Top Ten Soul Songs You Probably Haven’t Heard But Will Most Likely Adore After Listening To
he thing is, everyone likes soul music; come on, have you not danced badly to “Hard To Handle” or “Respect” at some point in your life? I guess I’m writing this for those who answer yes (ie. the honest ones) but have never taken the time to dig that little bit deeper. So, first up: for those of you who have heard most or all of these records, I apologise for not being obscure enough for you (but they're bloody good aren’t they?). For the rest of you the good news is that these ten records, as well as being passionate, beautiful and empowering, are all easily obtainable. Moreover I'm going to give you two clues about how to obtain most of them. First clue: 'Kent'. Second clue: 'Soul'. So if you haven't heard these songs then do pop down to your local record store to check them out. Oh, but read my article first.
Jaibi – You Got Me
Were it not for a slightly clumsy fade-out I would try to make a case for this being, quite simply, the perfect record. Although well under three minutes, it is by no means a pop song—it didn't jump out and grab me, and it might not grab you. But give it your full attention and you’ll come to cherish how the voice soars, becoming both the loved and the love, capturing perfectly the point between strength and vulnerability, pulling the two together ‘til they meet as one. The stately pace, the way the horns swell slowly and with such grace behind the melody, the way the bass starts boiling over when she sings "I try to fight this burning desire", the swirling keyboard licks, fuck, even the drums are bursting with emotion. This is the shit. This is AWESOME. I love this song!
The Fascinations – Girls Are Out To Get You
This fabulous song was written by Curtis Mayfield, and must be one of the very finest slices of girl group pop. Clocking in at just over two minutes and bursting into life with that ecstatic vocal hook, this (difficult to decipher) lyric of lost love is set to a backing that is flooded with emotion. The lead singer has the energy and tone of a young girl but the wisdom of someone whose heart has been well and truly burnt. I think I’m right in saying that everyone I’ve played this to has been bowled over. Has sadness ever sounded so joyous?
The Winstons – Color Him Father
I can’t think of another song about having a great stepfather (“I love this man and I don’t know why / Except I’ll need his strength until the day that I die”). If I have ever heard one I probably blanked it out ‘cos it was cringe-worthy! Somehow this record, despite its subject matter and the fact that it is unashamedly pop, avoids being at all cheesy or lightweight. It moves at a brisk tempo and is sung straightforwardly, when compared to the vocals on many (most?) soul records; perhaps it is this simplicity that allows the sentiment to move rather than cloy. In any case this record is pure love. I worry for you if you can’t let it in.
The Caravans – Walk Around Heaven All Day
This is really pure gospel, disguised as a soul (its slightly more attractive younger sibling) song, and is without doubt one of my very favourite pieces of music. The vocal is, as is customary with great soul, clothed in reverb and world class, and from the off the warm double bass, fluttering cymbals and blissful glockenspiel lend this record a divine sound. The tone is weary but optimistic, and an organ augments the piano when the song needs lifting towards the desperate plea of its stratospheric chorus. The singer nearly breaks down halfway through (“EVERYDAY!”), before calm is restored and the song starts to build yet again. I feel like I’m cooking about sex. Just listen to it.
Little Willie John - You Got To Get Up Early In The Morning
This one, probably the earliest of the ten, has a more light-hearted exterior: a happy rhythm, a healthy dose of swing, and a vocal—from a man who seems to have inexplicably fallen off the critical radar—as irrepressible and irresistible as Little Richard or Jackie Wilson at their best. I’m not sure who wrote it but the lyric is also fabulous: “Here’s some advice for you darling, you’ve got to get yourself a lot of new lies / With the one you’ve been telling me, you know, you can’t pull the wool over my eyes.” Listen again and concentrate on the absolutely gorgeous piano. Top stuff!
Barbara West - Anyone But You
This record unfolds with perfect predictability—from its piano arpeggio to the scuffed acoustic guitar licks and the lyric you’ve always known, from the shimmering strings to the angelic backing vocals and mocking brass. The stately pace serves to ensure that this obviousness engages rather than bores; the listener is struck by suspense and each element, arriving to build the song to its miserable climax, is designed purely to pull at your heartstrings. The vocal is utterly dignified, rather than impassioned. Afraid to feel, because all she has to feel here and now is loss.
Little Richard – Get Down With It
This, like all of Richard Penniman's greatest sides, is a stupidly exuberant record from the first second to the last. In truth there's little 'song' to speak of, just the great man doing his thing over a stomping Northern Soul beat, but it is absolutely compelling nonetheless. Incredibly it was put to tape in 1967; well over a decade after he first told us about Sally, Miss Molly et al. I have no doubt that my life will be immeasurably improved the day I hear this at a club on a proper sound system!
Kenny Carter – Showdown
Beginning with the orchestra and ending desperately and abruptly inside three minutes (they don’t make ‘em like they used to, right?), this is a pocket symphony that Spector or Wilson would have been proud of. Beautifully arranged, and propelled (slowly) forward by that idiosyncratic snare struck only on the first beat of every other bar, “Showdown” has been pitched so as to force the singer to the very top of his range. From the foreboding opening line he grabs hold of the listener’s heartstrings and never lets up. I’d be amazed if he did not feel his heart tear as he delivered the—“this is a showdown”—climax. I defy you not to feel something similar.
Gloria Lynne - You Don’t Have To Be a Tower of Strength
This tune sports an obvious Sam Cooke influence but rises above mere imitation due to its fabulous vocal, the pure class of its arrangement and the simple fact that it is a cracking song - written by Burt Bacharach as an answer to Gene McDaniels’ “Tower of Strength”. One of the great song titles (up there with Tim Buckley’s “I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain” and Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”) is rewarded with the record it deserves; an old-fashioned tale of love, similar in outlook to Mary Wells’ “My Guy,” and every bit as charming.
The Sweet Things – I’m In A World Of Trouble
Another bittersweet pop symphony, again well short of the three minute mark, propelled by fervent gun-shot drums (the sort that would have sounded irredeemable if this had been an eighties record) and some call and response vocals which narrate a pretty bleak tale. However in the world of Northern Soul the situation is never too bleak that one shouldn’t enjoy oneself: hence the playful Phil Spector-y sax solo. This song’s boundless energy and melodic brilliance lift it high above its, admittedly, generic ambitions.
By: James McKean
Published on: 2005-02-04