Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Private soul

In the last post I referred to my music fan history. It went something like this:

'I've been a pop baby, a disco dolly, a rock chick, a rave girl and now, most recently, a folk fan'.

Obviously musical genres are a bit of a nonsense (where does rock end and pop begin...no-one agrees about what is and isn't folk etc...) but they are still terms we use and (mostly) we know what we are talking about. Also I should point out that I haven't always experienced an abrupt changeover from genre to genre (for example as a teenager I would happily headbang or groove about to whatever music our school disco DJ fancied playing) but generally speaking I do seem to have been moving steadily through the genres as I've grown. Even if I do tend to keep the boundaries fairly loose there has still been a movement through styles over the years. It's been quite exciting so far and I look forward to getting to know more and more different music as times goes by...

At some point this week, however, I was rereading that last post and I realised I had missed out soul music in that list. How could I have missed that out? I really love a lot of what is called 'soul music' (though other names might apply to some of it...it is a pretty huge genre...I'm not going to even try to define it!). So why was it not in the list? I suppose partly I didn't think of it because it's been a private and personal, rather than a social, music taste. All the others have involved going out with friends and being part of something (dancing with crowds in rave clubs, sitting with slightly smaller, and more mature, crowds in the folk club) whereas soul is something I have mostly listened to on my own at home. Few of my friends or beloveds have shared my taste for soul music old and new so it has been a private matter, a relationship between me and all those amazing musicians and singers (and some of the very best singers dwell in the soul section of what used to be called record shops). I know there are clubs that play various types of soul music but I have never really been to them (not regularly anyway). I have a friend who is very keen on the never-say-die Northern Soul scene that exists in the North of England but I've never quite got into that. Some crazy dancing goes on there (and some very obsessive record collecting of obscure old releases)!

A lot of the soul I've liked has been fairly mainstream...some would even call it pop soul. Some of it is from the 1960s, some from the 70s, some even from the 90s and noughties (though a lot of new soul doesn't do much for me...its eye is too much on the huge money market and it can be a bit unadventurous...but there are still good singers and songs that I like now and again). Some of the stuff I've liked has not been at all trendy or cool but, as I may have said before, we can't help but like the music we like - if we try and let fashion choose our soundtrack then we really are stupid and we deserve everything we get!

When I was at uni, for example, I had a huge Motown phase (and by the way there was a great article about the label recently in The Observer). I'd liked some of it before (back in Middlesbrough I'd listened to a friend's older sister's Motown singles) but in my strange Southern English outback uni town I listened to hardly anything but pop 60s soul music for the best part of a year. It was absolutely NOT what the cool students were listening to but I loved it and it got me through what was really a bit of an odd time. It's never very fashionable to admit to liking Diana Ross but, particularly at that time, I really did (well, I liked her voice anyway...and lots of the songs..both with and without Supremes). I had vinyl albums and cassettes and I used to listen to 'soul alldayers' that they had on the local commercial radio station (Chiltern it was called, I think...some good music, the usual cheesey presenters).

Diana Ross has a terrible reputation (no sense of sisterhood, all ambition, drinking and driving, other bad behaviour) but it's all pretty standard pop star stuff really, isn't it? I don't think Madonna's made many friends either and at least Ross can sing. I watched that 'Dreamgirls' movie (that's based on the Supremes story) but despite some great performances it really is a long, dreary film in search of a script editor (or a better writer). Much better to just listen to Diana the Diva (and look at some of the amazing photos of her too). I still love you, Miss Ross. I don't know why but I do.



Kat Mortensen said...

I was never much of a one for the whole Supremes thing, but Diana Ross in the disco era was a different thing altogether. I adored the song, "Love Hangover" and to this day, know all the words, all the nuances of the instruments and *some* of the moves.

My "private" music would have to be cross-over country - Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakum, and lots of Johnny Cash (later stuff).


Rachel Fox said...

Oh yes, 'Love Hangover' is fabulous!

I have had country fan friends and have got into some bluegrass type stuff and some of the new, sort-of alternative country music (it crosses over with US folk quite a bit). Plus I do remember some of the pop country that made it over here when I was a kid.


Ken Armstrong said...

I like Diana Ross! I won't name some of my most favorite songs 'cos you'll only make fun of me again. Throwing stones in glass houses doesn't seem to bother you at all! :)

Excellent point about the soul thing being a private rather than a social thing. Quite right.

hope said...

I never thought about it, but it's true! Any of the soul stuff I've liked, usually meant me listening to it solo. Maybe it was the thought of all those "proper" southern women raising an eyebrow if I were to admit I loved listening to Marvin Gaye sing "Let's Get It On". Wasn't the words as much as his voice.

Then again, maybe it's because there was a distinct melody that just about anyone could sing along because you could understand the words. :)

Diana Ross is an interesting soul, no pun intended. Unfortunately I still have that image in my head of when she befriended a young Michael Jackson...and he started to look like her.

Now my brain is going to go inventory all the Motown I ever liked.

Rachel Fox said...

Go on, Ken, name the songs! I can see I really hurt you over the Westlife affair...don't hate me! I took enough stick over Mariah Carey. As it were.

As for the private thing...I am remembering that when I was a DJ we did play quite a bit of funk which can be very closely related to soul sometimes but apart from that most of my soul music listening has been more solitary. When we played pirate radio we did play some soul too (especially late in the evening). We used to start with house music and then work our way downtempo. It was a lot of fun and getting away from the dancefloor pressure ('must make people dance') was liberating.

And Hope...oh yes...Marvin Gaye. One of my very favourites! I think one of the reasons I like the film 'The Big Chill' is that is starts with his 'Heard it on the Grapevine' (what a song!).

Kat Mortensen said...

Okay - everybody confess one ghastly song that you love so we can all take some stick and both Ken and Rachel will be exonerated once and for all!


Mine's "Shannon" by Henry Gross (it's about a dog, apparently)

Rachel Fox said...

Oh Kat - the jukebox of cringe! I've never heard of that song you mention. Is it Canadian?

Marion McCready said...

I've always liked 'Blue Moon' by Showaddywaddy, what can I say, lol!

Rachel Fox said...

Maybe this should be a separate post..I don't want poor Diana being involved with the cringe factor!


Dave King said...

Rachel, nothing to do with this post, but
The Word Mechanic has an interesting post (In the Air) on Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. Thought you might be interested.

Colin Will said...

I remember when the film 'The Commitments' came out it prompted me to go back to my own recordings to listen to the original versions. Some fine music there, and it's still enjoyable. These days I tend to go for music that won't stay in neat boxes. I like honest emotion in songs (and in poetry), and it needn't be in a particular category.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, few songs really fit in the boxes but still we use the terms and they do mean something, somehow. I just love the songs and music I love...it is about that simple!

Kat Mortensen said...

"Shannon" was from 1976 - recorded by (someone on Youtube says it's a UK hit). Very sappy, very slow-dance-able in the high-school-gym sort of song. Really cringe-worthy.

"We melted his records in our kiln"
-claudvigilante - YouTube.

Here's the link:


Cringe away!

Rachel Fox said...

Kat I have never heard that song before!


Unknown said...

You are all letting a lot out of the bag lately - but I am intrigued by Mz Ross, and promise myself to investigate closer when I have more time... as with your blog Rachel - I have'ny much time these days.... bloody Xmas!?!

Ken Armstrong said...

For you, Dear Rachel, I will confess...

I like lots of the great Diana Ross songs but I have a particular weak spot which is dodgy-at-best.

'If We hold On together'


It's tied in with some vivid memories of children and Xmas (that last abbreviation for you) and I realise it's a bit crass but... hey! :D

Rachel Fox said...

Ken - I've never seen that film or heard that song before. I can imagine it's a song Westlife would like to cover (if they haven't already!). C'mon lads, up on the stools...

Ken Armstrong said...

Ha! I was *so* worried, you'd try to be nice to me or something.

(phew) :)

I like John Prine too, now *he's* cool, you've gotta like him.

Dominic Rivron said...

I'm a bit of a Diana Ross fan myself.
However, I must admit to not being a country fan. I once did a gig with an Elvis impersonator and a number of country bands. The audience were astonishing. There was a stall selling stetsons, etc. And people nipped to the toilets between acts to change into different cowboy/cowgirl outfits between bands. All very serious and strange, I thought.

Rachel Fox said...

Ken - I have heard John Prine songs covered but haven't listened to him much. Which album should I start with?

And Dominic - glad I'm not the only Rossette!


Ken Armstrong said...


Souvenirs - I *love* this album!

No stools