Stirring the Mind into Thought

Soul Music is often described as the fusion of traditional African-American Gospel, secular Rhythm and Blues and the Blues. As other music styles, Soul music developed regionally and certain cities had a specific sound. The five major cities in which Soul music developed were Detroit (Motown sound), Philadelphia (Sweet Philly, Gamble and Huff), Chicago (Chess Records, etc.), Memphis (Deep/Country/Southern Soul, Stax sound) and Muscle Shoals (Alabama’s FAME). Although Soul music developed in both Southern and Northern cities, its origins and many of its artists were of a Southern Gospel orientation and as the music went further up north, it had more of a commercial sound.

Originating in the late 1950s and remaining popular from the 1960s to mid 1980s, Soul music mixed the Gospel vocal style with funk rhythms from R&B and the Blues. The timbre of singers and instrumentalists in Soul can range from having a raspy, harsh sound to a smoother, sweeter sound to express varying emotions. Common instrumentation in Soul is specific emphasis on the horn section (trumpets, saxophones, trombones), organ (and/or piano), bass, drum kit, and guitar. Often traditional Gospel songs were taken and transformed into secular Soul songs, such as “In the Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett and “Lovable” by Sam Cooke. One of the innovators of the genre was Ray Charles, who secularized the aspects of Gospel music that included chord changes, song structures, call-and-response, and the vocalist’s pleading, wails, moans and screams. Other important innovators were Sam Cooke, James Brown (who later was at the forefront of the offshoot, Funk music, which focused more on the horn section and the bass), Etta James, The Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye, AL Green and Wilson Pickett. Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” and Otis Redding, the “King of Soul,” further popularized the genre. Later, Soul music branched into different styles, including Psychedelic Soul, which influenced Funk music, and Disco.

Three great Soul songs are Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” Sam Cooke’s “Bring it On Home to Me,” and The Temptations’ “I Wish It Would Rain.” These songs demonstrate the broad stylistic range of soul music. Otis Redding (Stax Records) was part of the Memphis sound, Sam Cooke was part of the Philly sound and The Temptations was part of the Detroit (Motown) sound. These three artists have some similarities. They all came from Southern origins , and, along with many other Soul artists, started as church singers. Furthermore, the three songs all have characteristic typical of the Soul genre. Each of the songs has a raspy-voiced lead singer, a melismatic style, use of many ad-libs throughout the song, and a horn section.

“Try a Little Tenderness” is a love song that was written by “Irving King” (James Campbell and Reginald Connelly) and Harry M. Woods. The Ray Noble Orchestra with vocalist Val Rosing originally recorded it in 1932. The most popular version of the song was recorded by Otis Redding in 1966. Booker and the MGs was the backing band on the record. Starting off with a short intro of the horn section, Otis sings with the drum, lead guitar and bass behind him. Next, the saxophone comes leading the way for the tempo to become quicker, which it does during every hook, and the meter switches from duple to quadruple. In the end, the tempo is very fast and the trumpets come in with a blast. It has three verses in AAB, a hook in AAB, a bridge in ABAB, and then Otis ad-libs the rest.

This is one of my favorite Soul songs because of its energy; the song slowly builds up until it culminates with a loud explosion of all the instruments, especially the horn section. Another distinct feature of the song is its similarity to Country Blues. The entire song depends on one vocalist, Otis, who has a clear country tinge to his voice, which is in a lower vocal range and is grittier sounding than other singers. The only resemblance of “background singers” in the song is the melodic horns behind him. In addition to that, it reveals the influence Tin Pan Alley music had on the genre, since Otis Redding was able to take a pop song and make it into a Soul classic.

Sam Cooke started as a Gospel singer with the Stirrers and then switched to secular music, but he was always trying to be commercial, so he often added a soulful tinge to pop songs. “Bring it On Home to Me” was a 1961 hit song written and recorded by Sam Cooke. Lou Rawls did the backing vocals for this song. With a very slow tempo and a meter of 4/4, it only has a saxophone, string section, a guitar, drums and piano. Instead of verse-chorus-verse format, the entire song is in AAB format with 5 verses. Starting with a piano intro and drums, each verse switches the instruments used to lead – piano, piano and violas, violins, saxophone, then back to violins. Sam and Lou Rawls do a call-and-response after each hook in which they say “yeah” over and over. Both of them are the driving force in the song since the instruments play very soft, but their voices are very raspy and rough. So, in a sense it is softer and sweeter Soul, but still gives that powerfulness and fervor.

“Bring It Home to Me” is very much like “blues ballad.” It is in AAB format and both the instruments and the vocalists have a soulful, bluesy tone. However, the orchestral sound with use of a the string section and emphasis on the piano gives it a sweeter and softer sound unlike “Try a Little Tenderness.” Lou Rawls also rounds out Sam Cooke’s voice by bottoming out the sound. All of these factors create a great balance of pop, R&B and the blues, which later influenced smooth soul in the 70s.

“I Wish it Would Rain” was a 1967 hit for the Temptations. Norman Whitfield produced the song and wrote it with Barrett Strong and Roger Penzabene. The Funk Brothers did the instrumentation on the song, which included piano, drums, violins, guitars, trumpets and sound effects like birds, rain and thunder storms. David Ruffin was known for having a raspy voice and his did show off the soulful voice he has, but it is more contained and laidback than Sam Cooke’s voice in “Bring it On Home to Me.” Also, having the other members of The Temptations smoothed out his voice (which could explain why there were so many vocal groups at Motown). It has a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus format. With a piano intro, the song begins with the drummer lightly tapping on the cymbals and the bass guitar playing softly in the background as David sings the first verse. Then the piano, drums, bass and violins pick up the tempo, keeping the quadruple meter and the volume. The trumpets enter in and play in each verse. The violins lead the bridge part and the Temptations repeat the hook. Like the two other songs, there are a number of ad-libs at the end after the last chorus.

Unlike the other two songs, “I Wish It Would Rain” is reminiscent of Doo-wop because of the group’s smooth vocal harmonies. On the other hand, like “Bring It On Home to Me,” the piano and violins give it a smoother sound. Although the song is supposed to be melancholy, the music has a lighter sound and higher range than the other two songs. Still, David Ruffin’s voice has the raspy and soulful sound that blends with the other group members. However, his singing is more controlled and neater sounding than Otis and Sam. Even though the song is not as soulful as the other two, the emotion is still there in Ruffin’s voice and the music is catchy.

Often Soul music is placed under the blanket term R&B. Although all Soul music can be classified as R&B because of similar stylistic features and its influence on it, not all R&B music can be classified as Soul music. Within Soul music, there is a more passionate emotionality in the music, especially the horn section, and vocals. R&B is more pop and commercial black music (e.g. Rihanna, Brandy). That is why it is called “Soul” because it has a strong effect on the listener deep inside. Still, some R&B and Doo-wop singers had a strong impact like Little Willie John, Louis Jordan, Ruth Brown, and Jackie Wilson. After the death of Marvin Gaye in 1984 and his last hit, “Sexual Healing,” what was known as traditional Soul music came to an end. With the increasing popularity of Hip-hop, new genres and artists that were soul influenced developed. Hip-hop Soul, which was led by Mary J. Blige and continued with Jodeci, Dru Hill, Monica, R. Kelly and Keyshia Cole, mixes Hip-hop beats with Gospel-influenced, soulful vocals. Neo-Soul (Nu-Soul) mixes 1970s Soul (mostly Philly) with Hip-hop Soul and includes artists like Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill, Maxwell, Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton.

Out of all the Soul “sounds,” the Memphis Soul and Muscle Shoals styles are highly respected Soul music. All the other styles were derived from them and used elaborate arrangements and pop-styled, soul vocals in order to try to crossover. The worst culprit of this was Motown; while most of it was great music, it still at times appeared as if the label was selling out, especially with The Supremes (Gordy chose Diana Ross because she had a pop sound, while Mary and Florence had more of a soulful sound). It make the label popular and certain groups famous, but at what cost? Several artists, like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, felt a tight leash was on them from Berry Gordy because he wanted them to stay commercial. Stax Records, FAME studios and even others, like Chess Records, may not have been as commercially successful as Motown, but they were more comfortable with sticking to their roots and being real. It took the political and the social turmoil of the late 1960s and the 1970s, for Berry Gordy to realize that his label had to change.

June 11th, 2009 at 8:19 AM and tagged ,

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