the Temptations "My Girl"; Jackson Five "I Want You Back"
Stax: Otis Redding "Try A Little Tenderness"; Sam & Dave "Soul Man"; Booker T. & the MGs "Green Onions"; Isaac Hayes "Walk On By"
The dawning of the "blaxploitation" film era birthed countless soundtracks, allowing many artists to creatively expand, and with the conceptual paths taken by many soul artists, this led to ornate and intricate arrangements and album length statements, often brilliantly articulating heartfelt social concerns.
Key Sounds: Curtis Mayfield Superfly (Curtom, 1972); Marvin Gaye What's Goin On (Motown, 1971); Stevie Wonder Innervisions (Motown, 1973) Donny Hathaway Everything Is Everything (Atlantic, 1970)
Through the label Philadelphia International, songwriting and production duo Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, along with cohort Thom Bell, constructed their own distinctive sound, infusing unabashed social commentary and romantic fare into their music. The smooth sound of Philly International proved very influential as their sweeping orchestral arrangements ushered in the emergence of the lover-man ethos of Barry White and Teddy Pendergrass (whom they produced) and genres such as disco and "quiet storm."
Key Sounds: O'Jays Backstabbers, Ship Ahoy(Philadelphia, 1972, 73); Billy Paul 360 Degrees of Bill Paul (Philadelphia, 1972); Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes s/t (Philadelphia, 1973); Spinners s/t (Atlantic, 1972)
These artists are inspired by 70s pioneers and to some degree acid jazz and soul artists from the UK from the late 80s and early 90s, such as Omar, Soul II Soul and Jamiroquai. Often focusing on earthy organic production infused with hip-hop sensibilities, the sound like the lyrical content is subtle and understated.
Key Sounds: D'Angelo Brown Sugar (EMI, 1995); Erykah Badu Baduizm (Universal, 1997); Maxwell Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite (Columbia/Sony, 1996) Groove Theory s/t (Sony, 1995)