50 Years of Soul Power

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Posted February 20, 2013 by J Matthew Cobb in Features
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In commemoration of Soul Music Week, HiFi looks back at thirty-two landmark soul albums over the last fifty years

“Do you like good music/That sweet soul music/Just as long as it’s swingin’/Oh yeah, oh yeah”
“Sweet Soul Music” – lyrics by Arthur Conley and Otis Redding

It is 2013. And you can tell R&B is going through some terrible phase of comatose in the world of pop culture when pop star Kelly Clarkson had no idea who Miguel was until Grammy night. But she wasn’t alone; others questioned who this gent guy was, even if “Adorn” had been primarily regulated to urban radio. We here at HiFi knew exactly who he was, ultimately crowning the song the Number One song of 2012. After his critically-acclaimed performance at the Grammys, Clarkson – while accepting her win for Best Pop Performance – declared to the viewers that she wanted to work with the singer in the very near future.

Much of today’s soul music hardly gets the recognition it once inherited from the masses. When it does, it’s only for nostalgia sake. Younger acts like Bruno Mars, Cee Lo Green, Raphael Saadiq and Mayer Hawthorne are doing a damn good job trying to keep the conversation going, but their efforts alone must be met with a grateful audience. But don’t be too alarmed – the genre isn’t dying, nor is it at risk of fading into extinction. Still, it takes a village to raise a child. In the case of soul music, it’s a fifty years old baby.

James Brown's 1962 recording at the Apollo (released in May 1963) was a breakthrough in the world of live recordings for soul music.

James Brown’s 1962 recording at the Apollo (released in May 1963) was a breakthrough in the world of live recordings for soul music.

Hoping to reinvigorate the popular interest of soul music, SoulTracks.com have orchestrated Soul Music Week. The idea has already attracted well over 1,400 likes on Facebook and is promising to become an annual occurrence. Sylenna Johnson, Temika Moore and Cool Million producer Frank Ryle are just a few of the indie acts jumping on board, hoping to kick start some national social networking movement. This year’s observance falls on February 15 and actually extends beyond the seven-day mark, stretching all the way to February 24.

Soul music actually dates back further than 1963. Historical recordings by Ray Charles (“I Got a Woman;” 1954), Sam Cooke (“You Send Me;” 1957) and the pillars of rock n’ roll (Little Richard, Muddy Waters, Fat Domino) prove the origins of soul music go back a distance. But James Brown’s pivotal live recording, Live at the Apollo (1963), transformed the commercial factor of soul music. In the book, The One: The Life and the Music of James Brown, author RJ Smith wrote “Brown had the biggest record on the R&B charts, so staggeringly new it scarcely bore any connection to the music called rhythms and blues. Here was the new soul music.”

Since Brown’s on-stage epiphany, soul music has gone through a number of colorful phases. Thankfully, we have outlined a great set of those albums for posterity reasons, hoping that you would revisit these timeless memories. Nothing like food for the soul. Why not start with some sweet soul music? Oh yeah, oh yeah.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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