Do you like good music? That sweet soul music

Ahhhh, soul music!

Gospel-style music with secular lyrics emerged in the late ’50s as an amalgam of rhythm-and-blues and gospel. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame defines soul music as “music that arose out of the black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm & blues into a form of funky, secular testifying.” The best soul music offered impassioned vocals, handclaps, call-and-response arrangements, heartfelt lyrics and, most of all, irresistible rhythms that compelled people to get up and dance. 

As a white kid growing up in suburbia, I knew almost nothing of “the black experience,” but I was certainly moved by the music I was hearing on Top 40 radio that co-mingled with The Beatles and The Beach Boys beginning around 1964. I heard a lot of soul music thanks to an older sister who exposed me to many of the songs coming from the artists on Motown, Stax and Atlantic Records. It was all such fun, so joyous and energetic, despite voices that sometimes sounded deeply anguished if you took the time to listen to the pain of unrequited love and injustice in the lyrics.

The biggest soul music hits are still played endlessly, from The O’Jays’ “Backstabbers” and Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made to Love Her” to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and The Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll Be There.”

In this special edition of my periodic “Lost Classics” feature, I am focusing on 16 “lost soul classics” — tasty R&B-based tracks that likely went under your radar because they were B-sides or deep album tracks that got almost no radio play, plus a few minor hits that have been long forgotten…until now.

These songs all have a wonderful ’60s energy to them. I invite you to dance around your living room as you listen to the Spotify playlist at the end!

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“Let Yourself Go,” James Brown, 1967

Brown recorded “Let Yourself Go” and several other great tracks after hours in a Philadelphia nightclub where he had a 10-day engagement in 1967. The Fabulous Flames, Brown’s longtime backing vocalists and dancers, were near the tale end of their relationship with the volatile star, but they’re still heard on this recording. It was released as a single, which charted at #5 on R&B charts and #46 on pop charts, so mainstream audiences never heard it much compared to Brown’s signature hits. The track adopts the signature early funk that Brown favored throughout his uptempo catalog.

“I’m Doin’ Fine Now,” New York City, 1972

Originally known as The Tri-boro Exchange, this vocally talented R&B group changed their name to New York City in 1972 and recorded for the Chelsea label with the great Thom Bell. This collaboration resulted in one of my favorite soul tracks, the underappreciated 1973 minor hit, “I’m Doin’ Fine Now,” written by Bell. Peaking at #17 that spring, the tune’s joyous tempo and arrangement are underscored by lyrics in which the narrator mourns the day of his romantic breakup but is proud of his ability to eventually adopt a positive attitude about it all. New York City continued recording and touring for another three years but failed to match the success of their first single.

“Two Lovers,” Mary Wells, 1964

Just about everyone knows Wells as the girl who sang “My Guy,” the song Smokey Robinson wrote for her in 1964 that became an enormous #1 hit here and in the UK. Wells had in fact been recording hit singles since 1962 and earned the nickname “The Queen of Motown” for her role in bringing R&B music and black artists to mainstream America. Among her accomplishments was the #7 hit “Two Lovers,” which at first seems to about two men (one who treats her well and the other who treats her badly) but is actually the same guy whose mood swings determine how he behaves toward her. Wells had a falling out with Motown and bounced around between several labels throughout the ’60s and early ’70s as she struggled in vain to duplicate her early glory.

“A Change,” Aretha Franklin, 1968

“The Queen of Soul” had so many familiar hits that sometimes her deeper album tracks got overlooked. I’ve always dug this song from her 1968 LP, “Aretha Now,” written by the prolific songwriter/producer Clyde Otis, who collaborated with many dozens of artists, most often with Brook Benton. “Aretha Now” reached #3 on the US album chart on the strength of three hits — the irrepressible “Think” (#7), her cover of “I Say a Little Prayer for You” (#10) and “See-Saw” (#14) — but there are seven other tracks you might have missed or forgotten about, like “A Change.”

“Love Man,” Otis Redding, 1969

The death of Redding at age 26 in a plane crash in late 1967 was a huge loss for the R&B community and the mainstream pop world as well. He had just begun to be more widely appreciated following his riveting performance at the Monterey Pop Festival and, fortunately for us, he recorded several dozen tracks in the latter half of 1967 that Atco Records released on a few posthumous albums in 1968 and 1969. “Love Man” was one of these LPs, reaching #46 on the album chart in 1969. The title song, written by Redding, has a funky groove, courtesy of Booker T and the MGs’ accompaniment, and although it stalled at #72 on the pop charts, it reached #17 on the R&B chart.

“Baby, Call on Me,” Wilson Pickett, 1963

Solomon Burke, one of the founding fathers of soul music in the late ’50s, was a friend and supporter of a young Wilson Pickett, urging his signing at Atlantic Records, but label head Jerry Wexler was hesitant at first. Pickett had written and recorded “If You Need Me” and was on track to score his first big hit with it, but Wexler had recorded a reluctant Burke doing it and rush-released his version. Because he was an established star, Burke’s version got the attention, peaking at #2 on R&B charts while Pickett’s stalled at #30 (and only #64 on pop charts). The B-side of Pickett’s single, “Baby, Call On Me,” is arguably as great as the intended hit, but it was ignored. Check it out!

“When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” The Supremes, 196?

Preceding their big breakthrough in 1964 with “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love” and three other #1 smash hits, The Supremes had been recording for Motown Records since 1961. The brilliant songwriting/producing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, responsible for most of The Supremes’ biggest hits, first worked with them on “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” the group’s first entry in the Top 40 (at #23) in late 1963. Brian Holland said the record was modeled after, and in response to, producer Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” recording technique in vogue at the time. Some say Motown songs were too polished and not gritty enough to be considered “soul,” but that’s not the way millions of listeners (like me) saw it.

“Soul Finger,” The Bar-Kays, 1967

Formed in 1964 in Memphis as a band of session musicians at Stax Records, The Bar-Kays were selected to become Otis Redding’s backup band, participating in several recordings and on tour. Sadly, four of their members were on the same plane with Redding when it crashed in 1967, but the surviving members regrouped and ended up putting together a long and successful career on the R&B charts throughout the ’70s and ’80s. In the mainstream, their most famous moment came early when the original lineup recorded the festive “Soul Finger” in 1967. Neighborhood kids were called in to intermittently shout “soul finger!” and join in the studio merriment. It was a #17 hit on pop charts.

“Tainted Love,” Gloria Jones, 1964

It’s a safe bet that most of the US record-buying public had no idea that British synth-pop duo Soft Cell’s international #1 hit “Tainted Love” was originally a soul record recorded by American singer Gloria Jones in 1964. Written by Ed Cobb, the song was released by Jones as the B-side of “My Bad Boy’s Coming Home,” a commercial flop on the small Champion label. In the late ’60s, a dance movement known as “Northern Soul” took root in towns in Northern England, where obscure American soul records were promoted and became hugely popular. Soft Cell’s Marc Almond heard Love’s record of “Tainted Love” and chose to give it the New Wave treatment and found spectacular success with it. I find it fascinating listening to Love’s version now.

“Ain’t No Sun Since You’ve Been Gone,” The Temptations, 1967

The songwriting team of Norman Whitfield, Cornelius Grant and Sylvia Moy came up with this uptempo beauty in 1966 and worked with Gladys Knight and The Pips to record it, but nothing came of it. Whitfield and Grant had collaborated with Eddie Holland to write “(I Know) I’m Losing You” for The Temptations, and when that song became a huge hit, the songwriters modified “Ain’t No Sun Since You’ve Been Gone” to mimic it and put it on The Tempts’ next LP. It may be a copycat track, but I think it stands up on its own merit as a quality record in The Temptations’ catalog. The following year, Dusty Springfield took a stab at it for her Dusty…Definitely” album.

“Woman’s Gotta Have It,” Bobby Womack, 1972

The multi-talented Womack served as Sam Cooke’s guitarist, contributed to records byAretha Franklin and Sly and The Family Stone and wrote songs for other artists (including “It’s All Over Now” for The Rolling Stones and “Breezin'” for George Benson) during his 60-year career. Beginning in 1969, Womack debuted as a solo artist and, in 1972, he made his first Top 40 appearance with “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha,” reaching #27 (and peaking at #2 on the R&B chart). Next up was “Woman’s Gotta Have It,” a #1 single on the R&B chart that inexplicably stalled at #60 on the pop chart. I was first introduced to the song when James Taylor covered it on his 1976 LP “In the Pocket,” but I really enjoy Womack’s original as well.

“You Don’t Know What You Mean to Me,” Sam & Dave, 1968

Steve “The Colonel” Cropper, guitarist and producer for the Stax Records house session band Booker T and the MGs, became involved with several of the Stax artists’ records, most notably Sam & Dave. You can hear Cropper’s name called out in the middle of their biggest hit “Soul Man” when Sam Moore says “Play it, Steve!” The exciting hits of Moore and Dave Prater (“Soul Man,” “Hold On I’m Comin’,” “I Thank You”) overshadowed many other terrific tracks hiding on their albums, and the one that sticks out for me is “You Don’t Know What You Mean to Me,” a song Cropper wrote.

“Somebody Have Mercy,” Sam Cooke, 1962

Virtually every soul singer who followed in his wake mentions Cooke as one of their most important influences, and it’s easy to see why. Although rooted firmly in the gospel tradition, Cooke began singing blues, traditional and R&B music in 1958, beginning with his biggest hit, “You Send Me.” Between 1960 and 1964, he scored a dozen Top 20 hits (“Cupid,” “Chain Gang,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “Let the Good Times Roll”), some of which had B-sides that were arguably as good as the A-side. Case in point: “Somebody Have Mercy,” the flip side of the #12 hit “Nothing Can Change This Love” in 1962.

“Sugar,” Stevie Wonder, 1970

Watching “Little Stevie” Wonder mature from a child prodigy with a #1 hit (“Fingertips”) at age 12 to a phenomenal young man with three Album of the Year Grammy awards in the 1970s was truly a sight to behold. Before he came up with titanic LPs like “Innervisions” and “Songs in the Key of Life,” he still had some work to do. His 1970 LP “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” included four pop chart hits that kept his impressive streak going, including “Heaven Help Us All” and the title track. One of Wonder’s most soulful tracks, “Sugar,” can be found deep on this album, showcasing his vocals and the clavinet. It’s rarely if ever heard on the radio, and he has curiously never played it in concert.

“Love Feels Like Fire,” The Four Tops, 1965

The spectacular voice of lead singer Levi Stubbs is the primary reason The Four Tops emerged from the Motown stable as one of their premier acts, emboldened by the wondrous songs and production values of the Holland-Dozier-Holland triumvirate. We all know the hits: “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” “Bernadette,” “Baby I Need Your Loving.” But wow, check out the other tunes on LPs like “Four Tops Second Album.” It’s hard not to like “Love Feels Like Fire,” which I’d never heard until this week when I started digging through the group’s catalog.

“Talkin’ ‘Bout You,” Ray Charles, 1958

When you consider the pioneers of soul music, Ray Charles is at the top of the list. His earliest records in the late ’40s and early ’50s offered a combination of blues, jazz, rhythm-and-blues and swing that, by the late ’50s had spawned this new musical genre eventually known as soul. On his second LP for Atlantic, “Yes Indeed!,” I’ve always been partial to “Talkin’ ‘Bout You,” one of seven tracks Charles wrote that showcases his expressive voice. A word to the wise: Look beyond “Lonely Avenue” and his other signature songs (“What’d I Say,” “Georgia On My Mind”) and revel in the countless deep tracks that provide ample evidence where soul originated.

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Waiting for you like hidden treasures

(Reprinted from Oct 30, 2015 post)

It’s time once again to delve deep into some of the classic albums of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and find those superb “deep tracks” that the radio stations never play.  So many of the albums that topped the charts back then have three, maybe four songs that get all the airplay even though there are some jewels just sitting there, waiting to be rediscovered and savored.

This blog has always been dedicated to shining a bright light on a number of neglected tracks from famous albums.  I also enjoy drawing attention to great songs from LPs that were NOT major-selling albums.  But for now, come with me as we expose the wonderful “diamonds in the rough” among the top-selling albums of the glorious decades of 40, 50, 60 years ago.

There’s a Spotify playlist at the end to soak in these great tunes as you read along.

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“Listen,” Chicago, 1969

When the band that would be known as Chicago released their debut, the extraordinary “Chicago Transit Authority” in April 1969, they felt they had so much good material that it should be a double album, which takes chutzpah for a new band to claim.  But they were right — not only were there enough worthy tracks to warrant a double LP, their sound was a revelation, a shrewd merger of rock and big band, with fiery guitar solos, exuberant trumpet/trombone/sax passages, and three vocalists each capable of leading the way through instantly likable hit songs like “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is,” “Questions 67 and 68” and “Beginnings.”  But like most albums chock full of hits, there are excellent tracks that never got the attention they deserved.  On “CTA,” I nominate “Listen,” the shortest song on an album full of 5-minute-plus tracks, led by Robert Lamm’s great vocals, a strong bass line from Peter Cetera and the ever-present horn section.

“Just a Job to Do,” Genesis, 1983

Genesis was a fantastic theatrical progressive rock outfit from 1969-1975, with the amazing Peter Gabriel as their vocalist/showman throughout that period…but then he felt the need to leave, spend family time, yada yada, and maybe branch out on his own.  Meanwhile, the remaining members of Genesis — keyboardist Tony Banks, guitarist Mike Rutherford, and drummer/vocalist Phil Collins — soldiered on, and ultimately became a hugely successful commercial act, with multiple hit singles in the ’80s.  Their 1983 album “Genesis” had hits like “Mama” and “That’s All,” but the highlight for me from this period was the track about the reluctant hit man, “Just a Job to Do” (“…and bang! bang! bang! and down you go…”), which has a relentless beat and an irresistible arrangement that just won’t quit.  Genesis was certainly two different bands, with and without Gabriel, but the second one surely had its moments…

“Peace Frog,” The Doors, 1970

I love the Doors, and inhaled their first two albums especially, and their swan song, “LA Woman,” but somehow never caught on to the “Soft Parade”/”Morrison Hotel” period for whatever reason.  Buried deep on the 1970 “Morrison Hotel” album is a great little track called “Peace Frog,” which my daughter Rachel did a very cool dance to in 2010 in her jazz dance class/recital, and I rediscovered the song amidst the overplayed Doors tracks on classic rock radio.  I recently was pleased to hear it again on the season premiere of the James Spader TV series “The Blacklist,” which proves how classic tracks have staying power and can resurface when and where you least expect them.  I urge you to dig this one out of the archives.

“I Give You Give Blind,” Crosby Stills and Nash, 1977

CSNY had always been a volatile mix.  David Crosby, Steve Stills, and Graham Nash had already brought an excess of talent and ego to the party when they first formed in 1969, so when they added the moody and enigmatic Neil Young to the mix, the result was a predictable implosion, and they soon went their own ways.  So, what a delight when, in 1977, the original trio reconvened with the superb “CSN,” which included Nash’s hit “Just a Song Before I Go” and the haunting “Cathedral,” and Crosby’s “Shadow Captain” and “In My Dreams,” and Stills’ “Fair Game” and “Dark Star.”  All great songs — in fact, there’s not a dud on the album — but the one I find most spellbindng is the Stills closer, “I Give You Give Blind,” which includes not only the trademark CSN three-part harmonies but a fiery, full-band attack not often heard on a CSN recording, a sound sparked by Stills’ guitar work.  Fantastic.

“Been Too Long on the Road,” Bread, 1970

Bread?!  Yes, Bread.  Everybody has their guilty pleasures, and Bread is one of mine.  I was 15 and full of puppy love when they showed up, and I loved their hits like “Make It With You,” “It Don’t Matter to Me” and “Baby I’m-a Want You.”  But Bread was more than just the syrupy ballads of David Gates; they had some album tracks with tasty guitar licks and a rock backbeat.  Witness the minor hits “Mother Freedom” and “The Guitar Man.”  Hidden deep on their 1970 album “On the Waters” was a delicious little song called “Been Too Long on the Road,” which had a catchy melody and mature lyrics about how touring can kill a relationship.  Make fun of me if you must, but at least check out this song.  It’s a keeper.

“Telegraph Road,” Dire Straits, 1982

Mark Knopfler, one of the great guitar players of my lifetime, will forever be known mostly for his Dire Straits debut single “Sultans of Swing” and the 1985 MTV hit “Money for Nothing.”  But his output is so much broader and deeper than those two monster hits.  Since Dire Straits’ breakup in 1994, he has released a dozen amazing records full of tasty guitar passages and Celtic folk material, and I could go on and on about the worthiness of his solo stuff.  Still, let’s just examine the incredible tracks that make up the six Dire Straits studio albums:  “Down to the Waterline,” “Lady Writer,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Skateaway,” “Your Latest Trick,” “Brothers in Arms,” “Calling Elvis,” “Planet of New Orleans,” and many many more.  The one that stands out most for me, though, is “Telegraph Road,” the 15-minute masterpiece from their 1982 album, “Love Over Gold.”  It starts quietly, builds for a while, gets quiet again, and then hits a point just past halfway through where it goes into a relentless crescendo that leaves your jaw scraping the floor once it finally fades out.  Do yourself a favor and put this one on when you’ve got a 15-minute nighttime drive home ahead of you.

“Do What You Want, Be What You Are,” Hall and Oates, 1976

For my money, Daryl Hall and John Oates never topped the incredible blue-eyed soul classic “She’s Gone,” released in 1973 on the duo’s overlooked second album, “Abandoned Luncheonette.”  Of course, they went on to become the most successful pop duo of all time in the late ’70s/early ’80s with “Sara Smile,” “Rich Girl,” “Private Eyes,” “I Can’t Go For That,” “Maneater” and many more.  Buried on their 1976 LP “Bigger Than Most of Us” is a super sexy slow song called “Do What You Want, Be What You Are,” on which Hall hits high notes no man should be able to reach.  This beautifully produced track is music to undress to.

“Let It Roll,” George Harrison, 1970

The triple album “All Things Must Pass” got a lot of attention, largely because the quiet ex-Beatle had substantially eclipsed his compatriots’ first solo albums, and because his hit single, “My Sweet Lord,” was simply effervescent.  Clearly, he’d been sitting on a stockpile of great songs while waiting for the chance to come out from underneath the shadow of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting axis to shine in his own way.  The album was chock full of great songs, including hits like “What Is Life” and “Awaiting On You All,” but to me, the unsung hero on the album is “Let It Roll (The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp”), which would have fit quite nicely among the tracks on the celebrated Beatles’ “White Album” two years earlier, when it was written.

“Punky’s Dilemma,” Simon and Garfiunkel, 1968

Director Mike Nichols was enamored with the work of Simon and Garfunkel and wanted Simon to write songs for his coming-of-age film “The Graduate” in 1967.  Simon obliged with 3-4 songs, but Nichols rejected them, instead preferring to use “The Sounds of Silence,” “Scarborough Fair” and other existing songs from the S&G catalog in the background of his film.  Simon was successful in getting “Mrs. Robinson” into the film in abbreviated form (because he hadn’t finished it yet).  But left on the side of the road were amazing songs like “Overs” (about a marriage that had reached its end) and the winsome track “Punky’s Dilemma,” about a young man who wants to be anything (even a Kellogg’s corn flake or an English muffin) instead of a draftable college graduate in the late ’60s.  The song ended up on the #1 1968 album “Bookends.”

“Murder By Numbers,” The Police, 1983

Between 1978 and 1983, The Police just kept getting better and better, starting with “Roxanne” and “Message in a Bottle” and improving with “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “Every Little Things She Does is Magic.”  The trio of drummer Stewart Copeland, guitarist Andy Summers and bassist/singer/songwriter Sting (Gordon Sumner) peaked with their #1 album (and swan song) “Synchronicity” in 1983, which featured “King of Pain,” “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” the title track and the international #1 hit, “Every Breath You Take.”  Left off the vinyl version but included on the CD was the sleeper classic “Murder By Numbers,” a creepy but compellingly great track about a serial killer.

“Rock and Roll Suicide,” David Bowie, 1972

The enigmatic “chameleon of rock” was still relatively unknown in the US in 1972 when he made an indelible impression as the androgynous stage persona called Ziggy Stardust, an orange-haired rocker from another planet who single-handedly invented “glam rock.”  David Bowie went on to adopt other personas over the decades, some commercially successful, others defiantly not, but he will always be known most for “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” one of the most astounding records in rock history.  “Suffragette City” and “Starman” got most of the airplay, but the incredible finale, “Rock and Roll Suicide” (“YOU’RE NOT ALONE!  GIMME YOUR HANDS!”), leaves the listener gasping for breath when it ends with emphatic violins.

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