Soul music is differentiated by its use of gospel-music
devices, its greater emphasis on vocalists, and its merging of
religious and secular themes.
The 1950s recordings of Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and James Brown are
commonly considered the beginnings of soul music. Solomon Burke's early
recordings for Atlantic Records codified the style, and as Peter
Guralnick writes, "it was only with the coming together of Burke and
Atlantic Records that you could see anything resembling a movement."
Burke's recordings, in the early 1960s, of "Cry to Me," "Just Out of
Reach" and "Down in the Valley" are considered classics of the genre.
In Memphis, Stax Records produced recordings by Otis Redding, Wilson
Pickett and Don Covay (Covay also recorded in New York City for
Atlantic). Joe Tex's 1965 "The Love You Save" is another 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; later in the 1960s, Aretha
Franklin would also record in the area. 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 also contributed to recordings done in Alabama.
Another important Memphis label that produced soul recordings was
Goldwax Records, whose owner was Quinton Claunch. Goldwax signed O. V.
Wright and James Carr, who would go on to make several records
considered essential examples of the genre. Carr's "The Dark End of the
Street," written by Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn, was recorded at two
other important Memphis studios, Royal Recording and American Sound
Studios, in 1967. In addition, American Studios owner Chips Moman
produced "Dark End of the Street," and musicians on the record were his
house band of Reggie Young, Bobby Woods, Tommy Cogbill and Gene
Chrisman. And 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 That
Way I Love You," "Respect" (a song written by Otis Redding), and "Do
Right Woman-Do Right Man," are commonly considered to be the apogee of
the soul-music genre, and among its most commercially successful
productions. During this period, Stax artists such as Eddie Floyd and
Johnnie Taylor also made significant contributions to soul music. By
1968, the soul-music movement had begun to splinter, as James Brown and
Sly and 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."
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.
Later examples of soul music include the recordings of The Staple
Singers, such as "I'll Take You There," as well as the 1970s
recordings, done at Willie Mitchell's Royal Recording in Memphis, of Al
Green. Mitchell's Hi Records continued the tradition of Stax in that
decade, releasing not only many hits by Green but also important
contributions from 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-music recordings in the 1970s and 1980s.
Detroit was another city which produced some important late-soul
recordings; producer Don Davis, from the city, worked with Stax artists
such as Johnnie Taylor and The Dramatics. The Detroit Emeralds, on
early-'70s recordings 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 conceived in a more overtly pop
music vein that those of Redding, Franklin or Carr.
Although they are somewhat different from classic soul stylistically,
recordings by Chicago-based artists such as Jerry Butler and The
Chi-Lites are often considered part of the genre.
Music produced by white musicians which is stylistically similar to black soul music sometimes is called blue-eyed soul.
By the early 1970s, soul music had been influenced by psychedelic rock
and other influences. The social and political ferment of the times
inspired artists like Gaye (What's Going On) and Curtis Mayfield
(Superfly) to release album-length statements with hard-hitting social
commentary. Artists like James Brown led soul towards more
dance-oriented music, resulting in funk music; funk was typified by
1970s bands like Parliament-Funkadelic, The Meters, and James Brown
himself, while more versatile groups like War, the Commodores and
Earth, Wind and Fire also became popular. During the 70s, some highly
slick and commercial blue-eyed soul acts like Philadelphia's Hall &
Oates achieved mainstream success, as well as a new generation of
street-corner harmony or "city-soul" groups like The Delfonics and
Howard University's Unifics. By the end of the 70s, disco was
dominating the charts and funk, Philly soul and most other genres were
dominated by disco-inflected tracks.
After the death of disco in the late 1970s, the popularity of soul
music remained strong. Soul-influenced groups like The O'Jays and The
Spinners turned out a series of hits. Solo crooner Luther Vandross and
then superstars like Prince (Purple Rain) and Michael Jackson (Off the
Wall) took over. With sultry, sexually charged vocals and danceable
beats, these artists dominated the charts throughout the 1980s. Female
soul singers like Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson gained great
popularity during the last half of the decade; and Tina Turner, then in
her 50s, came back with a series of hits with crossover appeal.
In the early 1990s, alternative rock, hair metal and gangsta rap ruled
the charts, though New Jack Swing groups began to merge hip hop and
soul. Boyz II Men was among the most popular of these groups, but
quickly fell out of favor. Another popular, but short-lived group, with
more pronounced R&B roots was Levert, whose lead singer, Gerald
Levert, was the son of O'Jays lead vocalist Eddy Levert. During the
later part of the decade, nu soul, which further mixed hip hop and
soul, arose, led by Mary J. Blige, D'Angelo and Lauryn Hill.
Genres of soul
- Blue-eyed soul
- Detroit soul
- Southern soul
- Memphis soul
- New jack swing
- Neo soul