Post By: Alan
Soul and R&B have always been closely associated, and rightly so. The subject of both genres is typically love. They both carry a tune that is as rhythmic as it is melodic. But in my opinion, the difference is the way they approach music. One, R&B, appeals to the immediate ear - an audible sensation that may or may not last longer than a year. The other, Soul, could care less about what the listener wants. It is speaking from its, well, soul. And while this might be a bold statement, try listening to a Barry Manilow song right before something by James Brown (no offense to Manilow, he’s one of my favorite artists, just noting a comparison).
Anyway, for the purposes of this list, I stick with only the genre of Soul music. This is not a definitive list, but rather a list of soul albums that are must-haves for any fan of soul music. You can’t go wrong in purchasing any one of these albums.
Marvin Gaye - Whats Going On
An R&B album is supposed to have at least one love song, right? ‘What’s Going On’, one of the most personal albums ever, defied that convention by presenting Gaye’s beliefs on religion, a troubled society and The Vietnam War. It is one an album that is almost as relevant today as it was when it was released. The amazing reception of this album showed Gaye remaining on Billboard’s Top 100 list for over a year and selling over two million units.
Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life
How could an album that debuted at number one on the Billboard album chart, became certified Diamond by the RIAA and took the 1977 Grammy title for ‘Album of the Year’ not be on a top ten R & B album list? Taking perfectionism to a new level, Mr. Wonder managed to do the unthinkable by gathering some of the most illustrious musicians to play accompaniment on Songs in the Key of Life, such as George Benson and Herbie Hancock.
Storytelling at its finest. Similar to Marvin Gaye’s ‘Whats Going On’, Mayfield’s approach to societal issues such as drug abuse made record executives wary about it’s reception. But it turned out that the honest and non-biased view of the addiction turned out to be the winning factory that caused the album to sell two-million of its singles, ‘Freddy’s Dead’ and ‘Superfly.’
Donny Hathaway – Everything Is Everything
As I sit here listening to this album, I begin to wonder what the world would be like today if songs like the ones on ‘Everything is Everything’ were still popular in the twenty-first century. It is amazing that a song which the sole lyrics consisted of ‘The Ghetto’ repeated over and over could propel Mr. Hathaway to stardom, but so much soul was packed into every iteration that anyone, white, black, Spanish or Asian could understand the implications of what was meant.
Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul
When the longest love song on an album stretches nineteen minutes long, you know the artists has something to say. It is not some recycled rendition of baby-come-back-to-me but instead ‘my M.D. says slow down before you drive me to the ground’ heart-wrenching music. The album addresses feelings of devotion, letting go of failed relationships and sadness. Its amazing to understand that this album did not get released due to Haye’s debut flop, ‘Presenting Isaac Hayes.’
Every artist has an album that propels them into stardom, and for Michael Jackson, ‘Off The Wall’ was just that. The smooth mix and blends of disco, funk, soul and pop were an unconventional and risky maneuver, but it paid off when the album earned Michael his first Grammy since the early 70s. Jumping basslines and bouncing guitars made this a dance album like no other.
The platinum lead single ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough’ was reportedly first hummed by Jackson himself while in his kitchen. Quincy Jones also had a heavy hand in the creation of the album, after the two formed a strong bond while on the set of ‘The Wiz.’
Al Green – Still In Love With You
Between Green’s sultry singing and emotion-packed lyrics is a place for the casual listener to easily get lost. Growing up my dad would always play this record, and even then I could tell there was something special about it, almost a peculiar kind of magic. Maybe that’s why many fans have deemed Green’s albums as ‘baby making music.’
The album’s title song managed to hit the number tree spot on Billboard and sold over a million copies.
James Brown - Live at the Apollo
It is unusual for a live album to get such high acclaim as ‘Live at the Apollo.’ What set this album apart from all other recordings, both studio-enhanced and not, was Brown’s high-energy, jump right off the LP personality. Brown was a live performer by nature, as demonstrated on tracks such as ‘Night Train’ and ‘I’ll Go Crazy’. After all, how can any artist that pays the owner (as Brown did with this album) not demonstrate a certain passion for music?
Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul
Selling over a million copies of an album was no small feat in 1968. Songs such as ‘Chain of Fools’ and ‘You Make Me Feel Like (A Natural Woman)’ quickly became feminist anthems and destroyed the stereotype that men were the only ones that could make a spectacular soul album. To put it bluntly, type “Queen of Soul” into your Google search field and see what comes up.
Sly and the Family Stone - Fresh
A definite delineation from the ‘normal’ funk, Sly set out to produce a much smoother funk (the preemptive ‘Gangster funk’ of Snoop Dogg?) than their previous effort ‘There’s a Riot Going On.’ George Clinton has named ‘Fresh’ as one of his favorite albums and Miles Davis reportedly made his band listen to ‘In Time’ repeatedly for thirty minutes.
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