Soul music, funk, R&B – call it whatever you want. Those soulful vibes are impossible to resist. You moved to the groove. There is something organic about how that music takes over your being. Not every song had a funky bass line or seductive horn action. There were ballads, tasty guitar riffs or thundering percussion. What every song had was emotion, usually penetrating vocals and tales of broken hearts or faraway love. Urbanized country music. Americana for folks with very different roots music. R&B has fans of all backgrounds, me included.
The list is long but here are a few of my favorites.
“I Want You” – Marvin Gaye Somewhat of a shift of direction for Gaye, in the middle of a string of hits. A strong beat and sweeping strings, a very sophisticated urban feel.
“Let’s Stay Together” – Al Green Al Green was the thing and this song topped the charts and stayed there. Three minutes of romantic, upbeat soul.
“Midnight Train to Georgia”– Gladys Knight & the Pips A number one hit and Grammy winner. The soft song describes realizing a dream is not going to come true and returning home with the woman by his side.
“You Keep Me Hanging On” – The Supremes Holland Dozier Holland wrote this big hit. A fast-moving, pop/R&B song that crossed over to the mainstream chart. As soon as it was over you wanted to move the needle back tot he start.
“Backstabbers” – The O’Jays Written by Huff McFadden Whitehead, writers of many Philly soul hits. A strong, instrumental backing, a piece of urban soul with cool vocals by the group.
“Reach Out I’ll Be There” – Four Tops A thumping, Holland Dozier Holland song. A song of hope and impassioned support.
“Me and Mrs. Jones” – Billy Paul A number one song, a tale of lovers who belong to others. A great vocal performance by Paul.
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Diana Ross Written and arranged by Ashford and Simpson, with gorgeous orchestral backing, an epic of a song.
“That Lady” – Isley Brothers The Isleys had a lot of hits but this one really rocked under that soulful vocal.
“Walk On By” – Dionne Warwick A slow groove, that builds into a great vocal performance of love lost. It’s a winsome melody and aching vocal.
“Reasons” – Earth, Wind & Fire Slow dancing at the disco. This song was a great way to end the night. There’s fire and passion in this gentle song.
“Green Onions” – Booker T & the MG’s All the way back to 1962, an instrumental built around Booker T’s organ riff. A big hit that has been covered many times and appears in films from that era.
“One Less Bell to Answer” – 5th Dimension An aching song, sung by Marilyn McCoo, written by Bacharach/David. “One less bell to answer…One less egg to fry One less man to pick up after I should be happy But all I do is cry.”
“Respect” – Aretha Franklin Written by Otis Redding, Aretha mad it her own, customizing it with the R-E-S-P-EC-T part, and making it an theme for women’s independence.
“Freddie’s Dead” – Curtis Mayfield A single from the Superfly soundtrack. Cool, urban funk with wah wah guitars and gentle strings.
“Brick House” – Commodores Swinging bass line with a pulsating groove. A song that gets you on your feet.
“Theme From Shaft” – Isaac Hayes He’s bad mother. Driving percussion and wah wah riff.
“Ain’t No Sunshine” – Bill Withers The first hit for Withers, who was a factory worker at the time. A soulful performance by Withers. He wrote it after watching the film Days of Wine and Roses. The musicians on the song were Booker T and the MG’s.
“Superstition” – Stevie Wonder A funky number one hit for Wonder. Although Jeff Beck doesn’t play on the finished song, he and Wonder worked together in the studio. This started a very successful streak for Wonder.
“Drift Away” – Dobie Gray A gentle groove that sweeps you along. A nice song and even better performance. “Oh, give me the beat boys and free my soul>I wanna get lost in your rock ‘n’ roll and drift away”
“Break Up to Make Up” – Stylistics Part of the Philly soul sound, the Stylistics often performed songs by Thom Bell, Linda Creed and Kenny Gamble. This is a soulful ballad, a specialty of the group.
“I’ve Got So Much to Give” – Barry White One of many romantic ballads punctuated by White’s deep voice. A long, slow lead-in, the song shifts time signatures before settling into a hypnotic groove.
“Pick Up the Pieces” – Average White Band A Scottish Band planning a funk instrumental. It was a grinding guitar riff punctuated by horns.
“Play That Funky Music” – Wild Cherry A funky, bass and horn driven groove. “Play that funky music, white boy.”
“Lowrider” – War A driving, funky bass line, sax groove and low register vocals. Irresistible.
“Thank You” – Sly and the Family Stone A James Brown type funk groove. “Want to thank you falettinme be mice elf agin” Sly Stone has a string of hits before he imploded, a magical time.
“Tell Me Something Good” – Rufus/Chaka Khan A funk groove with breathy vocals and gritty guitar. Written by Stevie Wonder.
“The Closer I Get to You” – Roberts Flack A romantic ballad with a distinctive piano arrangement, a duet between Flack and Donny Hathaway.