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Classic albums: 70s Soul

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My first introduction to Soul music was Arthur Conley’s ‘Sweet Soul Music’ in 1967. 60’s Soul had an exciting raw sound to it, and many great tracks were recorded in this decade.

The 1970’s brought more sophistication and better productions to Soul Music. The soulful vocals backed by strings horns and great arrangements with lyrics that could relate to, made 70’s Soul probably the most incredible period of music for me personally.

The range of emotions that I got from this music and the vocals could put you on a supernatural high, make you dance or at times cry. The diversity of 70’s Soul was as phenomenal  as the output, this was a time when many artists recorded 2 or even 3 albums in a year., such was their creativity and resources.

Each local area had its own instantly definable sound, the lush string laden productions of Philadelphia,
the harsher more urgent sounds of New York and Chicago, the Sunshine sound of Florida, the laid back Californian grooves, Willie Mitchell’s Hi sound of Memphis and the brassy deep sounds of anything south of the mason and dixon  line.

Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder
all achieved commercial success without compromising their talent. But for every hit there were probably upwards of 50 great tracks or albums that didn’t receive the mass exposure that they deserved. And in recent years we have been treated to an ever increasing quantity of great undiscovered and previously unreleased tracks from this period which would indicate that some of the best stuff never even got heard at the time.

Marvin Gaye ‘What’s Going On’ was the first soul album that I really got into, and it still is one of , if not the greatest soul album of all time. Before the mid 70’s it was primarily 45’s that I collected, and as great as these albums are there are many fantastic tracks that never made it onto an album, some of these are available on compilations or artists collections.. Marvin changed the rules and made an album rather than a collection of singles. Isaac Hayes had done this a couple of years earlier with ‘Hot Buttered Soul’ , but Marvin perfected the idea and a large number of artists followed.

Curtis Mayfield ‘Curtis’ , Donny Hathaway ‘Extensions Of A Man’, Leroy Hutson ‘Hutson’, Millie Jackson ‘Caught Up’ and the still overlooked but just as great Lou Courtney ‘I’m In Need Of Love’ are the crème da la crème and really hit the spot.

Gil Scott Heron, Willie Hutch, Maze featuring Frankie Beverely, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Shirley Brown, Jean Carn, The Dramatics and my all time favourite singers Johnnie Taylor, Bobby Womack and Teddy Pendergrass made many great albums in the ‘70’s and are featured amongst the albums listed here as my top 70’s soul albums, that are currently available on CD. Each album has been reviewed .

This music has a timeless quality , these albums sound just as fresh as they did at the time they were released, many even sound better to my ears now as they were ahead of their time back in the day.
These album form the backbone of my collection and I would highly recommend them to anybody who is into our music or who wants a good introduction to 70’s Soul music.

Disco had a huge impact on the Soul Music in the later part of the Decade with many great artists looking to jump on the commercial bandwagon , these led to a more danceable smoother sound , sometimes this didn’t work but there are some classic tracks from this period which still sound great today, although the amount of classic albums in the last couple of years of the decade was not as many as that of the early to mid 70’s.

We will cover the separate sub genres of this magnificent music in features covering Funk, Deep soul and Southern Soul, Rare Groove, Modern soul and Disco/Boogie , as well as 60’s Soul and 80’s Soul.

Laurence Prangell