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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It Ain't Music If It's Got No Soul

I don't care what kind of music it is - classical, rock, bluegrass, rhythm & blues - it's got to have soul. A tune may be melodic and mellifluous but without real emotion, it's just aural wallpaper.

I love Motown, one of Detroit's many musical gifts of the 60s and early 70s. The mix of pop, rock, gospel and r & b was irresistible. The singers were passionate and the beat contagious. My favourite practitioners of the Motown sound were the Four Tops, led by the room-filling, soulful pipes of Levi Stubbs.

The word "unique" may be the most abused in the English language. It can't be modified, yet on nearly a daily basis in newspapers, magazines or online, I see "really unique" or "most unique" or some other disturbing variant.

Few voices can be described as unique -- as sounding unlike any other. I can suggest Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Roy Orbison and Van Morrison. No doubt there are a handful of others.

And Levi Stubbs.

Mr. Stubbs had a particular resonant timbre that set his pipes apart. If you're over 40 years old, you're probably nodding right now. If you're younger, you won't have to take my word for it for long. A couple of examples are coming up.

Sadly, Mr. Stubbs passed away in 2008.

Happily, his voice will never be stilled.

Here's the group early in their career. (Thanks to Mkheire75 for the video.)

Yeah, but did they still have it some 35 years later?

Uh-huh. And the moves. (Thanks to adamweishaupt81 for the video.)

I'm going to wrap this one up with a wonderful ballad that was new to me. There are only a few still pictures in the video making it, at least for these ears, easier to focus on the soulful, unique voice of Levi Stubbs. Unfortunately, I can't embed the video here but I can link to it. I hope you'll click here and listen. 


  1. Nice! I can dig that. Speaking of great pipes I recommend you check out Springsteen and Sam Moore performing Hold On and Soul Man at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert. Turn it up!!!

  2. That's a really nice song. I'm surprised that there's one which slipped your notice. Kind of like finding a lost treasure, isn't it?

  3. Excellent stuff, Frank, great way to start my day. One characteristic of "soul" is the joy that comes through from the performer, be it a singer like Mr. Stubbs or an instrumentalist like Carlos Santana. Even when doing something 'sad' like the blues, a truly soulful musician will experience that joy in the form of catharsis and pass it on to his or her audience.

    Speaking of soul, I have to share this, since it's one of the great songs of the rock era, and my guitar hero David Gilmour is sitting in with them. This is The Who, featuring the incomparable Roger Daltry who can emote with the best of them. A 1996 live performance of Love Reign O'er Me from Quadrophenia:


  4. I'll do that, Lisa. Thanks. :)

    Yes indeed, Hil. It was like a nearly-overlooked Christmas gift. :)

    Thanks, Charlie. Interesting that you mention both Santana and Gilmour. I think they have a lot in common as guitarists. Each is a master of tone and blending and sustaining notes. And each knows the importance of inserting space between the notes once in a while.

    Thanks all, for taking the time. :)

  5. Maybe it was my hometown Memphis Stax/Volt loyalty that kept me away from Motown shows in the 60s, but this stuff is beyond classic. Unforgettable soul. Too bad I turned down an apprenticeship with the recording engineer who ended up doing "Dock of the Bay" and other hits. But with a young family, decisions were all about income, and Motown was almost the only thing I missed seeing live in Memphis in the 50s and 60s. Lucky life, music-wise.

  6. Last January, I provided music for a fundraiser attended by one thousand twenty-four folks. The committee for the event specified classic pop from the fifties through the seventies.

    I opened with Doo-wop and R&B during the first hour. One person, then ten approached the event manager and demanded hip-hop line dances or they would leave. I was told to play what the customers wanted.

    All that good music went un-played. Forty people danced. All of the requests for the classics were turned away by the manager.

    I withdrew my interest in doing the next annual event. I would rather sit home and listen to good music.

  7. Cay, there was a ton of good music out of the South too. It was just a good time for music, period.

    Bruce, I think you chose wisely.

    Thanks for the visits, guys. Sorry I didn't respond sooner. I'm blaming a brain fart.

  8. I still remember when you introduced me to these songs...they still live on my ipod! :D

  9. Atta girl, Althea. I knew you had great taste. :)


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