Rough Guide to Soul
I grew up in a soul-positive house. My mum loved to belt out a tune and took pleasure in the rhythmic stomping that embodied the Northern Soul scene. So, like any self-respecting emo, I rejected it completely. As a stubborn tween with a You Me at Six t-shirt and musical superiority complex, I knew just one thing: Kerrang = good, the rest = bad. Shamefully, it was watching Dirty Dancing at the ripe old age of 17 that took me from poking fun at my mother to frantically trawling through Spotify to create my first soul playlist. It may have been a quick transition, but my love of the genre will be lifelong.
Soul continues to birth and influence so many sister genres, from funk to R&B and hip-hop, which is proof that it is truly timeless. In fact, soul as a genre has spanned and evolved through so many fads and decades that I cannot and will not claim to
understand it. I am not a musician – simply an admirer, humbly offering some suggestions to give you a groovy ol’ time. Without further ado, and in no particular order:
Love Man – Otis Redding
What can anyone say about Otis Redding? He really is the King of Soul. He was inspired to join the music industry after working
with Little Richard and soon became one of the most influential soul singers. He cited Little Richard as the main inspiration for his rock-and-roll infused style of soul. While songs like ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay’ and ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ may be better known, I don’t think any of them encapsulate his style quite like ‘Love Man’.
Man Funk – Guts, Leron Thomas
I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to funk and soul – for me, the older it is the better. After all, the genre has evolved so much over the years it can get difficult to understand once you pass the 80s, but this song truly expresses what funk is to me. Guts has produced some great tunes, bringing a level of modernity to funk and jazz, and ‘Man Funk’ is the perfect example of this. His smooth electro-funk beat with Leron Thomas’ melodic vocals bring the exact level of sleaze that you want from a funk track (just don't talk to me about the “milky wax” he mentions in the second line).
Soul Time – Shirley Ellis
Shirley Ellis may not be a household name, but she produced iconic singles such as ‘The Clapping Song’ and ‘The Name Game’ which have been covered and re-released countless times (remember that episode of American Horror Story?). ‘Soul Time’ is no less iconic and, as a true staple of the scene, is sure to be on any northern soul playlist.
It’s Too Funky in Here – James Brown
The honorifically titled Godfather of Soul is nothing short of iconic, and this song is an all-time favourite of mine. Brown was a pioneer of funk, known for his enigmatic performances and earning his title through delivering both quality and quantity, continuing to perform up until his death. He has a long and acclaimed discography, but ‘It’s Too Funky in Here’ really is exactly what it says on the tin, and never falls short of putting me in the mood to dance (and to learn to play the bass guitar for some reason).
Take Me to the River – Al Green
Like ‘Twist and Shout’ by The Isley Brothers, Al Green’s ‘Take Me to the River’ is a classic soul track that has achieved massive success via covers by other artists. Talking Heads’ version of this song was brilliant (definitely worth a whirl) but will never quite be able to match up to the original.
You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else – The Jones Girls
These three sisters released multiple albums together and, of all their songs, this is the one you’re most likely to hear remixed. In fact, the first time I heard this song it was being spun by a distinctly average pub DJ, but it’s the original version that I fell in love with. No embellishments are needed. I guarantee that this song’s steady, funk beat paired with the sisters’ melodic harmonies will make you want to dance – and stick it to your significant other in equal measure.
I Surrender – Eddie Holman
Eddie Holman has said his incredible voice is a gift from God himself and, really, who am I to argue with that? He has a vocal range that puts us all to shame and his ability to carry those high notes really is amazing. He may use his gift for cruise ships and gospel now, but his northern soul tracks like ‘I Surrender’ will never fail to get your legs moving.
Rock Steady – Aretha Franklin
We’ve had the Godfather and the King of Soul so it’s only right to close with the Queen: Aretha Franklin. You all know her. Her songs are timeless classics loved by all. Whether you listen to
soul or not, you cannot escape her legacy and this song is a personal favourite of mine. Let’s call this song exactly what it is: fun, light, and the perfect addition to any playlist.
Illustrations: India-Lily Terry
If you're a music fan and would like to put together your own rough guide to a genre, city, country or artist, please get in touch to contribute to this series: firstname.lastname@example.org. The collection will be published in a print zine by the end of the academic year.