Like the term rhythm and blues, the term “soul”was intended as a replacement – for the term “rhythm and blues,” as a matter of fact! – by Billboard, beginning in 1969. But the word “soul” had already been around for a while as a black slang term for emotional sincerity or authenticity. (One of the first records to use the word was King Curtis’ “Soul Twist” in 1962). Basically, as Grove’s Dictionary of Popular Music puts it, “The essence of soul music is that it should convey the performer’s strongly felt emotions and perceptions, and evoke similar ones in the listener.” Consequently, most soul songs feature impassioned, dramatic delivery often punctuated by sighs, sobs, chanted interpolations or shouts.
curtismayfield.jpg – 9853 BytesAt this time, there were three basic styles of soul music: Chicago soul; the Motown sound; and southern soul. The best known Chicago soul artist was Curtis Mayfield, whose style, along with his group the Impressions, was characterized by the frequent use of falsetto and unusual instrumental combinations in the accompaniment; strings, and vibraphone were also common. Although Motown was originally the name of a record company founded in Detroit by Berry Gordy in 1959, it quickly became a term for the type of music featured on its label, which featured memorable melodies, a smooth, straightforward vocal delivery, and elaborate arrangements, usually with strings and horns. Motown records were also known for their extremely well-crafted songwriting, particularly the work of the team Holland-Dozier-Holland, and the resulting mix of soul mannerisms and the styles of mainstream pop made Motown equally popular with both black and white audiences, fully living up to its slogan, “the sound of young America.” thesupremes.jpg – 24672 Bytes(The groups on the label’s roster, such as the Temptations and the Supremes, were known for their coordinated outfits and elaborate stage choreography as well.). Southern soul was primarily heard on recordings issued by the Memphis-based Stax and Volt labels and New York-based Atlantic Records. In fact, the Stax house band attained fame in their own right under the name Booker T. and the MGs (they took their name from organist Booker T. Jones) with hit singles like “Green Onions.” The style ranged from sparse and funky like Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood” to slow, yearning ballads like Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman.” A number of very famous solo singers, such as James Brown and Ray Charles, also began their careers rooted in the Southern soul style.
Throughout the 1970s Southern soul became somewhat modified and refined, but continued to be popular with audiences, with artists such as Al Green and the Staple Singers. A number of soul records also took on an increasingly political slant reflecting the new Black Power movement, such as Brown’s “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud).” But after disco became fashionable, soul’s popularity suffered, and though it did recover some of its popularity in the 1980s through such performers as Bobby Womack, it was primarily passed over in favor of styles such as funk and rap.