How do you define “soul”?
Answer: It can’t be done.
However, in music it is something you can feel because because it comes from the heart. It’s about passion.
True, anyone can sing with “soul” in the sense that it means singing or playing with deep emotions from within.
But there is a particular kind of “soul” that is applicable to Black people and a select few others. It has much to do with the very foundation of rock ’n’ roll.
This week we are focusing on a few of the songs that stand out as prime examples of what “singing with soul” is all about. One thing for sure: It cannot be faked.
LET’S START with Gladys Knight. Of course, everything she has ever sung drips with soul because that is her reality. But “Neither One of Us (Wants To Be the First To Say Goodbye)” is one of those special performances. Knight delivers this story of a relationship gone bad, but the two people not facing the truth, with everything she has.
“It’s sad to think we’re not gonna make it,” sings Gladys with the Pips providing perfect backup, “and it’s gotten to the point where we just can’t fake it.”
The grittiest R&B recording ever made just might be “(Night Time Is) The Right Time” by Ray Charles.
It was as though Charles, who was the personification of soul, pulled out all the stops and wailed like he never had before. And then when the great Margie Hendricks of the Raelets comes in…oh, my!
It is very easy to understand why this Top 10 hit from 1959 became a hit all over again in 1985 after being heard on “The Cosby Show.”
SPEAKING OF singing a song from the depths of one’s soul, another classic is “Deep in the Night” by Linda Hopkins. It was originally heard (sung by her) in the stage musical “Inner City.” She gets into the hearts of listeners and sings as though it is a true story from her own life.
One “maximum soul” song that has been redone on a regular basis is “A Change Is Gonna Come,” one of the greatest hits by the legendary Sam Cooke.
It’s an emotional performance, and the lyrics, about one’s man’s tough life and hope for the future, were also applicable to Black people and the struggle for equal rights.
OF COURSE, we all know that Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul, a title she fully deserves. The length of her list of spine-tingling performances is astonishing.
One of her best appears on her 1960s album “Lady Soul.” If you are not moved by “Good to Me As I Am to You,” you might want to check to make sure you still have a pulse.
Another great Aretha performance: “Prove It,” in which she challenges, “Prove that I don’t wanna die! Now that you’ve said goodbye!”
It is amazing, too, what can be done with standards. On the Temptations’ album “For Lovers Only,” Theo Peoples turns in a stunning rendition of “Night and Day.” The same can be said for John Edwards of the Spinners who “soulified” and gave new life to a very old song, “Be My Love.”
A BIG SURPRISE was the ultimate cool, super-smooth icon, Frank Sinatra, going in a completely different direction with his hit “That’s Life.”
Sinatra sings hard and passionately, and you know he means every word of it, including, “That’s life, that’s what all the people say. You’re riding high in April, shot down in May. But I know I’m going to change that tune when I’m back on top in June.”
Jennifer Holliday, as we all know, gave an awesome, beautifully over-the-top performance with “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” So many others have sung it, but no one comes close to Holliday’s definitive version. But another fantastic song from the stage musical “Dreamgirls” is “I Am Changing.” Holliday is once again a magnificent powerhouse.
Still another hard-hitting song from the “Dreamgirls” stage production (it was, for some strange reason, not featured in the movie version) is “Ain’t No Party.” Loretta Devine tears this song up!
OTIS REDDING exuded soul every time he opened his mouth in song. He was at his best on “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now).” Deep-fried, southern soul. Amazing!
Whitney Houston was nothing less than extraordinary on her megahit, “I Will Always Love You,” written and first recorded by country music superstar Dolly Parton as a gentle love song.
Houston’s version required not only passion, but vocal acrobatics as well. No one could have sung this song better, and no one ever will.
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