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:
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 record–to-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.
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.
Shake A Hand
– Faye Adams
Work With Me Annie
– Hank Ballard & The Midnighters
Please Please Please
– James Brown
(1956, this performance from 1964)
– Sam Cooke
What’d I Say, Parts 1 & 2
– Ray Charles
– Booker T. & The MGs
– The Temptations
Where Did Our Love Go
– The Supremes
Ooh Baby Baby
– Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
You Don’t Know Like I Know
– Sam & Dave
Never Gonna Give You Up
– Jerry Butler
Mercy Mercy Me
– Marvin Gaye
– Curtis Mayfield
– The O’Jays
Take Me To The River
– Al Green
Choice Of Colors
– The Impressions
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