soul, what the hell is it anyway?

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what is soul, and is it outmoded?

do you think soul exists in records and, if so, is it important? a number of recent posts have made intimations towards records/artists having this amorphous concept of 'soul'. personally, i think that the 'soul' in a record comes from *you* the listener/audience/consumer - don't you supply the emotion?

assuming i'm wrong and this isn't the case, and soul is inherent in the music, irrespective of you, what gives the record soul? often, there is the suggestion that artist should have 'lived', and a futher implication that the artist should come from a non-priviledged, working class background - and that you can tell this in the record, and that this gives it an undefinable quality other records would lack.

but what if you found out that a record you loved that had this 'soul', actually turned out to be a hoax, a conceptual exercise, that it was made my someone else entirely, that you had been hoodwinked? the record would be the same wouldn't it? or would it?

why is there an assumption that *middle class* records lack this soul? and how do people know? i'm thinking perhaps of John B, who recorded for Grooverider's label in the middle 90s. His 12s blew up big in what was then still a proletarian and urban d'n'b scene. but he was a rich guy from the sticks who sent a demo to grooverider, most people would probably have assumed otherwise though (or not even thought about it)

isn't the idea that records come already packaged with an idea of soul kind of stultifying? pre-ordained? records that come without a definable 'authentic' (and how faux is that concept anyway?) vision of soul leave you the space to create your own context don't they?

analogies: las vegas is more real than boston anyway. discuss. soul as sonic representation of heritagized culture. discuss.

who owns the hegemony of the concept of soul anyway? oxide & neutrino will be lauded, as tim finney pointed out, in the way that the prodigy began to be as they abandoned the structures of the rave scene. as the prodigy moved away from what was a proletarian and egalitarian scene to create a new punkish identity, they began to get props. will oxide follow a similar route?

is this the battle between consensual street concept of soul and mcgee-esque ossified and preserved in aspic concept of soul in action?

gareth, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

I am not sure I understand the question(s)? Or is this just an open debate about the concept of "soul" in music?

I get very confused about the concept of "soul". Some people tell me that black people singing about their troubles in 60s Detroit is "soul". Then some other people tell me that the dire pit of wibbling twee that is Track & Field is "soul". Both of these concepts can't be true, or can they?

I think the problem partly lies with the word "soul". It's one of those concepts, like "zen" or "cool" that the harder you try to pin down a defintion, the further you get from the actual concept.

Does "soul" signify "deep feeling, or emotion"? Or does it signify "integrity"? I'm still not *entirely* convinced that "integrity" is even truly neccessary for great music, which is the endless complaint about why middle class artists lack "soul".

No one likes to be *lied* to in music... but then again, isn't all music fundamentally a lie? No matter how deep the emotion that triggered the muse that triggered the song, is that emotion still real, still true, still happening when the song is finished, when the song is sung, when the song is performed...

What constitutes a "lie" anyway? Isn't the whole point of being a great artist the ability to fake things? To fake emotions, as in above. Isn't a novelist a faker, because those events, those things didn't actually *happen*. Does a song have to be true in order to be great? Or does it just have to be able to *resonate* with the truth in the listener's hearts?

Class comes up again and again on this board... this goes along with what I was saying on the "extreme beliefs" thread. Class does not necessarily include or exclude great music or "soul" (whatever that is) in music. Conflict and emotion are not the sole perserves of any class.

I know, I'm rambling right now, but I've been giving this "how important is the concept of 'integrity' in music" idea a lot of thought lately, and I'm trying to put my own ideas into order.

masonic boom, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

This forum is far too cerebral and semantically focussed for me to get away with enthusiastic and vague ramblings, so as always I’ll let others do my dirty work for me…

Dexy’s said:

"Pure. We like to think our music is pure and hopefully honest.

Soul. It has soul, soul's not a form, it's not a particular sound, we're not going to try and explain it here, but soul's always pure and can only be honest. We're not talking specifically about 60's, 70's or 80's black American music, we're talking about soul as an emotional force. When you hear the record does it convince you that everybody involved in the making of that record truly believes what they're saying?

We are entertainers. But that doesn't mean we want to bullshit to get applause. We are obsessed with projection, we want to reach everybody in the room. We want to take the audience up, then down, then up, we'd love to move you to tears. If that sounds corny, too bad."

Then –rather controversially, it seems - Track and Field said:

According to this definition, Felt are a soul band, the Make-up are a soul band, hell even the Pastels are a soul band. So if you want to know about TRACK & FIELD, do yourself a favour, listen to a copy of "Searching For The Young Soul Rebels", and hear what a band sounds like that would "love to move you to tears". It seems as good a way as any to articulate what we try to aim for, and if that sounds corny, too bad."

Note they don't try to claim that Kicker or TomPaulin are soul. THAT would have been controversial.

I think that to invoke soul is to invoke an attitude towards making music rather than anything empirically in music itself – and that attitude is just “Even if we’re from Birmingham, we still have a chance to do something really, really good”.

It’s enthusiasm. But, as Tom – I think – pointed out elsewhere, it’s totally the opposite of the Strokes. So many bands who subscribe to Dexy's rallying call are mortally afraid of looking silly, would infinitely rather make a string of shit records than risk anyone at the NME laughing at them. So it’s anti-cool too, as enthusiasm so often is.

Soul is nebulous and fuzzy and can hover over Wolverhampton as easily as Detroit. But like so many pop cultural givens it collapses under interrogation, a bit like me at that French border encampment, when they kept flicking between Velvelettes and Crispy Ambulance records to grind me down and MAKE ME TELL

Alasdair, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

1) Note they don't try to claim that Kicker or TomPaulin are soul. THAT would have been controversial.

From Fortuna Pop!'s very *logo* found on back of Airport Girl record: "Fortuna Pop! : More soul than Wigan Casino"

I know they're not the same people, but they're closely aligned, and seem to espouse the same viewpoints and slogans. And I'm sorry that AG seem to be my whipping boys for everything I consider wrong with the London scene. (There are loads worse bands in the world. "Airport Girl" just are to me as a concept = "London Scene" like "The Strokes" as concept = everything wrong with NYC scene)

So... I'm not trying to insult anyone personally. Please take that into consideration. It's lazy to use shortcuts and signifying words, but sometimes effective.

My friend once said something very funny about the musical style of Blues, in reference to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. "Jumping up and down and yelling 'yow! I got the blues!' does not neccessarily equal Blues." I think the same could be said about soul.

2) I just disagree with the idea that purity, or honesty, or whatever are what equals soul. A lot of "soul" (records people describe as having it) have a lot of dirtiness, a lot of darkness and a lot of confusion. Do they mean honesty about *being* dirty, dark or confused? ("I am a sinner, but I am saved" Amazing Grace-stylee?)

I don't know why I'm having so much to say on this thread because I don't think I know a lot about "soul", I *do* think it's a very mis- used term (see Strokes thread), and I'm really not sure it's the be- all and end-all of what music should be.

"Enthusiasm" might be a better answer. Lack of fear of looking silly or appearing uncool. Wow, cool, so next time people tell me I don't know what I'm talking about, and I'm just blathering on incoherantly on a thread such as this because I have no fear of looking dumb in public, I will tell them it's cause I got *SOUL*.

Indeed.

masonic boom, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Purity = Honesty = Soul is in the context of music, as you rightly point out, no more than meaningless Weller-ese. I was quoting Dexy's, not agreeing with them, or t&f, or whoeveritisyouhateinthelondonindiescene

What people see as "soul" is bound to context and not a free floating conceptual idea. It's just a synonym for good really. Tho' maybe it's also something to do with (good) music that is unmediated by irony?

Wow, cool, so next time people tell me I don't know what I'm talking about, and I'm just blathering on incoherantly on a thread such as this because I have no fear of looking dumb in public, I will tell them it's cause I got *SOUL*.

Try singing rather than blathering, and if the "people" are the NME then you'll have parachuted right back into the context I was talking about.

alasdair, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Alasdair - you said it all.

And you got Crispy Ambulance into it!

Dr. C, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Good point, and point taken, Alasdair (though, as always, I really don't have a problem with irony in moderation, so long as irony is not the *only* thing an artist has going for themself).

masonic boom, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

I really don't have a problem with irony in moderation, so long as irony is not the *only* thing an artist has going for themself

I agree. I used to dissaprove of irony in music in a kind of Tutting Victorian Governess way, but strangely, and for no apparent reason I've been getting into it a bit lately. Must be the good weather.

Alasdair, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Indie Bands I Will Almost Certainly Form This Weekend, pt 237: 'The Tutting Victorian Governesses'

stevie t, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

if you all tutted on the offbeat then surely a ska band?

Alasdair, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Let me know if you need a bassist... I've got some Victorian Nanny boots hiding around the flat somewhere. ;-)

masonic boom, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

well I always think of soul as a style, almost a method, easily faked by anyone. Not necessarily indicative of true emotion. Listen to the "soul" of Britney Spears.

Mike Hanley, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

one of tom's favorite questions, i know and know it well since, on more than one occasion, it's infuriated me to hear the things he's said about soul, not realizing that he meant the concept and not the music, music which is very dear to my heart.

what is soul? soul, i'd dare say, is synonymous with sincerity, with "meaning it." soul is making the listener believe that you feel what you say, whether it's "i love you more than words can say" or "you should be bludgeoned in your bed." and while the artist plays an important role in establishing his or her own soulfulness, soul ultimately depends on the listener, as gareth said; some people think mariah carey or michael bolton are soulful, i tend to disagree.

let's look at david bowie: if his music was all a pose and came across as such, he'd be merely a conceptual failure; but even at his most camp, he conveys to me, at least, that he believes in what he's doing and that behind all of the artifice, there is heart and -- watch out now -- soul.

is it important for music to be soulful? i think so, yeah.

fred solinger, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

I only use the word "soul" as a term for 60s R&B - the other meaning is way too vague, and seems to be only used to beat other people over the head with.

Patrick, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Carey and Bolton etc are regarded as soulful because somehow a lot of people regard the content (lurve, relationships) and the style (vocal gymnastics, facial contortions, glossy MOR backing) as somehow meaningful. But how do you KNOW that they don't mean it any less than say Aretha? My conclusion is that they probably do, but the packaging is crap.

I wonder if you sang a song about bowel cancer in the style of Luther Vandross, how long would it take to notice that the content was different to the usual?

Dr. C, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

I cam think of better examples. Lets hear a soulful song about wanting to rim Margret THatcher "hoestyle".

Mike Hanley, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

dr. c, well, there's the ol' problem with divining intent. the problem with bolton is that he seems to try too hard to make you feel it, as if he himself fears that he'll be considered anything less than "soulful." which shouldn't be your concern when singing; his problem likely can be summed up as this: he sings notes, not words. and the facts that he was a hair-metaller and made forays into opera (heaven help us!) only seem to contribute to my belief of him as a blowhard.

as for bowel cancer sung in soul-stylee: isn't this what scott walker did? i mean, not the bowel cancer thing, but he took a traditional form -- crooning -- and applied his own lyrical bent. i played him for my father: he noticed the voice and not the words; my guess is that he wouldn't notice the words until he knew enough about the song to sing along.

fred solinger, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Lets hear a soulful song about wanting to rim Margret THatcher "hoestyle".

Wasn't that an R Kelly b-side?

Nicole, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Just reading the posts. New to the board. Must say, that fellow Paul has soul.

tony wilhelm, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

BWAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH!

Yup. Best use of the word "soul" as an insult in well, ever.

masonic boom, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Huh? I was not joking.

tony wilhelm, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

This all reminds me of Reynolds and Grubbs' articles about the need to kill soul in _Blissed Out_, not least because I only read the damn thing a week ago. I can't quite remember their conclusions right now, but my own general opinion is that conscious attempts to create "soulful" music nearly always fail because they're appealing to such unambitious and increasingly asinine emotions - as R & G put it, "dignity and pride". Who wants dignity and pride in pop, or anything for that matter? This of course excludes soul in its original form, which generally had a bit of fire in its belly to keep things interesting.

Tim, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Am I in the Governesses? When are we practising?

the pinefox, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

"She came from the land of the cotton... a land that was nearly forgotten by everyone..." -Gram Parsons "She" Now that's blue eyed soul... white guys can dish it up, too.

swelle, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

To answer Gareth's question: no, I don't care about the social background of artists or an impact it might have on "soul". Anyone who cares about such things is living in denial of modern pop and the modern world itself.

At the moment I can't imagine Oxide and Neutrino getting as boring as the Prodigy were by the time of _The Fat of the Land_; what a sad waste it will be if they do.

To answer Tim's question: Reynolds and *Stubbs*, surely?

What was being attacked in their calls to kill "soul" were the debased, empty 80s imitators of the mannerisms and stylisations of 60s soul, such as George Michael, Mick Hucknall and Annie Lennox (all those collaborations with Aretha and Stevie). Likewise the Manics' "Motown Junk", which was an attack not on Motown itself but on the MOR artists who dressed themselves up in its clothes to make themselves look a bit more, you know, *authentic*.

On the other hand, Tim's attempts to extend a dislike of "dignity and pride" in pop (by which I assume he means the U2 / Simple Minds / Big Country 80s ethos) to a dislike of it in *anything* is a profoundly dangerous and irresponsible statement. I will not vote for any party which does *not* show dignity and pride. Much more of this and I'm off.

Robin Carmody, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Tim *likes* Simple Minds, if I'm not mistaken. I'm cool with dignity and pride - it doesn't work for everyone, but I wouldn't want it to not exist at all in music.

Patrick, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

He likes the early stuff, as I do. My derogatory reference was alluding to the _Once Upon A Time_ / _Street Fighting Years_ period.

Robin Carmody, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

YO SOLINGER. Since your obvious songwriting talent has been displayed to the world, why have we not yet gotten a song from you about rimming Margaret Thatcher "hoestyle"?

expectantly,

Josh, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Soul is what I got. Get back.

JM, Friday, 25 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

masonic boom, I'm afraid if your idea of the epitome of the 'London Scene' is a band who are based in the East Midlands, you are severely geographically challenged.

-, Saturday, 26 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

No, I think that says more about The London Scene than I ever could...

masonic boom, Saturday, 26 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Afraid I have to agree with Tim on this one. 'Dignity and pride' don't belong in rock. Unless it's something like the the Kids of Widney High(but then, I prefer the shameless Reynols) or Daniel Johnston. Usually d. & p. are attributed to the music of crumbling Third World areas. Like England. Where paradoxically they've never done 'soul' very well. Except for Bryan Ferry and Peter Green. Who, you might say, differed slightly in their approaches.
If you're feeling empowered and want to share your life-affirming epiphany, there's plenty of ways to make the world a better place that aren't as self-aggrandizing as making records. You'll fail anyway, but at least you'll keep your 'dignity' along with your 'pride'.

tarden, Saturday, 26 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Sorry, I meant "There ARE plenty of ways..."

tarden, Saturday, 26 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Robin, I only meant anything musically (as in pop or otherwise), although yes that may not have been clear. Still, I'm surprised that you would threaten to leave the forum over this - or am I misinterpreting you now?

And yes, I meant Stubbs. And yes, the most recent Simple Minds album I own is _Sparkling In The Rain_ from '83, which is already a bit too grandstanding for my tastes. It's not the grandstanding of Simple Minds that I'm really referring to though. "Dignity and pride" is in many ways an expression of resiliance, and the idea of listening to music for its resiliant qualities is strange to me - resiliance is such an unexciting emotion. I'd much rather listen to Beyonce tell me she's a survivor than wade through the platitudes of an actual "survivor".

This is only a musical preference though, and besides dignity and pride in the political arena is so rare that even if I had meant it another way it would only have only been a hypothetical. For what it's worth, I would love to vote for a group with those qualities here in Australia if they in fact existed.

Tim, Saturday, 26 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

I hear a lot of dignity, pride and resiliency in old R&B (Curtis Mayfield, say) and what little old gospel I've heard. They don't sound like platitudes to me - the lyrics themselves aren't necessarily *about* dignity and pride (though they can be) but d & p are definitely part of the stew.

Patrick, Sunday, 27 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

If certain "soul" signifiers are rooted in gospel music, then 'pride' doesn't come into the equation. Religion requires a certain amount of self-abasement, submission even - which may not fit into the self- help complex, but definitely makes for better music. Wouldn't you rather listen to Islamic pop than acoustic New Agers singing about how their incest traumas made them 'better' people? (Oh, and before you think I'm being unnecessarily callous toward 'survivors', I'm thinking of a certain pernicious strain of therapeutic thought that insists that any personality flaws are the result of 'buried memories', of incidents that happened just because the 'victim' says they did. Only in affluent societies are people so desperate to feel 'empowered' that they'll resort to being survivors of traumas that might not have even happened.)

tarden, Sunday, 27 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Tarden - People's relationship with whatever god can most certainly be an element in their pride, especially within a context of oppression. Just try telling a gospel singer that what they do is about self-abasement. I knew that, most likely, people had the whiny new age acoustic singer in mind when they started dismissing dignity-and-pride, and that's precisely why I brought old R&B into it. Just listen to Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" - proud, resilient and hugely moving.

From a more general point of view, I'm reluctant to purge any part of the spectrum of sounds and emotions from pop - whatever usually-annoying tendency that I'd think I can live without probably has dozens of great exceptions that I love. In the light of many exclusionary blanket statements that have been made here on ILM, I kinda regret my putdowns of goth and indie and Smiths-style wimp-rock. The radio station of my dreams definitely has room for The Cure, Pavement and Morrissey.

Patrick, Sunday, 27 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Well, even what most people think of as "rootsy" gospel music was in fact deliberately cleaned-up, streamlined versions of free-form call- and-response field hollers and testifying (see Alan Lomax), and the result had secular influences grafted onto it ("soul"), which itself became (in mediated form) the pop-soul thing which everybody claims to hate. (Sure, Sam Cooke was OK if a bit indebted to Steve Perry but he was no less a savvy commercial operator than, say, Hank "Keep it vanilla, boys" Williams.)The unmediated blues, on the other hand, offers no such cheap balm. Blind Willie Johnson feels like a motherless child and knows it's nobody's fault but his. And can you imagine if Robert Johnson was 'empowered'? "Me and the devil walkin' side by side, I was going to beat my woman but then we went and got counselling and now I see her as a whole person etc." Well-adjusted people may make better friends, lovers and kin but there's a place for them, and maybe the (Capital B)Blues and (Capital R)Rock isn't it. Some other genre, maybe.

tarden, Sunday, 27 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Sorry, that formatting was an accident.

tarden, Sunday, 27 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

I'm sorry, Tim. I was terribly depressed and frustrated at the time of my earlier post, and so I went far too far. No offence taken.

Like you, I very rarely get "resilience" in pop; hence why I've always despised "I Will Survive" and why even "Survivor" itself is beginning to grate on me, whereas I love _Survivor_ the album as a whole. Is it just me or is the lyrical content of that song far more explicitly about the 80s idea of "marketing of the self" than most contemporary pop is?

You're right about "dignity and pride" hardly existing in politics; my own motivation is to vote for the party that comes closest to showing those qualities, or that where the most individual figures show it (though perhaps never the actual leadership).

Robin Carmody, Sunday, 27 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

end bold

David, Sunday, 27 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Soul isn't quite as conceptual as this discussion is making it out to be. Dignity and pride may or may not have any place in rock, but what you're trying to convey as a soul singer is the wet heat in your eyes and the dry heat in your throat when you're begging, pleading with, raging against, negotiating with, seducing or consoling your special someone. "Answering Machine" by the Replacements is just as soulful as "I've Been Loving You Too Long," and to my American ears nothing David Bowie ever sang qualifies.

Tom, Sunday, 27 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Well done, David. Clearly you know these things better than me.

And to "the other" Tom - sadly we seem to have yet another contributor who doesn't realise Britain has got a long way out of 1959. Whatever goes through their minds ...

Robin Carmody, Sunday, 27 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Tarden: "even what most people think of as "rootsy" gospel music was in fact deliberately cleaned-up streamlined versions of free-form call- and-response field hollers and testifying (see Alan Lomax)"

The Lomaxes are NOT to be trusted on the question of roots and influence: they selected what they recorded to match their political bias, esp.in re pure survival of unspoiled and/or uncommercial "African" forms (tho the folk-purist notion that eg Charlie Patton's — let alone Robert Johnson's — music is just one step away from the abiding groundswell voice of the people is plainly nonsense, even by the somewhat skewed recorded evidence). But mid-19th century Black Gospel Choirs — eg the Fisk Singers or the Jubilee Singers — took at least much from European church-music form/harmony, probably more, as they did from field-hollers: not least because *even during slavery* a considerable degree of class stratification had already opened up in American black culture (and in argument as to how to further the struggle). OK, there must have been a continuum, but it was a LONG one, the difft ends far apart (geographically, socially: and no radio/ records yet to bust into this). And if there was traffic, it was two- way: at least some "rootsy" gospel music is less "cleaned-up" than "dirtied down" (esp. after the 50s, but probably right back to the 20s: as ref., ARC — a white-run record co., as they all were then — refused to record those parts of Robert Johnson's repertoire which they deemed "too white", eg his Bing Crosby covers).

mark s, Sunday, 27 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Nice answer, Mark. "authenticity" begone (although, of course the entire point of soul is how it taps into notions of authenticity).

Robin: What'd Tom do to you? He just mentioned that he didn't think Bowie had "soul". Which isn't particularly anti-British, just that Bowie did have his well known "black music" period, and Tom didn't think that it stood up. I mean, come off it.

I do think that this discussion rings false to an American precisely because on this side of the pond, "soul" means Soul Music, and "soulful" means at-least-part-Soul-Music. And suchforth. In the UK, from all this discussion, I suspect that this is some fairly meaningless marker which has lost the social context of its attendant genre. I blame the countryside. :-)

Sterling Clover, Sunday, 27 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Sterling, why do you seemingly think it a bad thing that "soul" has "lost the social context of its attendant genre"?

Personally I think this point - when concepts like "soul" lose the dangerous idea of "legitimacy" - is *precisely* when they get interesting.

Robin Carmody, Sunday, 27 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Because it now seems to signify everything, and thus to signify nothing. Without specific ascriptive markers which bind it to a psychosocial use-category, it simply floats about, applied in a fashion that cannot be universal, but only specific to the person who labels something as having "soul". The concept takes on a metaphysical quality, outside the scope of analytical discourse. And yes, sometimes I am a typical american pragmatist about these things.

Sterling Clover, Sunday, 27 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Interesting points, Sterling, but if by "legitimacy" Robin means you don't need Steve Cropper or James Jamerson to make soul music, then I actually agree with Robin. If the American musical melting pot is good for anything, it should be good for an innate and shared language wherein every listener has an ear for soul (and rhythm) (it doesn't always work that way, I know) from black pop stars to white garage rockers.

On the other hand, this approach gets us in trouble when we have dorks like the Make*Up acting black or plagiarists like Lenny Kravitz acting sincere and it's all "soul" because somebody, somewhere has an extra-musical need for it to be soulful. Whoever mentioned Jon Spencer earlier, thanks.

As for explaining the unexplainable, I don't know. Again, point taken about the rules of critical engagement, but it seems to me that soul's universal promise to reveal more than the lyrics or music say on their face is just the logical next step from pop's universal promise that the next time you hear a song you'll like it even better than you did this time. Everything up to beauty itself is subjective, anyway.

Tom, Monday, 28 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Two points, Tom. A) All music promises to reveal more than the lyrics. B) Pop's promise is not that it grows, but that it lives in a finite moment -- it grows on you, but fades on you as well, it does not accumulate the dust of the ages but continues to make itself anew. Soul in the British sense is in fact this marker of the eternal, that some ineffable trait of the music leaves it touched by the divine.

Sterling Clover, Monday, 28 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

I'm behind on my ILM-reading so to put it shamefully short:

old reliable Sam Cooke style soul: bad new shiny Autechre style soul: good

Omar, Monday, 28 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Omar - *sigh* It's probably "rockist" and "outmoded" of me to even be asking this, but... would you care to explain that ?

Patrick, Monday, 28 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Yes Patrick I will take the chance to explain myself, now that I'm on schedule with my ILM reading. There is this idea of soul, a certain blackness that through the years has come to signify Realness, authenticity, the outpouring of lofty feelings. Of which Sam Cooke is a good example. Now maybe that meant something once upon a time, maybe even to a lot of people nowadays but personally it doesn't mean anything to me. It's all shite 80s re-issues to sell more jeans to sell an image of simpler times. Now what I personally find more interesting is the way a band like Autechre who are perceived to be cold machine-shagging bastards somehow suggest something in their music that I would like to call Soul, a sort of mix of the sublime, childhood memories and even the soul of the machines themselves. I dunno I just find that to be more interesting and to me says more about the times we're living in.

Bjut maybe it's just me I think the greatest soul band ever are Kraftwerk and Marvin Gaye bores me stiff (ho!ho!)

Omar, Monday, 28 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

omar, truly a european definition of soul. ;)

and so it goes, this generation (embodied by omar) turns its back on an "outdated" form of expressions, just as those to follow us will shun autechre (as some of us do today!) as an excuse to sell jeans (and perhaps they've already been used in commercials already!) and to bring back nostalgia of simpler times. this explanation could certainly be applied to nick drake -- what form of music is imbued with more "meaning" than the singer/songwriter? and yet i view him apart from the v.w. commercial and the reissues and the "renewed interest" and listen to the music and say, "yes, that nick drake was a soulful fellow."

i think some of the other posters are correct in saying that, stripped of its original context and taken as a "concept", "soul" becomes a vague, incredibly subjective and almost pointless signifier. thank God "funk" doesn't correspond with any higher principles!

fred solinger, Monday, 28 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

---- truly a european definition of soul. ;) ----

Is it? :) I'm sort of curious why that is? I like yr implication of Autechre losing their soul for a next generation. This will no doubt happen. But really I hope my argument doesn't get reduced to It-sell-jeans-it-loses-its-soul. There is just something about Sam Cooke style soul that is so heavy with preconceived ideas of Great Sentiments, The Right Feeling, etc. and all I can hear is dead meaningless sound, just can't help it.

Omar, Monday, 28 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Can't argue with you being bored by Sam Cooke, but surely there are people who like him who aren't a) being fooled by jean peddlers or b) attaching themselves nostalgically to an idea of soul-as-authenticity to fend off the future. I mean... people loved his music before jeans and nostalgia entered the picture, y'know. People loved him when he was alive. Saying "this music bores me because I'm into this other thing that's more exciting and more relevant to where I'm at now" is one thing - why does it have to lead to "this music sucks, it has no intrinsic interest except for nostalgic bores" ?

Patrick, Monday, 28 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Well Patrick, that's why i was clever enough to pepper my argument with lotsa "personally"'s and "i think"'s ;) It's obvious people were once moved by Sam Cooke's soul...hell, that might even happen today although I rather listen to my washing machine finish its longest program.

---- "this music sucks, it has no intrinsic interest except for nostalgic bores" ? ----

now I haven't said anything like this? I like nostalgia :)

Omar, Monday, 28 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Omar - Gotcha. I need to stop over-reacting about this kind of thing. I'm becoming like Robin is with perceived attacks on the English countryside ;).

Patrick, Monday, 28 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

OK, multiple definitions of soul, which means the word stretches a bit, hence arguments between eg me and Fred.

i. a specific moment in black pop music between (approx)mid-50s and mid-70s. Multiple stylistic offshoots, some of which (funk, perhaps) shouldn't be included.

ii. music derivative of that moment, the stylistic conventions arising from that moment. still trace elements in most musical styles today.

iii. that moment reconfigured as something attitudinal rather than musical. So ideas of struggle, authenticity, freedom, emotion, rawness, organicness, liveness, pain...a lot of this stuff is very very bound up with interpretations of blackness. The 80s interpretation of soul as in jeans ads, literally adding colour to the yuppie lifestyle, comes into play here.

iv. 'soul' as a totally abstract concept - the rowland/t&f stuff quoted above. Basically a way of saying "this is good" possibly - but not neccessarily - with some ideas from i., ii. and iii. above mixed in. This version of 'soul' is a discussion-killer, and is also quite close to how I use 'pop', as some abstracted force driving most good music. The choice of 'it has soul'/'it rocks'/'it is pop' can be a way of allying yourself with other discource currents or it can be just personal preference.

(Interesting perhaps to analyse the sentences above - soul is something external, rock is a doing word, pop is something music is or isnt.....)

Tom, Tuesday, 29 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Tom's taxonomy is as super-useful as ever. I think that "pop" and "rock" are in fact more specific than the fourth definition of "soul". But, more importantly, perhaps we can view all three words as in fact invoking a different 'aspect' of the same musical act. Seen from the pov of the listener (i.e. awed by the mysterious "soul") the pov of the musician (gap between audience and artist is narrowed by the act of "rocking out" -- c.f. Lester Bangs on The Stooges) and the 'impartial' pov of the media (If something is 'pop' then that's just another way for saying it is a pure commodity, and thus it is judged on the terms in which society judges commodities -- it is not an act but a recognition of social "popularity").

Sterling Clover, Tuesday, 29 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

Yes: woolly hats off to Ewing. He should be in Forensics.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 30 May 2001 00:00 (12 years ago) Permalink

1 year passes...
i am a man and i am 19 years old

jason roberts, Saturday, 15 June 2002 00:00 (11 years ago) Permalink

1 year passes...
I'm a man too, but I'm not 19 years old.

N. (nickdastoor), Tuesday, 29 July 2003 17:39 (10 years ago) Permalink

9 years pass...

This is soul --

i guess i'd just rather listen to canned heat? (ian), Saturday, 22 December 2012 01:02 (1 year ago) Permalink

it's a hamhock in your cornflakes

m0stlyClean, Saturday, 22 December 2012 01:33 (1 year ago) Permalink


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