Change and innovation are often tricky subjects to take in one's stride, and nowhere was this more apparent than in the hyper-activity of musical creativity unleashed in the black American music circles of the early 60s. The move from R&B into the richer pastures of soul took time, effort and sometimes courage in the face of critics who saw it as "selling out".
It seems incredible that this all took place over three decades ago because its impact was so dynamic that it has endured to influence and inform nearly all popular music that has emanated ever since. As a result, none of these records sound antique in the same way, as say, records from the 30s or 40s would, simply because the imprint of their innovation is still actively with us! Technological advances might improve the hi-fi, but that nebulous factor that really sells a record still has to come from strictly non-technological sources!
The second volume of THE BIRTH OF SOUL is as dynamic and essential as the first, and a cross section of the widest possible range of sides which illustrates the inexorable inroads that gospel music made during this transitional period. Not all the records were commercial hits, so their particular influence would have been less immediate and apparent, but when records like Ray Charles' What I Say and Maxine Brown's sublime All In My Mind broke out in all markets, the record industry could have had no more lingering doubts about the direction post-rock'n'roll music seemed likely to take!
This series of albums also, and most importantly in my view, takes into account the vast geographic areas of the United States, which we on our tiny island, tend to overlook. We sometimes forget that a trend that was growing in Chicago might well have taken a few months to filter down into the musical consciousness of places like New Orleans. But, this diversity of regional influences is well illustrated - from the Deep South Soul of Benny Spellman and his compelling Lipstick Traces and Willie Tee with his heart-tugging Always Accused, to the Northern sophistry of Major Lance and , and the unique and uncategorisable Spring by Birdlegs & Pauline and Their Versatility Birds! (Who came from, of all places, Sauk City, and made this sublime example of the Sauk City Sound!)
Not only are highly respected veterans like Soloman Burke and Gene Chandler included here, but artists who didn't enjoy a great deal of success but nevertheless made superb sides that pushed the frontiers of black American musical tradition into a much wider landscape. The Serenaders, Betty Harris, Eddie & Ernie and the Wallace Brothers didn't see that much chart action, but they garnered enough followers amongst the more progressive soul fans to ensure that their contributions would never be forgotten.
Other artists are represented here in their early days, before fame and fortune was bestowed upon them. Kenny Gamble (as vocalist, yet to become renowned song-writter), the Manhattans (before hitting pay-dirt with a seemingly endless stream of hits at Columbia), and a pre-Motown Brenda Holloway, and, equally as important, examples of the earlier work of song writers who have since become greatly esteemed in soul circles. Composer credit names like Bert Berns, Curtis Mayfield, Ed Townsend, Naomi Neville (aka Allen Toussaint) and Norman (General) Johnson are like old friends.
Two key inclusions have to be Maxine Brown's All In My Mind since the huge American success of this record could arguably have been the significant side that finally started the whole soul music phenomena rolling, and the Showmen with The Wrong Girl, which, although not a hit, showed those who still needed to learn this particuliar little lesson in life, that black American music was no longer prepared to stay closeted in the ghetto of (largely) white music critics' expectations, but was going to go all the way! The target now was not only the R&B chart, but the pop chart too, and, if necessary, the C&B Chart as well! The long nights of signifying were over, and the days of telling it like it is were begining to dawn!
If only all history lessons were as entertaining and fascinating as this series of essential, musical-landmark releases!
by Dave Godin