After great artists like Aretha Franklin, Lady Soul herself, and James Brown, the Godfather of Soul who, I will admit, I never ever got as a kid, there was a quaint term called “blue-eyed soul”.
As for this “blue eyed soul”, did it start with Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker or even the brilliant Leon Russell? I doubt it.
Even with acid trips, flower power and kaftans, music was music and though Cocker Power became a term used to describe the white guy with the beer belly and marionette movements first seen at Woodstock, Leon Russell spoke to me in a voice that hit me between the legs. It was achingly soulful music and I still doubt this genius musician has received his rightful dues.
Who knows who coined that piece of bollocks known as “blue eyed soul”, but many artists were saddled with the term until Michael Bolton and his hairpieces arrived on the scene and completely massacred “When A Man Loves A Woman” and “Sitting On The Dock Of The Way” with truly bombastic versions of these great songs which had grown men cowering. And with that, “blue eyed soul” galloped off into the sunset with its tail between its legs.
A group of us were talking about “soul music” and just how ignorant we were about whatever this “genre” was meant to be and how, way back then, only “soul brothers” and “soul sisters” and even a Soul Finger were meant to “own” this style of music.
When in bands, gawd knows we tried to sing Mustang Sally in some gruff voice to ape Wilson Pickett- ughs, squeaks, screams et al- which was a constant source of confusion to our parents.
Did we REALLY like the song? Not really. It was just a must for nearly every band’s repertoire and the chords were not exactly hard to play.
It wasn’t unlike pretending to love the Blues because the Stones, the Animals and even the Beatles covered songs by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Rufus Thomas etc.
Ever sing about your mojo, Smokestack Lightning, being a Hootchie Cootchie Man and Little Red Rooster and not know what the fuck any of it was about?
I doubt even Mick Jagger knew what he was singing about either when he stumbled through being a little red rooster or the joys of walking the dog.
The late Brian Jones, serial shagger and my favorite Stone,knew what the boys didn’t get but which the little girls understood and needed.
Today, soul music has given way to songs that simply hit heart, soul and mind and Don Henley is one helluva soul singer and, for me, songs like Desperado, Heart Of The Matter and The End Of The Innocence has as much soul to them than many songs classified as “soul classics”.
Hey Jude by Wilson Pickett or The Beatles? The Wicked Mr Pickett with Steve Cropper on guitar gave it his all, but how can anyone compete with the emotion of the writer of the song?
By the same token, despite some decent covers of them, who can match Smokey Robinson’s Tracks Of My Tears and Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine? No one. These songs BELONG to them.
It’s like Fire And Rain by James Taylor, Just The Way You Are by Billy Joel, Cold Turkey by Lennon, Maybe I’m Amazed by Macca, Fix You by Coldplay, Just Like A Woman by Dylan, the original version of Layla by Derek And The Dominoes, every song written by Jimmy Webb and so many others.
Soul is nothing to do with color or race. Soul music is, simply put, any song that touches you and stays with you forever and a day.