Rhythm and blues (a combination of blues and jazz) arose in the 1940s as small groups of predominately African-American musicians composed using the blues tradition. Soul music is differentiated from rhythm and blues by its use of gospel-music devices, its greater emphasis on vocalists, and its merging of religious and secular themes.
Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and James Brown are considered the earliest pioneers of soul music. Solomon Burke's early recordings for Atlantic Records codified the style, and his early 1960s recordings “Cry to Me,” “Just Out of Reach” and “Down in the Valley” are considered classics of the genre. Peter Guralnick writes, "it was only with the coming together of Burke and Atlantic Records that you could see anything resembling a movement."
In Memphis, Tennessee, Stax Records produced recordings by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Don Covay (who also recorded in New York City for Atlantic). Joe Tex's 1965 “The Love You Save” is a classic soul recording.
An important center of soul music recording was Florence, Alabama, where the Fame Studios operated. Jimmy Hughes, Percy Sledge and Arthur Alexander recorded at Fame; Aretha Franklin recorded in the area later in the 1960s. Fame Studios, often referred to as Muscle Shoals (after a town neighboring Florence), enjoyed a close relationship with Stax, and many of the musicians and producers who worked in Memphis contributed to recordings done in Alabama.
Another important Memphis label was Goldwax Records, owned by Quinton Claunch. Goldwax signed O. V. Wright and James Carr, who went on to make several records that are considered essentials of the genre. Carr's “The Dark End of the Street” (written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn) was recorded at two other important Memphis studios—Royal Recording and American Sound Studios—in 1967. American Studios owner Chips Moman produced “Dark End of the Street,” and the musicians were his house band of Reggie Young, Bobby Woods, Tommy Cogbill and Gene Chrisman. Carr also made recordings at Fame, utilizing musicians David Hood, Jimmy Johnson and Roger Hawkins.
Aretha Franklin's 1967 recordings, such as I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You, Respect (originally sung by Otis Redding), and Do Right Woman-Do Right Man, are considered to be the apogee of the soul music genre, and were among its most commercially successful productions. During this period, Stax artists such as Eddie Floyd and Johnnie Taylor made significant contributions to soul music. Howard Tate's recordings in the late 1960s for Verve Records, and later for Atlantic (produced by Jerry Ragovoy) are another important body of work in the soul genre.
By 1968, the soul music movement had begun to splinter, as James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone began to expand upon and abstract both soul and rhythm and blues into other forms. As Guralnick writes, "More than anything else, though, what seems to me to have brought the era of soul to a grinding, unsettling halt was the death of Martin Luther King in April of 1968."
The 1970s and later
Later examples of soul music include recordings by The Staple Singers (such as I'll Take You There), and Al Green's 1970s recordings, done at Willie Mitchell's Royal Recording in Memphis. Mitchell's Hi Records continued the Stax tradition in that decade, releasing many hits by Green, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay, O. V. Wright and Syl Johnson. Bobby Womack, who recorded with Chips Moman in the late 1960s, continued to produce soul recordings in the 1970s and 1980s.
The city of Detroit produced some important later soul recordings. Producer Don Davis worked with Stax artists such as Johnnie Taylor and The Dramatics. Early-1970s recordings by The Detroit Emeralds, such as “Do Me Right,” are an important link between soul and the later disco style. Motown Records artists such as Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson contributed to the evolution of soul music, although their recordings were considered more in a pop music vein than those of Redding, Franklin and Carr.
Although stylistically different from classic soul music, recordings by Chicago- based artists such as Jerry Butler and The Chi-Lites are often considered part of the genre.
By the early 1970s, soul music had been influenced by psychedelic rock and other genres. The social and political ferment of the times inspired artists like Gaye and Curtis Mayfield to release album-length statements with hard-hitting social commentary. Performing artists like James Brown led soul towards 'funk' music, which became typified by 1970s bands like Parliament-Funkadelic and The Meters. More versatile groups like War, The Commodores and Earth, Wind & Fire became popular around this time.
During the 1970s, some slick and commercial blue-eyed soul acts like Philadelphia's Hall & Oates achieved mainstream success, as did a new generation of street-corner harmony or city-soul groups like The Delfonics and Howard University's Unifics.
By the end of the 1970s, disco and funk were dominating the charts. Philadelphia soul and most other soul genres were dominated by disco-inflected tracks. During this period, groups like The O'Jays and The Spinners continued to turn out hits.
After the death of disco in the early 1980s, soul music survived for a short time before going through yet another metamorphosis. With the introduction of influences from electro music and funk, soul music became less raw and more slickly produced, resulting in a newer genre that was called rhythm and blues, which sounded very different from the original rhythm and blues style. This new version of R&B was often labeled “contemporary R&B.”
Genres of soul
Usually performed by white artists, blue-eyed soul is often characterized by catchy hooks and melodies. It arose from a mixture of Elvis Presley and Bill Haley-derived rockabilly and from 1950s doo-wop. Other performers include the Righteous Brothers, The Action, Hall and Oates, The Rascals, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Dusty Springfield, Culture Club and George Michael. David Bowie's Young Americans album is widely regarded as a later classic of the genre.
Detroit (Motown) soul
Dominated by Berry Gordy's Motown Records empire, Detroit soul is strongly rhythmic, and influenced by gospel music. The Motown Sound often includes hand clapping, a powerful bass line, violins, bell (instrument)|bells and other untraditional instruments. Motown's house band was The Funk Brothers, and singers included: Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, The Marvelettes, Mary Wells, Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Jackson 5, The Four Tops and Stevie Wonder. Songwriters included Holland-Dozier-Holland, Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong, Smokey Robinson, Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Ivy Jo Hunter and Roger Penzabene.
Northern soul and Modern soul
The term “Northern soul” was coined by music journalist Dave Godin in 1970 after a visit to the Twisted Wheel Club in Manchester, England. The term refers to rare soul music played by DJs at nightclubs in northern England. The songs originally consisted of obscure American soul recordings with an uptempo beat, similar to (and including) those on Motown Records and more obscure labels such as Okeh. Modern soul was an updated version of the northern soul sound.
Deep soul and Southern soul
The terms deep soul and southern soul generally refer to a driving, energetic soul style combining rhythm and blues' energy with pulsating southern United States gospel music sounds. Stax Records nurtured a distinctive sound, which included putting vocals further back in the mix than most contemporary R&B records, using vibrant horn parts in place of background vocals, and a focus on the low end of the frequency spectrum. The vast majority of Stax releases were backed by house bands [[Booker T. and the M.G.’s (with Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Al Jackson) and the Memphis Horns (the splinter horn section of the Mar-Keys). The label counted Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas, William Bell, and Eddie Floyd among its stars.
Memphis soul is a shimmering, sultry style of soul music produced in the 1960s and 1970s at Stax Records and Hi Records in Memphis, Tennessee. It featured melancholic and melodic horns, organ, bass, and drums, as heard in recordings by Hi's Al Green and Stax's Booker T. & the M.G.'s. The latter group also sometimes played in the harder-edged Southern soul style. The Hi Records house band (Hi Rhythm Section) and producer Willie Mitchell developed a surging soul style heard in the label's 1970s hit recordings. Some Stax recordings fit into this style, but had their own unique sound.
Neo soul is a mixture of 1970s soul-styled vocals and instrumentation with a contemporary rhythm and blues sound, hip-hop beats and rap interludes. The style first appeared in the mid 1990s with the work of Tony! Toni! Toné! and D'Angelo, after previous permutations in new jack swing and hip-hop soul. Lauryn Hill, Musiq Soulchild, The Roots and Alicia Keys helped popularize the sound. Other performers include Jill Scott, Jaguar Wright, Erykah Badu, Adriana Evans, Maxwell (musician)|Maxwell, India.Arie, Joss Stone, Anthony Hamilton and Tom Fox (singer-songwriter)|Tom Fox.
Based primarily in the Philadelphia International record label, Philadelphia soul (also “Philly soul”) had a lush orchestral sound and doo-wop-inspired vocals. Thom Bell, and Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff are considered the founders of Philadelphia soul, which was dominated by artists such as The Spinners, The Delfonics, The O'Jays, The Stylistics, The Intruders, Patti LaBelle, The Three Degrees, MFSB, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and McFadden & Whitehead.
Psychedelic soul was a blend of psychedelic rock and soul music in the late-1960s, which paved the way for the mainstream emergence of funk music a few years later. Principle figures included multicultural band Sly and the Family Stone, The Fifth Dimension, The Temptations and The Undisputed Truth.
- Guralnick, Peter. “Soul” in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, 194-197. Edited by Jim Miller. New York: Rolling Stone Press/Random House, 1976. ISBN 0394732383
- Hirshey, Gerri. Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music. New York: Da Capo Press, 1994. ISBN 0306805812
- Pratchett, Terry. Soul Music. HarperTorch, 1995. ISBN 0061054895
All links retrieved October 6, 2007.
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