Saturday 27 February 2021

The Saturday List #297 - My top ten soul music songs

I've really been looking forward to putting this list together. I always enjoy putting music lists together and this one contains some absolutely brilliant and joyous music.  Putting this together is a three stage process. I choose a list of songs by different artists, then I check that the era is right. There were a couple of numbers I picked that were actually released in the early 1970's when I checked. I then try and organise the list into a decent playlist. I wanted to ensure that Motown, Stax and Atlantic were all represented and that there was a good range of different styles of the music from the Soul family. I'm pretty sure that there will be no songs on the list that you haven't heard before. I must say that if I was starting this series again, I would do 20 tracks. Ten is far too few! 

Lets start with a few words about my relationship with Soul music. Soul music is a genre I really liked as a kid. My sisters loved the Motown hits and these were always being played Then  I went right off  the genre in 1977 in my hardcore punk years By about 1979, I saw the error of my ways and have spent the last 42 years rediscovering and developing my love of the music. 

We start the list with where my adult love of Soul music started. Imagine me sitting in the Railway pub in West Hampstead, on a Friday night in 1980, reading the Evening Standard and drinking a pint of bitter, waiting for my friends to arrive, for a night of live music in the Moonlight Club. I'd be about 18 at the time. It was probably September and it was a warm night. I had some coins and I was going to put a few numbers on the Jukebox. An older guy, who I knew to nod to, who always played 60's music, Hendrix, Dylan, Cream et all, had lined up a good few tunes. I didn't want to put my money in until his selection had played. I didn't mind his picks, they weren't really to my taste, but they were OK. Then this song came on that I'd not heard. My ears pricked up. It was amazing. I shouted over to him "Hey mate, what's that you're playing?". His reply "Otis Redding, Dock of the Bay". I'd never heard of Otis Redding, but the song warranted a second listen. The following day I bought an Otis Redding compilation. You couldn't Google artists then, so I didn't know too much about him, other than his music, but I realised that he was a brilliant singer. It was the first Soul album I bought purely from hearing a song I liked. It was not the last. Otis exemplifies the Stax label. It is to me an absolutely killer sound. 

As I started to explore the genre, my next port of call was Marvin Gaye.  I knew a fair bit about Marvin Gaye as my sisters liked him. The Slits covered 'Grapevine' so I thought it was an OK song. The more I listened to it, the more I realised it may be the perfect pop song. The arrangement is awesome and Mr Gaye's vocal performance is second to none. I'm not quite sure whether I prefer Otis or Marvin, I think it depends on my mood. I'm sure you know that Marvin was a Motown Artist.

Next up, Aretha Franklin. She was the first soul artist who I purchased an album by. In her case, it was because I loved the cover of Save Me by The Saints, and thought it worth checking out the original. I love them both. I agonised long and hard over which Aretha Franklin track to include. Much as I love Save Me, I think You make me feel like a Natural Woman is the most complete vocal performance that Aretha did. I love the production of this song. It is of it's time, but absolutely brilliant. From the golden period of the Atlantic Records soul era.

Next up, I went for the other end of the female vocal spectrum with Jimmy Mack by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. This is 60's bubblegum, wall of sound soul at its best. I love this sound. It takes me back to 70's church discos, flashing lights, cheesy DJ's and embarrassed boys flirting badly with embarrassed girls.

The Four Tops were perhaps the best known of the Motown male vocal groups and Reach Out (I'll be there) was most probably their best known song in the UK. If you'd have asked me when I was 18, I'd have said I hated it. Over the years, I've warmed to this end of the Motown catalogue.

Baby Love by the Supremes is a monster of a song. I sort of felt Diana Ross and the Supremes must be desperately uncool because they were Prince Charles's favourite band. When Vanessa Sagoe joined The False Dots in 1983 as the singer, I thought I'd better get a better understanding of female soul singers, so I started listening to quite a lot of female soul singers. I came to appreciate just how good the Supremes were. I also learned a lot about music production and arrangement from their music. This song is 2.38 which is no time at all, but it has a lot of great production and arrangement crammed in, to ensure that not a second is wasted.

Next up, we have Smokey Robinson, with Tracks of my Tears. As with Aretha, I got to know Smokey via another band. UK Ska band did a Ska cover of Tears of a Clown. I thought it was a good, rather quirky song. I love Ska music. Once more, in the Railway in West Hampstead, I noticed the original was on the jukebox. I wish I'd never played it, as I realised it was infinitely superior to The Beat's version, which put me off them a bit. I bought a couple of Smokey Robinson albums and I think this is perhaps his best number. I saw him at The Roundhouse a few years back. He was rather good, so a big Thanks to Rankin Roger and the lads for the intro. 

Next up, we have the Temptations and My girl. This is a very good song, by a very good group, with an excellent arrangement and production. I was told by a friend who is a DJ that this is one of the best numbers to play for the end of the night smooch when you are doing a disco gig. He is right. 

Our penultimate tune is a Stax classic, What a Man by Lynda Lyndell. This is perhaps more widely known for being used as a sample in the 2003 Salt n' Pepa hit. When I was researching this blog, I found out that there is a tragic story. I knew the song through a Stax compilation I own. I always liked the song, but didn't know anything about Lynda Lyndell. What I learned shocked me. After the release of the song, which was a monster hit, the KKK made threats against Lynda Lyndell and she retired from performing. After the success of the Salt N Pepa hit, she started performing again. In 2003 she sang What a Man for the first time live. It just brought home to me what a sorry bunch the KKK really are. What sort of a person would wish to deprive the world of such wonderful music. 

And finally. Sly and The Family Stone. Some time back in 1980, I had a Hippy girlfriend. She learned that the film of Woodstock was playing on an all night screening. I can't recall if this was at The Scala, The Phoenix in Finchley or somewhere else. As she was keen and I wanted to keep her happy, we went. The film is very long and at times very boring. There are some great performances, some dire ones and a lot of waffle that a decent editor would have cut out. But in amongst a lot of turgid dirge, there is Sly and The Family Stone performing Higher. It seems out of place amongst all of the Stoner Hippies. It is awesome. A couple of years ago, we saw The Family Stone at The Jazz Cafe. They were awesome. It was probably the best gig I've seen since Joey Ramone died. Sadly Sly has gone, but they really are amazing. I wanted to end the list on a high. You can't get any Higher than this!


Have a great weekend.

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