Soul Music (often referred to simply as soul) is a popular music genre that originated in the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It combines elements of African-American gospel music, rhythm and blues and jazz. Soul music became popular for dancing and listening in the United States, where record labels such as Motown, Atlantic and Stax were influential during the Civil Rights Movement. Soul also became popular around the world, directly influencing rock music and the music of Africa.

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Links To Peel

At the start of his British radio career, Peel wasn't known as a supporter of soul music; in a 1967 letter to Jackie Dash, a Perfumed Garden listener, he wrote that he had little time for Motown, then the most popular soul music label in the UK (although Atlantic and Stax were becoming serious competitors). However, as the 1960s gave way to the '70's, Peel showed an increasing interest in Motown and other soul styles, played many artists from the genre, and continued to feature different types of soul music in subsequent decades. Both the Peelenium and John Peel's Record Box included plenty of soul tracks.

While Peel was working for the radio station KMEN in San Bernardino, California (which had many soul records in its charts), soul music was becoming popular with young British audiences thanks to airplay on the offshore pirate radio stations. In both America and Britain, soul reached a peak of popularity in 1966[1]. In the mid-1960s, DJs like Peel's future Radio 1 colleagues Tony Blackburn, an avid soul fan (and Motown enthusiast), and Johnnie Walker played plenty of soul records when they were working for the pirate stations. Yet by the time Peel returned to the UK in 1967, the music scene was beginning to change with the rise of psychedelia, and as a result soul records seldom appeared on the Perfumed Garden - although they still featured in Radio London's Fab Forty charts.

MARTHA and THE VANDELLAS love bug leave my heart alone

MARTHA and THE VANDELLAS love bug leave my heart alone

The first and last track played on Peel's BBC Radio One Top Gear show

In the early days of Top Gear in late 1967, soul artists were booked to do sessions for the programme and many soul artists including Martha & The Vandellas , who provided the opening track of the first Top Gear, were played on the shows. However, this ended when Peel became the show's sole presenter in early 1968. During the late 1960s soul music went out of fashion with rock audiences. In Britain it was seen as the music liked by mods - not so much the style-setters of Swinging London's fashion scene (whose influence was fading) as the violent teenage mod gangs, such as those who disrupted Peel's gig at London's Tiles club in 1967 - and was therefore regarded with suspicion by hippies. On Peel's programmes, the emphasis was more on blues, which was undergoing a revival with a young white audience, even if it was losing favour with black American record-buyers who found it old-fashioned and preferred the more upbeat messages of soul. Blues fans tended to dismiss soul music as commercial, shallow and "all showmanship" (in the opinion of British bluesman John Mayall).

At the end of the sixties, however, a number of rock artists emerged who were strongly influenced by soul music, including Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Leon Russell, Rod Stewart and Van Morrison. At the same time the blues revival began to fade, with few new blues artists appearing on the scene, white blues bands switching to rock, and the music having little appeal for young black Americans because of its associations with poverty and oppression. Some black writers saw white listeners' preoccupation with the blues as suspect and even racist. Peel, like some rock critics of the time, revised his attitude to soul music. Soul itself was beginning to evolve in new directions, with new genres such as Philadelphia soulSouthern soul and funk challenging Motown's commercial dominance. These were sometimes influenced by white rock music (like the "psychedelic soul" of Sly And The Family Stone and Parliament-Funkadelic, inspired by Jimi Hendrix and Cream)  or expressed black pride and social protest, a trend which even included Motown artists, such as Marvin Gaye in his album "What's Goin' On" and Stevie Wonder's "Living For The City".

"Southern soul" was perhaps the style Peel liked best. As its name suggested, it came from the southern states of the USA; it was influenced by blues and gospel music, and was associated with record labels such as Stax and recording studios such as those of Memphis,Tennessee and Muscle Shoals, Alabama. As well as producing plenty of hits for soul artists such as Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Booker T. and the MGs, the scene influenced some rock artists of the 1970s such as Delaney and Bonnie, the Allman Brothers Band and Eric Clapton. In this period Peel also showed a liking for the work of female soul singers such as Millie Jackson, Ann Peebles, Betty Wright and the "deep soul" artist Linda Jones, all of whom were played regularly on his shows. According to Andy Kershaw, Peel's favourite soul voice belonged to the Southern Soul artist James Carr [2].

By contrast, "Northern Soul" was named for its popularity in the clubs of the north of England rather than for the geographical location of the artists or record companies; in the USA the term was unknown. It emanated from the record shop Soul City in Covent Garden, London, which was run by journalist Dave Godin and specialised in US imports. It was first publicly used in Godin's weekly column in Blues & Soul magazine in June 1970. [3] Northern Soul became an audience-driven movement which peaked in the late 1970s. Few records in the category were commercial hits. Although his preferences were for Southern Soul and Deep Soul, Peel enjoyed the genre and played tracks from Dave Godin's northern soul compilations albums in the 90's and beyond as they were released.[1] In 1981 the DJ's favourites The Fall released "Lie Dream of a Casino Soul", a single whose lyrics featured Mark E Smith's wry observations of northern soul fans (the song's title referred to the Wigan Casino, the most famous Northern Soul venue). A few years later, in 1987 the group scored a top 30 hit single in the UK with a cover of R. Dean Taylor's Northern Soul favourite "There's A Ghost In My House" [4].

There wasn't much smooth "Philly soul" heard on Peel's shows, but "Have You Seen Her?" by vocal group The Chi-Lites was a Peel favourite of the early 1970s, as was the ballad "Starting All Over Again" by Mel and Tim. But soul music in the late Seventies and beyond, with its elements of disco, electronica and later contemporary R&B, which included elements of hip hop and pop, did not enthuse Peel. Much of it was designed for dancing and, as Peel often said, he was not a dancer.[5]

His preference was to air archive soul music originating prior to the mid-Seventies. However, a handful of soul artists in the Eighties found favour with the DJ, including Terence Trent D'Arby and Paul Johnson, both of whom recorded sessions for his shows. In the 90's, no artists from the soul genre recorded a session for the show, but in 2000 singer Kelis was invited to do one. Peel hoped that the artist would record some covers of old soul standards, but instead the session featured tracks from her then current LP.


John Peel's Record Box

  • Johnny Adams: You're A Lady / I Wish It Would Rain (Atlantic) 1972
  • Roshell Anderson: The Grapevine Will Lie Sometimes / Such A Beautiful Thing (Contempo) 1974
  • Don Covay: It's Better To Have / Leave Him (Mercury) 1973
  • Eddie & Ernie: I Believe She Will / We Try Harder (Chess) 1984
  • Eddie & Ernie: Outcast / I'm Gonna Always Love You (Eastern) 1965
  • Eddie & Ernie: Time Waits For No One / That's The Way It Is (Eastern) 1964
  • Geater Davis: For Your Precious Love / Wrapped Up In You (House of Orange) 1971
  • Gene Dozier & The United Front: Give The Women What They Want / The Best Girl I Ever Had (Mercury) 1974
  • Roy Head: Treat Her Right / So Long, My Love (Vocalion) 1965
  • Mel & Tim: Starting All Over Again / It Hurts To Want It So Bad (Stax) 1972
  • Ann Peebles: I Can't Stand The Rain / I've Been There Before (London Records) 1972
  • Sam & Dave: I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down / Soothe Me (live) (Stax) 1996
  • Johnnie Taylor: I've Been Born Again / At Night Time (Stax) 1974
  • Stanley Winston: No More Ghettos In America / It's Alright (Jewel) 1970
  • O.V. Wright: That's How Strong My Love Is / There Goes My Used To Be (Goldwax) 1964

See Also


  1. For more on soul's popularity, see Jon Savage, 1966: The Year The Decade Exploded (London 2016), especially Chapter 11, "November".
  2. As mentioned on Kershaw's tribute programme of 31 October 2004.
  3. In a 2002 interview with Chris Hunt of Mojo magazine, Godin said he had first come up with the term in 1968, to help employees at Soul City differentiate the more modern funkier sounds from the smoother, Motown-influenced soul of a few years earlier.
  4. Other contemporaries of The Fall to take a soul influence into their music include Subway Sect, Soft Cell and Scritti Politti.
  5. See Glossary: D.

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