Over the weekend I had the chance to revisit and discuss some of the most influential, entertaining and emotionally-charged music in history. Soul, that is. Sadly, this genre is slightly unappreciated and vastly unexplored by our generation.
Building on early crooners like Nat King Cole, the Blues; and fueled by lives of hardship, heartbreak and hatred, Soul musicians are the cream of America's music crop who helped break down walls of race by promoting "peace, love and understanding" (not unlike their inter-generational, hippie counterparts). Not only did they deal with (and write about) the struggles of everyday life, but they endured the trials of segregation, poverty, drug addiction and family feuds (Marvin Gaye was shot by his father in 1984) while their music has helped soothe generations. Many artists (like Gaye) fought the music machine of Motown in the 60s and 70s, longing for creativity rather than capital.
The evolution of Rock n' Roll in the 50s was a natural offshoot of earlier Black music, and was the inevitable result of literally electrifying the instruments used in Rhythm [and Blues] musicians as coexisting styles experienced and evolved one another. Soul music has more so evolved than originated; but since before Shakespeare, human beings have welded love with lyrics in a concoction of passionate sound meant (most of the time) for the opposite sex. After all, it's only natural.
However, the cream of the crop of which I speak are none other than the classics: Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Al Green (keep 'em comin'). (Granted, I mention the above artists because of their talent and my appreciation and familiarity of their music, that is not to say that there are not plenty of others out there.) Actually, my initial conversation sparked over Wilson Pickett, an artist whom I admit I had only heard the necessary hits but passed them off in a spectrum approaching (despicable) beach music. I was wrong. Pickett holds his own in the fraternity of Soul, mixing sounds traditionally dominated by black musicians (funk, jazz, soul and blues) into quick-tempo, heartfelt melodies that can make you crack a smile, shed a tear or drop to your knees in anguish. I could probably write a book about the music (some desirable, some not) these artists have influenced. But I'll try to take the more direct route out of relevant interest.
I only ask that you take a second listen to these artists--dig deeper into the catalogs of Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and others. The elements of social change are evident in their music and tie another knot in the personal emotional tension wrapped up in artists of this era. Not to mention the individual talents of some of these artists (aside from vocals--the savvy of Sam Cooke, the piano playing of Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and John Legend; Prince's multi-instrumentation).
Present torchbearers and barons of Neo-Soul John Legend, Musiq (Soulchild)--and this blogger's personal favorite--D'Angelo are slightly less tortured, but sustain the sweet caress,warm moods and stirring emotions that make us turn this music up when the lights go down. And don't think for a second that I forgot about Prince.
According to Allmusic.com, Legend's work with Kanye West launched him into a more recognizable status. Nevertheless, Legend's rustic, straightforward sound is a faithful homage to the AM days of Soul--a sound otherwise lost on today's artists dishing out a steady diet of Fruity-Loops.
The same can be said of D'Angelo, who--at first glance--wears hip-hop on his sleeve in an emperor's new clothes fashion. But the man knows his craft and crafts it well, creating Soul music for the soul that, these days, has everything. (To his credit, D'Angelo writes all and produces most of his material-Allmusic.com)
Unfortunately, these modern-day crooners are frequently drowned out by the loud mouths and looped-bass of their explicitly-chauvinistic, rapping counterparts. Needless to say, Soul music is the fruit born of an impressive family tree. And for us Southern boys and girls, can teach us a lot about the former state of affairs in our homeland and a wholly different perspective on life.
"Stay With You" and "Number One" by John Legend
"Feel Like Makin' Love" by D'Angelo
"My Girl" and "Just Friends" by Musiq (Soulchild)