Theoretically Speaking S2 | E7: What Makes Soul, Soul ?

160 views

Bill Bois’ Music Theory For Non-Musicians

…if there was ever an art where breaking the rules is one of the rules, it’s music.

redditor u/COMPRIMENS

S2 | E7 – What Makes Soul, Soul?

There are many theories about what happens after we die.

None can be proved, of course, because no one’s ever died and then come back to explain the entire process of passing from this life to the next, if there is one.

The closest I know of is Dr. Timothy Leary apparently dying and then opening his eyes and saying, “It’s beautiful,” and dying again.

For good that time.

However, there’s a school of thought that we don’t simply just pass immediately into the afterlife.

We must first strip ourselves of whatever earthly baggage we have. You can’t take it with you:

not money…

nor insecurities…

nor delusions of grandeur.

You must let go of your ego, big or small.
What’s left is your soul. And that’s soul music.

Soul singers must set their egos aside and serve the song.

Only then will they get to the song’s soul, and reveal their own.

Bill Bois

The same is true of gospel music, of course, which is where soul comes from. In gospel, the singers are serving the lord through song. Soul is about serving the audience through song. 

Paradoxically, the more a performer can remove his ego from the song, the greater his performance is. The less artifice, the greater the artist.

To a point.
There was nothing organic about James Brown’s dance moves.

At the end of the previous article in this series, Ray Charles was putting secular lyrics over gospel music in 1954. He was at the forefront of soul, but his music fell into the category of R&B. Those of you who have been following this series may have been thinking this one was going to be “What Makes R&B R&B?”

That would make sense and I’ll cover it briefly here. What makes R&B, R&B? Well, c’mon. It’s right there in the name. 

Rhythm & Blues.

Sounds like it’s blues music meant for dancing, and yes, it is, but no, that’s not the entire story.

“Rhythm & Blues” is more of a marketing term. It’s a way of saying “black people’s music” without saying it out loud.

In mid-20th Century America, record stores in the southern states wouldn’t carry music by black artists. That’s odd, because there were a lot of black people in the south who were interested in buying those records. But hey, if you want to hurt your store’s sales figures with your own racism, have at it.

Most records by black artists were released on independent record labels. Major labels would shy away from these artists. The indies would have regional success in areas like New York, Detroit, and Chicago. 

Some of these records even said “Race Record” on the label so the consumer would know what they were or weren’t buying.

There was a cottage industry of driving into the southern states and selling these records to black people from the trunk of the car, or at church and neighborhood events.

Radio wouldn’t play black artists either, even though radio doesn’t have a visual element, so there was another industry of white singers covering black music. Labels with white artists would stay on the forefront of music by finding out what songs were recently recorded by black artists and immediately have their acts cover those songs. Sometimes, they’d use the black artists’ records as reference so they could duplicate the chords, key and rhythms. The white group would get the airplay.

Tom Dowd, the great studio engineer, worked freelance and said he would record a black group doing a particular song, and then record a white group doing the same song for another label. He said he recorded The Chords doing their doo wop song Sh-Boom (Life Could Be A Dream) on one day and The Crew-Cuts doing it two days later. The Crew-Cuts hit #1 in 1954.

But now The Chords’ version is considered superior.

When a white band did a song, it was rock & roll. When a black band did it, it was rhythm & blues.

So R&B became an umbrella term for blues, gospel, soul, funk, hip hop, and more. It would be unfair to treat those individual genres as one. So then, what is soul?

Darryl Hall called soul “secular gospel music.”

And that’s pretty accurate. The Ray Charles song I Got A Woman is an update of the gospel song I’ve Got A Savior and his first crossover hit, What’d I Say, used the same call and response used in gospel.

Likewise, Sam Cooke was kicked out of his gospel group, The Soul Stirrers, when he re-recorded their song Wonderful as the secular Loveable. His love song You Send Me, with its touches of doo wop, hit #1 in 1957. 

Soul evolved in different ways, depending on where and for what label it was made.

Chicago was, and still is, a big gospel town, and a lot of blues and soul came from there, too. Vee-Jay Records signed The Impressions as a pop act. Jerry Butler and Curtis Mayfield started the band and their first single, For Your Precious Love, hit #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958. 

As the 1960s progressed, their songs got more political. Most of those songs were written by Mayfield. Butler, who co-wrote For Your Precious Love, said, “Curtis Mayfield songs kinda ushered in the civil rights movement.” These songs included People Get Ready and Choice Of Colors. Dr. Martin Luther King took Keep On Pushing as a kind of theme song for his civil rights work.

Meanwhile in Detroit, Motown Records was producing sophisticated soul with singers like The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. Motown leader Berry Gordy wanted to make music that everyone, black or white, would enjoy and, of course, buy. They made a point to never record anything potentially offensive.

It worked. Motown started as an indie label and always survived recordto-record. The money from the last record paid for the next one, so they were only interested in recording hits. As the hits came and label grew, they were finally able to go nationwide.

They put together one of the best studio bands ever, The Funk Brothers, and hired great songwriters like the team of Holland/Dozier/Holland who wrote ten of The Supremes’ thirteen Number Ones.

Motown was a huge influence on Philadelphia soul. The hometown label there was Philadelphia International Records, started in 1971 by the team of Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell. The Philly soul sound is marked by lush horns and strings and driving percussion. 

The label’s big acts included The O’Jays, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, and Lou Rawls. Their house band, MFSB, had their own #1 hit with the instrumental, “The Sound Of Philadelphia.”

Memphis had its own sound, too. It was stripped down and funky. Stax Records, which was set up in a failed neighborhood movie theater, had Booker T. & The MGs as its house band. They had hits of their own but mostly backed up singers like Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and The Staple Singers.

Al Bell was in his late teens when a white man told him black people (yes, he used the n-word here) can’t do anything but sing and dance. Bell thought, ‘there’s money to be made in singing and dancing’ but he could do neither.

He became a radio DJ and built such a following that Stax hired him as National Director of Promotions. In under a year, he brought the label from being $90,000 in debt to $1.5 million in the green. All without singing or dancing.

A couple kids who hung around the studio, Isaac Hayes and David Porter, eventually became the label’s main songwriting team. Together, they cranked out songs like Soul Man and Hold On, I’m Coming. Hayes would later have his own #1 hit with Theme From Shaft, for which he also won an Oscar.

Just down the road a piece in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a couple small studios had an even swampier take on soul. There was no label based in Muscle Shoals but the studios F.A.M.E and Muscle Shoals Recording Studio had a gritty, warm sound that couldn’t be duplicated elsewhere.

Producer Rick Hall worked at both studios and used the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section as a backing band. Many artists were surprised to arrive and find out that Hall and the band were white, but their loose, countryfied groove attracted soul artists like Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, and Wilson Pickett, as well as rock musicians like Linda Ronstadt, Bob Dylan, and Paul Simon.

Soul songs are on the soundtracks of nearly every movie that takes place in the 1960s.

The music of that decade was wildly inventive and the top soul acts belong in the pantheon of great musicians alongside the Beatles and others of the era. It’s a shame we still sort of segregate them into a separate genre.

Rock musicians knew soul musicians, of course. They shared the charts together. The Beatles even considered recording Abbey Road at Stax, but word got out and Beatles fans inundated the studio, so it never happened.

The classic era of soul lasted two decades before evolving into the genres of funk, disco and quiet storm.

The latter eventually became part of adult contemporary as the color lines slowly, slowly, slowly started to almost begin to fade away ever so slightly. 

Soul’s influence continues today. It’s still sampled on hip hop records, thirty years since hip hop began and sixty years since those soul records were recorded. It’s timeless.

If you know, you know.

“Backstabbers” is a 10.

Suggested Listening:

Shake A Hand
– Faye Adams

(1953)


Work With Me Annie
Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
(1954)


Please Please Please
– James Brown
(1956, this performance from 1964)


Loveable
– Sam Cooke
(1957)


What’d I Say, Parts 1 & 2
– Ray Charles
(1959)


Green Onions
– Booker T. & The MGs
(1962)


My Girl
– The Temptations

(1964)


Where Did Our Love Go
– The Supremes
(1964)


Ooh Baby Baby
– Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

(1965)


You Don’t Know Like I Know
– Sam & Dave

(1967)


Never Gonna Give You Up
– Jerry Butler
(1968)


Mercy Mercy Me
– Marvin Gaye

(1971)


Pusherman
– Curtis Mayfield
(1972)


Backstabbers
– The O’Jays
(1973)


Take Me To The River
– Al Green

(1974)


Choice Of Colors
– The Impressions

(1976)


(Let the author know that your liked their article with a “Heart Upvote!”)

5

Bill Bois

Bill Bois - bassist, pie fan, aging gentleman punk, keeper of the TNOCS spreadsheet:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/138BvuV84ZH7ugcwR1HVtH6HmOHiZIDAGMIegPPAXc-I/edit#gid=0

Subscribe
Notify of
24 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Online Now
October 7, 2022 9:24 am

>The classic era of soul lasted two decades before evolving into the genres of funk, disco and quiet storm.

This made me a little bit sad to read, as it forces me to consider that “Soul Music,” as you’ve defined it… is a defunct genre? Say it ain’t so.

I started thinking about it all, noting that your Suggested Listening stops at the 1976 Impressions record. I’ll have to scan the charts, post ’76 to see what’s what.

I suppose this this partially explains why I like Silk Sonic as much as I do: It’s brand new old-school.

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Online Now
October 7, 2022 10:03 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Bruno Mars is pretty good at callbacking on an older, technically obsolete style.

He’s also good at zooming in the finer points of the genre without making it derivative. Irrespective of his excellent musical chops, that alone is a real talent.

Before Silk Sonic, he did the same kind of thing in his revival of West Coast G-Funk.

Here’s a very well done live version. I love the energy, and the direction; this cheers me up every time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8cK15Iv5qM

PeiNews
Member
Trusted Member
PeiNews
Offline
October 7, 2022 10:55 am
Reply to  mt58

Did it for New Jack Swing too with “Finesse” ft. Cardi B — that one’s opening is clearly inspired by “Poison”

PeiNews
Member
Trusted Member
PeiNews
Offline
October 7, 2022 10:56 am
Reply to  PeiNews

…aaaaand The Police (not a genre but they do have a distinctive sound) on “Locked Out of Heaven”

(too tired to post video links right now)

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Online Now
October 7, 2022 10:59 am
Reply to  PeiNews

Good catches, well done.

You nap, I’ll post for ya:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-fA-gBCkj0

PeiNews
Member
Trusted Member
PeiNews
Offline
October 7, 2022 12:44 pm
Reply to  PeiNews

I’m not feeling much more awake right now than I was earlier but here’s the other video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsoLEjrDogU

Edith G
Member
Noble Member
Edith G
Offline
October 7, 2022 10:31 am
Reply to  mt58

Agree about Silk Sonic, even if I haven’t heard their full album, the couple of songs that I heard from them caught well the retro vibe.

JJ Live At Leeds
Member
Famed Member
October 7, 2022 11:33 am

All that talk of death in the intro appears to have influenced the ads I’m seeing – someone really wants me to make a will.

I’ll ignore the reminders of my mortality to say that soul provides some of the most life affirming music known to man and woman. Even when its dealing with someone done me wrong themes there’s nothing like it for taking you out of yourself and making you want to move.

I’ve managed to somehow miss hearing any Silk Sonic but will definitely put that right.

One big recommendation I can give for a modern take on classic soul is Gabriels who released their debut album last week. This is the song that first got them noticed:

https://youtu.be/MRb9_F-CZHE

Last edited 3 months ago by JJ Live At Leeds
cappiethedog
Member
Famed Member
cappiethedog
Offline
October 7, 2022 2:23 pm

“When a white band did a song, it was rock and roll. When a black band, did it, it was rhythm and blues.”

Never heard it put this way.

Little Richard is featured in Baz Luhrmann’s somewhat bizarre Tom Hanks-centric Elvis. (Luhrmann found a guy who blows away Kurt Russell. Luhrmann overthought this.) I was disappointed that Little Richard(Alton Mason) and Elvis(Austin Butler) didn’t have a scene together.

Richard would insist that he invented rock and roll every time I saw him on television. I guess I wasn’t seeing the bigger picture. His comments, in retrospect, was less comic schtick, a boast, than a pointed attack at the music industry, I guess, for marketing him as a rhythm and blues artist.

Is that accurate?

What Little Richard songs do you think should have charted on Pop/Rock?

Dance Fever
DanceFever
Offline
October 7, 2022 2:35 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

Sadly, Cappiethedog, it was all too familiar to us who were alive at the time.
I believe Virgindog in his series “What Makes” in version on Rock And Roll cites Ike Turner’s recording of “Rocket 88” in 1951 as the first rock and roll song of prominence.
I suggest you google Chess Records for more info on how people took advantage of the early Black artists and their music.
Also check out the movie “Cadillac Records” with Aden Brophy and Beyonce.
The title refers to the practice of paying Black performers in cars rather than cash.

Dance Fever
DanceFever
Offline
October 7, 2022 2:39 pm

We can’t talk about the recent renaissance of soul music without mentioning Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.
Unfortunately, Jones passed away in 2016 just as her group was breaking through to national audiences. I highly suggest the documentary “Miss Sharon Jones!” for a look at this extraordinary woman.
I’m not tech savvy enough to post any of their songs but if mt58 or Virgin could be so helpful as to post one or two of their songs, you’ll see what I mean.

Dance Fever
DanceFever
Offline
October 8, 2022 7:51 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Thank you, my friend. An addendum to your post, I believe James Brown also would not perform without being paid in cash.
My friend and I went to a performance of his in the ’90’s and after the
warm-up act there was a long delay and my friend quipped “James must be holding out for cash”. He eventually took the stage and it was a dynamite performance and it was in a country-western bar of all places!

Che Boludo
Che_Boludo!
Offline
October 31, 2022 3:30 am
Reply to  DanceFever

Oh yeah? How many times did they play Rawhide?

cappiethedog
Member
Famed Member
cappiethedog
Offline
October 7, 2022 9:22 pm
Reply to  DanceFever

Neal Sugarman has such a heavy-duty indie rock background, I thought it was a different Neal Sugarman when I bought my first Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings album, I Learned the Hard Way. This is no pastiche. And mimicry sounds like an insult. It was music that evoked false nostalgia for somebody like me. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings sounded like a contemporary of whatever brand of soul the band was chasing after.

Dance Fever
DanceFever
Offline
October 8, 2022 7:53 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

I apologize, Cappie, but I’m not quite sure what you are saying here.
Could you expand your answer some more so I can better respond.
Thanks.

cappiethedog
Member
Famed Member
cappiethedog
Offline
October 9, 2022 1:53 am
Reply to  DanceFever

Yikes. Apparently, for a decade, I thought Neal Sugarman was a member of Spacemen 3.

Still, not as embarrassing than confusing: “Gloria, in te domine,” as being Gaelic, pre-TNOCS mothership.

cstolliver
Member
Famed Member
cstolliver
Offline
October 7, 2022 7:26 pm

Great, as always, V-dog. Question: Would you consider neo-soul its own genre a la funk, disco and quiet storm or is it, as its name suggests, an updating of the existing genre? Some of the artists I’m thinking of right away on this are India.Arie (“Video,” “Ready for Love” and especially her wonderful take on Henley’s “Heart of the Matter”), D’Angelo (“Untitled (How Does It Feel)”) and Raphael Saadiq (“Never Give You Up,” “Staying in Love” as well as his work with Tony! Toni! Tone!). Some of the early aughts’ work from Alicia Keys and Angie Stone would fall in this department, too.

Phylum of Alexandria
Member
Famed Member
October 8, 2022 6:49 am

I can’t post much this week but wanted to say: Great write-up, Bill!

thegue
Member
Famed Member
thegue
Offline
October 8, 2022 8:15 am

Another great entry!

I did NOT know that Ray Charles wrote “soul” lyrics over a gospel song. The things we learn…

Leon Huff was born in Camden, and I teach at a magnet school on the Camden Campus. There is a Wall of Fame, and no surprise, Huff has a prominent place on that wall. I’m always amazed at the talent that came through that school…

24
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x