My Favorite Soul Songs of All Time

As the events surrounding Ferguson happened this summer and continued into the fall, I began to wonder why I cared so much, and how it affected me. What part of my history would be gone if something happened to the Black Community I knew, grew up with, and worked with in my early ministry days.
I knew the feeling from earlier. This was in some ways like reclaiming my lower-class roots when I went to seminary. Then, I hadn’t even thought about having roots that way, until people told me I couldn’t understand poverty. Then I knew I did. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, I suppose.
In any case, I was blessed by growing up in a time when any kind of music could appear on the radio — folk, religious, rock and blues, Motown, Polkas (due to where I grew up), country (due to my parents), and soul. Later, disco would come into being and it was all downhill from there….
Lately, I have been listening to soul music on Pandora between clients and downloading other stuff from the genre and here’s the stuff that really “does it” for me:
“I’m So Tired of Being Alone” — by Al Green. A great song to try out a falsetto to in the shower. Nice, meandering beat, incredible voice and horns. Just great.
“It’s All About Love” — by Earth, Wind, and Fire. Along with “Shining Star” and “That’s The Way of The World”. All from the same album, I could listen to this stuff forever. Helps me find my best self..
“I Want to Get Next to You” and “Car Wash” — from the Car Wash Soundtrack. Falsetto voice, great guitar, good memories.
“I’ll take you there”, “(If You’re Ready) Come Go With Me” , “Respect Yourself” and … ok, anything by The Staples Singers. I love this stuff. Churchy and liberal, and hopeful and soulful. The most divine music of the era.
“Sukiyaki” by Taste of Honey — ok, actually a disco band (and, yes, I hate disco in general) , but it shows them trying to stretch themselves musically. The song features a beautiful sounding “koto” (a Japanese instrument) and an English translation of the first Japanese song to hit the charts in America.
“Mercy, Mercy, Me (The Ecology)” and “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye — just so waaay ahead of its time lyrically that it still rings true today. Musically, as soulful as it gets. The sexy stuff (“Let’s Get It On”, “I Want You”, and “Sexual Healing” is unapologetically pro-sexuality and you have to give the man credit for it, but the political stuff sung by him makes it sound sexy to care. That’s cool.
A whole lot of stuff by Curtis Mayfield, with and without the Impressions. “It’s All Right” is the kind of thing I’m talking about — When covered a cappella by Huey Lewis and The News years late, it becomes Americana. Before that, it’s soul Americana by Curtis Mayfield. “Superfly” and “Freddy’s Dead” paint a realistic picture of inner-city drug use, without glorifying it. That’s my problem with Ghetto Rap. It is gritty, but is loved by (many) White kids because it says criminality is the goal of the community. Also fun: I can sing it around the house — Mayfield has a song called “I’m So Proud” . I sing it and my daughter thinks it’s about her — which might apply, I guess đŸ˜‰ .
In the same genre/time period: Isaac Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft”. I had never before heard a sound like that, and maybe still haven’t. I can’t imagine where he came up with it. Plus, there’s that whole “that cat Shaft is a bad mother… Shut your mouth!” section.
Lastly, I guess, is Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train To Georgia” and “Heard It Through The Grapevine”, and “Neither One of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye) — soulful , lusty, and sad perfectly described in three songs.
Also, I’m aware that there are all kinds of Soul music — Motown (pop), Memphis (more bluesy or Rhythm and Blues), and this stuff (inner city, early and late 70’s). Maybe another time.
Peace,

John

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