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These days folks in bands get handed lists of questions to answer, or occasionally just requests to make lists to then expand on in lieu of being interviewed. That’s okay, I guess. A while back I was asked to write a piece about 10 songs i loved and why. Well, I did it and for whatever reason the piece was cut. But because I ACTUALLY DO LOVE THESE SONGS I resubmit to y’all–the great internet public–ten of my all time favorite soul songs.
The world of soul music is as wide as it is deep. Oldies radio does the genre a huge disservice by focusing almost entirely on Motown and ignoring regional records of the era whose influence proved just as important to British and American rock acts. Here is a quick list of some awesome soul cuts that might be a bit fresher to the uninitiated. All these tracks are really classics of soul and I guarantee would be a welcome addition to any playlist.
Express Yourself–Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
Charles brings an unrivaled level of excitement to his vocal performance. By the end of the song it seems he is truly losing his mind. If you find yourself dj’ing a wedding–this song will fill the dance floor, and get ‘em swinging from the chandeliers just about as well as any track out there.
I Can’t Stand the Rain–Ann Peebles
The percolating drum machine in this track sets a haunted vibe that all drum programmers envy. It’s a good sample, but it’s an even better song! Wait for the song—anyone who has had their heartbroken can feel this.
It’s Your Thing–The Isley Bros.
The pride of Teaneck NJ, Isley Brothers career spans the entire pop era, and their influence over black music is impossible to quantify. The Isley Brothers career is amazing in almost every way, and their transition into the funkier side of things led to some amazing recordings. This is one of them.
Teasin’ You–Willie Tee
Willie Tee specialized in this kind of song, and revisited the form in few different tracks. Although the track has a very light touch there is an insidious undertow. I bet Willie was a tough dude.
Check Your Bucket–Eddie Bo
Growing up in Boston I knew the Duke and the Drivers version that was in constant rotation on WBCN, along with J. Geils Band covers of soul classic from the mid-sixties. Hearing the original recording lead me into the whole world of New Orleans soul, where this track along with “Hook and Sling” is the thing of legend. Eddie Bo had a very long career but much of it took place in the 45 rpm single era, so his legacy is largely lost except to rare record collectors and some placements on compilations.
O-O-H Child–The Five Stairsteps
This was a staple of 70s pop radio. The track is an ever shifting, strangely triumphant parade of different vocalists, toggling between the smooth female vocals to the explosive smoldering male lead. It also has possibly the most extreme stereo panning of tom fills ever committed to tape.
Tramp–Carla Thomas and Otis Redding
This is a sweet slice of the Stax Records session band ripping it up. Carla Thomas and Otis Redding, who recorded an entire album of great duets for the label, seem to be having the time of their lives on this joyful, hilarious track.
It’s a Shame–The Spinners
Although this is a later track from the soul era with many of the elements of the Philadelphia Sound, it was actually produced by a very young Stevie Wonder. It is clean and slick but in a great way–the song just builds and builds to an amazing crescendo of groove and arrangement.
Yes We Can Can—Lee Dorsey
It’s hard to imagine the author of Glen Campbell’s Southern Nights is also responsible for some of the funkiest music ever recorded but it’s true. This tracks author Allen Toussaint seems to rediscovered every ten years or so, and for very good reason. He is impossibly talented—record producer, piano player, singer, and horn arranger (check out “Rock of Ages” by the Band) He is also the writer of countless hit songs for other soul, funk, and rock acts. But personally I find his own recordings often the best versions of his songs–and while the Pointer Sisters version of this song was a far bigger deal, Toussaint’s original production with Lee Dorsey was the one that got me hooked.