After rock and roll had been stolen, appropriated, and massively popularized, the transition from the 60s to the 70s called for something more thoughtful and calculated. The natural response was an art form with denser musical complexity, rawer emotion, and heavier political themes. As classic rock had been exploited and stretched out to its ends, soul music appropriately saw a return to the human condition while still showcasing bold experimentation. It’s incredibly influential to this day, existing in the space between the technical precision of jazz and the wild charisma of hip hop.
Enjoy and subscribe to the latest Closer Look above! Scroll down for the individual tracks selected from the Soul Music of 1971.
Soul music is defined by rich instrumentation and high flying vocals, rendering a sound that’s deeply emotional and powerfully uplifting. Many soul soundscapes have multiple vocal layers, along with booming horns, shimmering guitars, and bright strings. The centerpiece, however, is always the voice of the artist. Political lyrics and the poignant personal perspectives of the individual always shines through with soul, a genre that is appropriately dominated by first name last name artists. Coming from the hearts of predominantly people of color and from the 1970s, there was a plethora of strong political commentary to be made.
The centerpiece of the 70s was undeniably Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin On? A concept album surrounding the horrors of the vietnam war. Gaye’s effort here was an all time addition to the concept album canon as well as a brilliant display of making touchy subject matter beautifully accessible. Alongside him were heavyweights like Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield, who led the charge of soundtracking blaxploitation films of the time. Their work brought style and swagger to black stories, breathing a larger than life aura to the artform.
Soul is, as the name would suggest, ultimately more about humanity than any amount of impressive chord progressions or instrumental arrangements. It’s a feeling and state of being more than any kind of technical ability. Luckily, despite being about a half century away from its hay day, it can still carry a timeless aura that instills joy. Few other genres can define the world at large the way soul does and continues to do.
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On
Diana Ross – Surrender
Funkadelic- Can You Get To That
Curtis Mayfield- Keep On Keeping On
Isaac Hayes- Theme From Shaft
Bill Withers- Grandma’s Hands
The Isley Brothers- Love the One You’re With
Gil Scott-Heron- Home Is Where the Hatred Is
The Temptations- Just My Imagination
Al Green- Tired of Being Alone
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