The US 1960s Soul Scene
Soul music, as a continuation of the US R&B tradition, really took off in 1964 and became a huge commercial success partly due to the need for good dance music in the new 1960s Discotheques.
The term Soul was attached to this musical style due more to the vocal intensity and emotional content of the music rather than any ubiquitous style. This intense vocalisation had its roots in Gospel and was first introduced in secular R&B in the work of precursors such as Ray Charles, Little Willie John, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Jackie Wilson and Clyde McPhatter. It was apparent in both uptempo numbers and soulful ballads. The centre of Soul was on the West Coast Atlantic Label with its Southern subsidiary the infamous Stax label in Memphis. From 1964 onwards the charts became full of artists producing the sound that became known as Soul. These included Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Lee Dorsey, Sam & Dave, Booker T & the MGs, Percy Sledge, Carla Thomas, Joe Tex, Arthur Conley and even the Blues guitarist Albert King.
This continued into the 1970s with artists such as Brook Benton, Betty Wright, Archie Bell & the Drells and the Detroit Spinners.
Soul was a huge commercial success and gave rise to two other major genres of black R&B with Disco and Funk. In Britain it gave rise to the Northern Soul Scene with its athletic dancing and in the 1980s it underwent a renaissance with New Wave Soul.
Throughout its history Soul has produced some of the most dynamic music and performances but has also tended to suffer from commercial exploitation. The emotional rawness of this dynamic Gospel tinged music endeared it to British Mods and many US Soul artists were brought across the Atlantic to perform in British clubs where they received rapturous support. Their success also stimulated the rise of a number of British Mod Soul Bands such as the Alan Bown Set, the Action, Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band and Jimmy James and the Vagabonds. These bands, while copying the material of the US stars produced a type of music with a different feel to it.
The huge success of soul drew many established R&B artists into adopting the style including such stars as Lee Dorsey, Little Richard and James Brown.
Without doubt the greatest Soul Artist is Otis Redding. He started out as a Little Richard impersonator before further developing the anguished emotional intensity that we associate with him on numbers such as ‘Pain in my heart’. His stage act was the epitome of high energy Soul in the manner of James Brown. He would do crazy dancing and run on the spot while tearing at his clothes in a frenzy of emotion. His amazing vocal prowess is well displayed on numbers like ‘That’s how strong my love is’, ‘Respect’, Satisfaction’, and ‘Fa fa fa fa fa fa (sad song)’. Unfortunately his career was brought to a sudden end when he was killed in an air crash in late 1967. ‘(Sitting on the) Dock of the bay’ was released following his death and became his biggest hit. This came at the time when he was not only at his peak of performance and recording but was breaking through to the counter-culture audiences who were not usually drawn to Soul being more into psychedelia and acid rock. There is no telling where this would have led.
If Otis was the King of Soul then Aretha was the Queen. Having started out as a Gospel vocalist she was encouraged to move into secular R&B by none other than Sam Cooke who had been knocked out by the power and beauty of her voice. She signed to Columbia in 1960 but it was not until she signed to Atlantic in 1966 and got the full Soul treatment that she broke through. She went on to have a series of enormous hits with numbers like ‘Respect’, Baby I love you’, ‘I never loved a man’, ‘Chain of fools’ and ‘Think’.
The Atlantic Stax label was the undisputed home of Soul. This was primarily due to the fantastic backing and writing expertise that was coming from the house band Booker T & the MGs (Memphis Group). They were heard on the recordings of most of the great Soul singers including Otis, Aretha, Sam & Dave, William Bell and Rufus Thomas as well as having a big hand in writing many of their best numbers. Booker T & the MGs went on to have a number of hits in their own right – ‘Green Onions’, ‘Chinese checkers’, ‘Hip Hug Her’, Soul limbo’ and ‘Time is tight’.
Other Atlantic stars included Solomon Burke – the King of Rock & Soul – who employed a preaching style of vocal on numbers such as ‘If you need me’; Sam & Dave, who were a dynamic vocal duo similar to Don and Dewey, they had hits with hard driving numbers – ‘You don’t know like I know’, ‘I take what I want’, ‘Hold on I’m coming’ and ‘ Soul man’ as well as softer Soul ballads – ‘When something is wrong with my baby’; Wilson Pickett, who started in the 1950s with a vocal group called the Falcons signed to Stax in 1964 and had a string of hits with high energy singles like ‘In the midnight hour’, ‘Mustang Sally’, ‘Land of a 1000 dances’, ‘Funky Broadway’, ‘6345789’ and ‘Don’t fight it’; Percy Sledge, whose powerful clear vocals secured him great success with ‘When a man loves a woman’ and ‘Warm and tender love’; King Curtis, who was a session saxophonist who had previously played on the Coasters hits ‘Yakety Yak’ and ‘Charlie Brown’, become part of the house band with both the MGs and the Markeys as well as having hits in his own right with ‘Memphis Soul Stew’ and ‘Teasin’; Eddie Floyd, who started out with Wilson Pickett in the Falcons and produced the classic ‘Knock on wood’; Arthur Conley, who gained the title of ‘Crown Prince of Soul’, for the energetic stage act he produced using a similar stage craft to Otis on uptempo numbers such as ‘Show me’ before giving up music in 1970 to become a real preacher; Patti Labelle & the Bluebelles, who started as a female Doo-Wop band in the 1950s before signing to Atlantic in 1965 and had hits with ‘All or nothing’, ‘Over the rainbow’, ‘Groovy kind of love’ and ‘take me for a little while’; the Staples Singers, who started out as a 1950s Gospel group before joining Stax in 1968 and had a number of hits with ‘Respect yourself’, ‘Be what you are’ and ‘You’ve got to earn it’.
Artists on other labels also broke into the Soul scene including Lee Dorsey, the Impressions and Gladys Knight & the Pips. Lee started out in the 1950s with R&B hits such as ‘Ya-Ya’ and ‘Do Re Mi’ before joining up with the Amy/Mala/Bell complex in the mid 1960s and having Soul hits with ‘Get out of my life’, ‘Confusion’, ‘Holy cow’, ‘Ride your pony’ and ‘Working in a coal mine’. The Impressions featured Curtis Mayfield and had a number of Soul hits in the 1960s with ‘You must believe’, ‘I’m so proud’, ‘Amen’, ‘Keep on pushing’ and ‘People get ready’. They then moved into Black Consciousness with numbers like ‘This is my country’, ‘Choice of colours’ and ‘Mighty mighty spade and whitey’. Gladys Knight & the Pips produced some Soul sounds with numbers like ‘I heard it through the grapevine’.