Soul music was born from a combination of rhythm and blues (R&B), gospel and doo-wop in the middle to late 1950’s, nurtured by Ray Charles, The Drifters and Sam Cooke – among others. While never leaving its R&B roots, soul offered a funkier and sometimes looser interpretation owing to its gospel heritage. As Sam Cooke was constructing (and some say inventing) the sound of early soul, the stage was being set for soul’s defining decade of the 1960’s.
While Motown was grabbing the headlines with their signature sound, record labels like Atlantic and Stax/Volt were doing a lot of the heavy lifting with iconic artists like Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. Airplay and sales exploded for soul music in the 1960’s as much of the Motown roster found itself played increasingly on pop music stations to a white audience who started buying their records. While the history of 1960’s soul was largely written in Detroit, New York and Memphis, it was being redefined on the King label (based in Cincinnati) by Soul Brother #1, James Brown.
As the 1960’s progressed, soul music began to fragment into different flavors: southern soul was sounding tougher, the use of horns became more prominent and cities like Chicago and Philadelphia began branding their own soul sound. At the end of the decade, much like rock & roll, soul music was reflecting the social awareness of America’s youth in its lyrics and sound. The 1970’s would witness the further evolution of soul with masterpieces from Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Marvin Gaye and The Isley Brothers, to name a few. Soul music went on to weather the disco movement, invent the quiet storm format, see the dawn of rap and eventually embrace hip-hop.
If you are looking for the halcyon days of soul, MusicHouse has released MH106 – Vintage Soul, which features 21 tracks of that sweet soul music. Give it a listen and see if you can keep from tapping your toe and singing along!
– John Lentz, Senior Music Director | FirstCom Music