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!

************************

“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.

****************************

There’s still time to change the road you’re on

Upon moving to Los Angeles 11 years ago, I didn’t have to wait long before I found myself driving down streets and highways whose names I recognized from popular song lyrics:

“I flew past LaBrea out to Crescent Heights…I passed her at Doheny and I started to swerve…”  — three major streets in West Hollywood off Sunset Boulevard, made famous in Jan & Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve.”

“Drive west on Sunset to the sea…” As Sunset reaches the Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades, from Steely Dan’s “Babylon Sisters.”

“…And the sun comes up on Santa Monica Boulevard” from Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do.”

And so on.

The same is true, no doubt, for those who move to New York City, or London, or any number of other areas of the country or the world where famous or obscure streets and highways inspire artists to write about them.

There are hundreds and hundreds of great songs from the classic rock era about hitting the road, written and/or recorded by artists from Eric Clapton to Bruce Springsteen, from Steppenwolf to Jackson Browne, from Joni Mitchell to The Doobie Brothers, among countless others. Most of these songs feature lyrics that could be about traveling on any road anywhere.

Today, let’s shine a light on 14 songs about specific roads.  Perhaps you’ve driven down them yourselves, or will someday…

*****************************

“Highway 61 Revisited,” Bob Dylan (1965)  

Regarded by many fans as one of Dylan’s finest albums, “Highway 61 Revisited” features the titantic masterpiece “Like a Rolling Stone” and such serious works as “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Queen Jane Approximately” and “Desolation Row.”  One of the lighter moments is the breezy, bluesy title tune, complete with a siren whistle to punctuate each new verse with comical effect. The song was inspired by U.S. Highway 61, which runs from Louisiana north through the Mississippi River valley to Dylan’s home state of Minnesota.  It’s the route followed by many Blacks as they left the South for jobs and opportunities in the North.

“Toulouse Street,” Doobie Brothers (1972)  

One of the better known streets in New Orleans’ famed French Quarter, Toulouse Street is a magical brew of fabulous restaurants, sketchy strip bars, outrageous souvenir shops and mysterious voodoo characters. Doobies guitarist/singer/songwriter Patrick Simmons wrote the hauntingly beautiful ballad about some bad times in The Big Easy, with lyrics about Creole girls and back rooms where “the blood’s a-flowing fast, and spells have been cast.” The track stands in stark contrast to the harder edged rock found on the rest of the “Toulouse Street” LP, but Simmons actually contributed several more gentle pickin’ tunes to The Doobies catalog over the years.

“(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” Nat King Cole Trio (1946) 

A fellow named Bobby Troup wrote this infectious standard during and after a cross-country trip he made with his wife just after World War II, much of it while traveling on U.S. Route 66, which runs from Chicago to L.A.  Troup’s wife Cynthia suggested the title that rhymes “kicks” with “66.” The lyrics mention ten cities one encounters along the iconic highway (can you name them?), and Cynthia remarked later, “I can’t believe he didn’t find a way to include Albuquerque in there lyrics.” The jazz/blues tune has been recorded by more than 75 artists over the years, from Nat Cole and Bing Crosby to Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones, from Glenn Frey and John Mayer to Natalie Cole and The Manhattan Transfer.

“Lake Shore Drive,” Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah (1972)  

Those outside the Greater Chicago area may not be familiar with this one, but Windy City music fans have long hailed the irresistible beauty of this catchy, piano-driven ode to the famed roadway that runs along Lake Michigan from the North Shore past the Gold Coast to downtown.  Guitarist Skip Haynes — one third of the trio with bassist Mitch Aliotta and keyboardist John Jeremiah — wrote the tune to celebrate the road her and his friends so often traveled as they headed into Chicago for nights on the town. The lyric “Just slipping on by on LSD, Friday night, trouble bound” was thought by those not familiar with Chicago to be a reference to the hallucinogenic drug, but Haynes insists that drugs have nothing to do with it. The song was revived for the “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” 2017 film sequel.

“Bleecker Street,” Simon and Garfunkel (1964)  

One of Paul Simon’s first songs, which appears on the duo’s largely ignored debut LP “Wednesday Morning 3 A.M.,” pays tribute to the street that slices through the bohemian Greenwich Village neighborhoods of Manhattan in New York City. Simon and Garfunkel, both from Queens, frequented the numerous coffeehouses on Bleecker where many folk artists performed in the late ’50s and early ’60s. The simple melody and lyrics, typical of Simon’s early work, evoke a poetic vibe: “Voices leaking from a sad cafĂ©, smiling faces try to understand, /I saw a shadow touch a shadow’s hand, on Bleecker Street… The poet reads his crooked rhyme, holy holy is his sacrament, /Thirty dollars pays your rent on Bleecker Street…”

“Seven Bridges Road,” The Eagles (1980)  

This pretty piece was written in 1969 by country rock musician Steve Young, named after a road that leads southeast out of Montgomery, Alabama. On maps today, it’s identified as Rte 39, or Woodley Road, but for a century or more, it was known by locals as Seven Bridges Road because of the seven wooden bridges one had to traverse as it headed into rural county and ended as a dirt road there. Said Young, “Consciously, I was writing a song about a girl and a road in south Alabama, but I think, on another level, the song has something kind of cosmic about it that registers in the subconscious. The number seven has all of these religious and mystical connotations.” He recorded it in 1969, and Ian Matthews devised a five-part harmony for it on his 1973 rendition, but it’s the version by The Eagles that is best known. They began all their post-1979 concerts with it, and included it on their live 1980 LP.

“Penny Lane,”  The Beatles (1967)  

As a counterpoint to complement John Lennon’s song of childhood remembrance, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Paul McCartney came up with this whimsical tune about Penny Lane, a retail area and transit turnaround in a suburb of Liverpool, England. The lyrics paint a carefree picture that captured the activities and characters — the banker, the nurse, the barber, the fireman — McCartney recalled seeing there when he was a boy. Just as Lennon’s song uses a somewhat surreal melody and arrangement to match his enigmatic lyrics, McCartney’s happy-go-lucky melody provides a suitable underpinning to carry the buoyant words. The songs, released as a double A-side single in February 1967, topped the charts in the US and is regarded as one of The Beatles’ best.

“Creeque Alley,” The Mamas and The Papas (1967)  

This autobiographical song by John Phillips tells the story of The Mamas and The Papas — how they met, how they got together, how they became famous, and what was going on with some of their musical contemporaries at the time.  The title, which is never mentioned in the lyrics, refers to Creque Alley, a tiny lane in the Virgin Islands where Phillips, his new wife Michelle and his first band, The New Journeymen, used to perform and hang out in a club there. The group was struggling financially while living there, but soon made their way to Los Angeles and a record deal. By the final verse, when “California dreamin’ is becoming a reality,” they’ve left behind the spartan life on Creque Alley. The song peaked at #7 in 1967 and became their final Top Ten hit.

“The E Street Shuffle,” Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band (1973)

During his formative years, Springsteen wrote quite a few songs about streets, from the fictional “Thunder Road” to the Manhattan-based “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” Following a largely ignored debut LP, Springsteen broadened his musical palette to write more operatically for his follow-up album, “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.” Springsteen’s original piano player, the brilliant David Sancious, lived on E Street in Belmar, a town near Asbury Park, NJ, and the fledgling band often met and rehearsed there. They began referring to themselves as the E Street Band, and Springsteen wrote the funky, horn-heavy album opener, “The E Street Shuffle,” to commemorate that fact.

“52nd Street,” Billy Joel (1978)  

Following the enormous success of “The Stranger” album and its multiple hit singles, Joel took a praiseworthy turn toward jazzier themes and arrangements, which showed up in sophisticated tunes like “Zanzibar,” “Stilletto” and “Honesty.”  They can all be found on Joel’s aptly named LP “52nd Street,” the Manhattan street that served as the hotbed of jazz clubs in New York City in the ’40s and ’50s, and perhaps not coincidentally, the location of the studio he used to record the album in the ’70s. The brief title song deftly draws a parallel between romance and jazz music: “They say it takes a lot to keep a love alive, /In every heart there pumps a different beat, /But if we shift the rhythm into overdrive, /Well, we could generate a lot of heat on 52nd Street…”

“Baker St. Muse,” Jethro Tull (1975)

Three years before Gerry Rafferty had an international hit with his sax-dominated tune “Baker Street,” Ian Anderson wrote this 16-minute, four-part suite about the same street for Tull’s “Minstrel in the Gallery” album. It offers a wistful, rather melancholy look at the various sketchy characters and sordid scenes encountered during a walk down Baker Street, a major boulevard in London, in the 1970s. Prostitutes, drunks, weary beat cops and opportunists populate Anderson’s impressive piece as its navigates multiple tempos, genres and instrumental arrangements. The final section finds Anderson looking at his own career at that point, making sure not to take himself too seriously (“If sometimes I sing to a cynical degree, it’s just the nonsense that it seems…”)

“On Broadway,” George Benson (1978)  

The iconic thoroughfare of Broadway, in the heart of Manhattan, one of the world’s top two centers of theater arts, has been the inspiration for numerous movies, plays and songs over the past century.  Many of them focus on the hopes and dreams of aspiring actors and musicians who want nothing more than to have their names up in lights on a theater marquis there.  The song “On Broadway,” which does a particularly fine job of this, was the result of a rare collaboration between two famous songwriting teams. Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, who wrote it as a perky shuffle for the girl group The Cookies, reworked it into more of a bluesy tempo with assistance from Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. The Drifters nailed it with a version that reached #9 in 1963 followed by numerous other artists’ attempts. Jazz guitarist/vocalist George Benson did a fabulous remake in 1978, peaking at #7 on the pop charts.

“Telegraph Road,” Dire Straits (1982)  

Singer/guitarist/songwriter Mark Knopfler was on tour in the Midwest U.S. one day on a tour bus, reading a book about the degradation of urban centers.  He noticed that he was on one road, Telegraph Road, for a very long time, and observed how the landscape and development changed dramatically as it headed north from the Ohio border past Detroit into the northern suburbs. He saw a parallel between what he was reading about and what he was seeing as he traveled the lengthy thoroughfare. A few months later, he was moved to write one of his most impressive compositions, a multi-part, 14-minute masterpiece named for the road in question, which would appear on Dire Straits’ next LP, “Love Over Gold.” The tune goes through about as many changes as the road he had been traveling.

“Shakedown Street,” Grateful Dead (1978)  

Not a real street at all, but a term coined by lyricist Robert Hunter in the title song of the Grateful Dead album of the same name. Hunter used the phrase to describe the kind of sketchy urban boulevards found in countless large cities where drugs, prostitution and street hustles reigned supreme, and customers were often fleeced.  Since the song’s release in the late ’70s, the term “Shakedown Street” has evolved in more recent years to connote the area in parking lots at Grateful Dead (and other jam band) concerts where fast-talking vendors sell food items, beverages and many other wares of questionable value.

****************************

We’ll conclude with a tip of the hat to some of the great generic songs about the pleasure and freedom of driving, life on the highway, and the allure of the road:  “Life is a Highway,” Tom Cochrane (1992);  Born to Be Wild,” Steppenwolf (1968); Rockin’ Down the Highway,” The Doobie Brothers (1972); The Road, Jackson Browne (1977); Racing in the Streets,” Bruce Springsteen (1978); I Can’t Drive 55, Sammy Hagar (1984);  Ramblin’ Man,” Allman Brothers Band (1973); On the Road Again,” Willie Nelson (1980); Refuge of the Road, Joni Mitchell (1976); Riders on the Storm,” The Doors (1971).

****************************