Buying soul music - a beginners' guide

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Pioneers (1950s)- Ray Charles

Ray Charles is the undisputed soul pioneer. Brother Ray, arguably invented soul music when he took the sacred, gospel music, and mixed it with the profane, the blues. Songs like I got a woman, What I'd Say and Drown in My Own Tears from the mid-late fifties epitomise Ray at his best.

In the early 60's Ray moved from the Atlantic Records record company to ABC Paramount, where he recorded some of his most famous work. In particular, his Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, which demonstrated the unseemingly obvious link between country and soul music - sheer genius!!

Its hard to go wrong with and Ray Charles material from either the Atlantic or ABC era. The other great thing about most of these records is they almost always feature some jazz and straight blues numbers. In fact, I believe that Ray Charles is a great starting point for anyone wanting to get in to soul, blues or jazz.

Pioneers (1950s)- Sam Cooke

After Ray, Sam Cooke would have to be one of the most influential performers in soul music.

Sam Cooke started his career singing gospel music, most famously with The Soul Stirrers. By the late fifties Cooke focused on secular music and scored with a string of hits whose influence would be felt for years to come.

Songs such as Cupid, Chain gang, Twistin' the night away, Bring it on back to me and A change is gonna come are soul standards, which many a soul artist has covered but few have captured the purity of the originals - as they say lightening doesn't strike twice.

The Soul Era (1960s - early 70s) - Motown

Motown is a soul music phenomenan that defined soul and changed the music business. Founded in Detroit in the early 60's by Berry Gordy, Motown's roster of stars was (and to this day is) impressive.

Any serious soul collection must have a good amount of Motown to be complete. Artists to look for include: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Jackson 5, Marvelettes, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Commodoresand the list goes on...

The Soul Era (1960s - early 70s) - Southern Soul

For my money Southern Soul is among the most heartfelt and deeply moving music ever recorded. Southern soul celebrated its hey-day in the mid-60s and was all but over by the mid-70s. Recorded primarily in the Southern states of the USA - Memphis, Muscle Shoals, Shreveport, Nashville, New Orleans are some of the key cities.There are a number of artists that are most closely associated with Southern Soul, the following list includes the biggies.

Otis Redding - probably the artist most closely associated with Southern soul. Otis picked up where Sam Cooke left off and gave soul music a gritty down-home feel that spawned thousands of imitators. Otis note only performed but also wrote many of his most famous works.  Albums to look out for include Pain In My Heart, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, Otis Blue / Otis Redding Sings Soul, The Soul Album, Complete & Unbelievable - The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul, King & Queen (with Carla Thomas) and The Dock Of The Bay.

Aretha Franklin- The undisputed Queen of Soul. When shopping for Aretha it is very important that you start with her mid 60s recording for Atlantic records, much of which were either recorded in Muscle Shoal Alabama or with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm section in New York (I know that's not in the South - but there were enough Southerners on the record to make it down-home). Prior to Atlantic records Aretha Franklin recorded for Columbia and Chess - and while these are fairly good recordings it was not until she moved to Atlantic that Aretha truly hit her stride.  Albums to look out for include I Never Loved A Man, Aretha Arrives, Lady Soul, Aretha Now, Soul '69, This Girl's In Love With You, Spirit In The Dark, Young Gifted and Black, Amazing Grace and Sparkle.

Sam & Dave- In the mid-late 60s there was a brief phenomenan where male duos were all the rage. Sam & Dave were arguably the greatest of the male duos. Hits such as Soul Man, Hold On I'm Coming, When Something is Wrong with my Baby demonstrate the call and response appeal of the male duo.

Honourable mentions - no Southern soul collection is complete without the following artists: Solomon Burke, James Carr, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Betty Wright, Candii Staton, Irma Thomas, Betty Lavette, Barbara Lynn, Joe Tex, James & Bobby Purify...the list goes on & on & on

Funk - James Brown

James Brown is the Godfather of Soul - he also invented funk. You cannot go wrong with a James Brown record, period. From his earliest recordings in the 50s, through to his soul music from the early 60s to his funk explorations in the late 60s and 70s. James Brown is the undisputed, champion of funk and is the starting point for anyone that wants to get into this style of music.

End of the Soul Era (mid70s - early 80s)

By the mid 70s soul music was being overwhelmed by disco. That said, there were a number of soul artists and record labels still producing quality soul music. In particular Hi records who had a string of hits with artists such as Al Green, Ann Peebles, Syl Johnson and OV Wright. The quality of these artists, along with the production skills of Hi head honcho, Willie Mitchellis timeless. I can listen to this stuff agian and again and again.

Other honourable mentions

The above list is by no means comprehensive. However, I could not sign off on this guide without mentioning a number of other artists and record labels which must be included in a soul collection.

Curtis Mayfield - Curtis Mayfield is arguably one of the greatest singer, songwriter, producer, record label owner in soul. Check out his recordings with The Impressionson VeeJay, ABC Paramount, and his own Curtom record label from the late 50s to late 60s. In the late 60s Curtis Mayfield wnet on to produce some fantastic records including Curtis, Roots, Superfly, Back to the World

Etta James - before Aretha Franklin came along, Etta James could have rightfully claimed the title of queen of soul. She had a slew of hits of Chess records and there are many good compilations from this period. In particular, look out for her Fame studio recordings (Muscle Shoals, Alabama) and the Come a Little Closer album, which is a personal favourite of mine.

Record labels - once you start on the soul journey it can go on for many years. Some of the great soul record labels to check out that have not been previously mentioned in depth are: Chess, Stax, Goldwax, Dial, King, Fame, Modern, Murco, Sound Stage 7, Old Town, Barry, Galaxy, Kent, Money and the list goes on.

Many of the best soul recordings have never been re-issued on CD and are only available on LP or singles (in fact soul mnusic was primarily sold on singles). Fortunately a number of record labels (particularly in the UK) have been busy re-issuing soul. Look out for reissues by Ace, Kent Soul, Kent Dance, BGP, Westside and Goldmine.

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