The Best Soul Music 60s 70s

Soul music flourished during the 60s due to many pioneering artists like Ray Charles who controversially fused gospel’s sacred cadences with bluesy sensuality on I Got A Woman.

Stax Records in Memphis was home to deep soul music dominated by Booker T & the M.G’s driving rhythms and funky brass riffs by Booker T & the M.G – their sound influencing disco, New Jack Swing and still relevant today in Jill Scott’s neo soul tracks.

Sam & Dave

Sam & Dave were widely recognized as one of the premier male soul duos of the 1960s, with smooth vocals and pioneering contributions that earned them numerous nicknames – including “Kings of Soul”. Their music continues to resonate today among both black and white audiences alike.

Sam Moore and Dave Prater met performing amateur nights in small clubs in Miami in 1961 and formed a duo by 1962. Both had prior gospel experience that manifested itself through their unique musical approach – more of a call-and-response than traditional harmony or duet. Roulette Records recorded several unsuccessful singles for them before Atlantic Records persuaded its Memphis affiliate Stax Records to produce You Don’t Know Like I Know in 1965 – becoming their major breakthrough album and garnering worldwide acclaim.

Stax’s Jim Stewart and Steve Cropper along with Booker T and the MGs rhythm section had an enormous effect on Sam & Dave as well as other artists signed to Stax Records. Utilizing an industrial production approach yet allowing key elements of musical texture to shine through produced a soul sound which not only attracted white audiences but became an empowering unifier of black music in America.

Sam & Dave were one of the most in-demand soul acts during their heyday, touring an average of 280 days annually during their peak success. Notable highlights for them included performances on Ed Sullivan Show and Tonight Show as well as headlining at Montreal World Fair 1967 before making history by becoming first Black duo to perform at Fillmore East 1968.

After their departure in 1969, both artists went on to enjoy successful solo careers; Moore’s was more blues-influenced while Prater found greater success with contemporary R&B and pop. Both continued recording occasionally into the ’80s; both continued being heavily influential, with Staple Singers, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder all having revisited Stax recordings as early as 1989!

Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield was one of the pioneers who introduced social awareness into soul music with his multi-talented performance as a multi-talented singer/songwriter with an iconic tenor voice and deep catalog of songs. His ability to adapt his messages through his age’s politics to universal themes cemented his place as one of the most significant African American musicians ever.

Mayfield’s best work was often political, yet always with depth of insight that transcended mere sloganeering or polemic. His 1973 album Back to the World put him squarely in the shoes of Vietnam veterans returning home, while its opener Billy Jack addressed drug-related ghetto murder reminiscent of that found later in Freddie’s Dead; only here it was done with profound sadness as though life would never be full-color again.

He composed the score to Blaxploitation movie Super Fly that same year, though he wasn’t fond of its violent on-screen action; nevertheless, his funk juggernauts provided a counterpoint that celebrated black culture instead of glorifying it; similarly, She Don’t Let Nobody (But Me) serves as an emotional reminder that small moments matter the most in life.

He had already written one of the civil rights movement’s defining anthems with 1965’s People Get Ready, recorded with The Impressions. But for our list, his 1971 live version of Love Is the Way of the World took top honors with its stripped-back arrangement that let Mayfield’s voice shine and its vibrant rhythm track that offered up fresh brass solos amidst dour funk sounds.

The Staple Singers

Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his family band were revered gospel artists of the 1950s who also crossed over into mainstream soul music. Mavis Staples stood out among her fellow group members; together with percussionist/bassist Tommy Cogbill in particular, their distinctive sound blended soul, country and blues seamlessly; pioneers among soul gospel artists breaking with tradition by testifying through groove.

The Staple Singers were unreserved freedom fighters whose music expressed black power and social justice messages through songs by Mavis Staples’ unique soulful voice, used to communicate their group’s beliefs and push for social change.

Though The Staple Singers had an extended stint at Stax Records, they never sounded like a factory production band. Many of their most popular cuts featured airtight accompaniment from Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section’s world-class musicians – especially on tracks such as Mavis Staples’ powerful vocals which Barry Beckett and David Hood complimented perfectly with airy rhythm section accompaniment on “When Do We Get Paid.”

Mavis captured the message of her song with an opening scream that was as raw and forceful as any in soul music, setting the stage for what became “Respect Yourself,” an anthem for black pride several years later.

After Stax folded, The Staple Singers continued recording for Curtom and other labels. Their 1975 hit “Let’s Do It Again” cemented them in both R&B and pop charts as one of their top 10 hits, opening doors for other gospel crossover acts like The Temptations to become successful pop performers themselves. Mavis continued her musical career for much of her life and still commands a large following today; she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. She continues to produce albums, most recently the 2010 release Have a Little Faith which combined Delta blues and traditional gospel. She received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and has won two Grammy Awards for solo work; additionally she has appeared in several movies like American Made.

Bill Withers

Bill Withers was an unusual kind of musical icon: an unassuming quiet guy who left an indelible cultural mark by writing and performing songs about everyday topics such as work, family life, love and loss. While more outgoing performers often become consumed by celebrity glare and become lost within it themselves, Withers opted for understated performance with regular distance from the spotlight whenever possible.

He chose an understated career path that began with nine years in the Navy and ended with his arrival in Los Angeles in 1967 where, in addition to working straight jobs at aircraft companies, he also recorded demos with Watts 103rd Street Band and Sussex Records which led to 1971’s Just As I Am album featuring Grammy-nominated hit Ain’t No Sunshine as well as Grandma’s Hands as part of Just As I Am’s repertoire.

Withers’ albums for the label remained immensely successful throughout his tenure with them; such as 1975’s Making Music, Made Friends and 1981’s Just the Two of Us were especially well received. He was also widely revered as a producer; working closely with artists such as Grover Washington Jr on Lovely Day as well as producing hits for Al Green and Roberta Flack.

The 1970s were an exhilarating time for soul music, with iconic artists like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder exploring new territory while confronting contemporary issues through soul. Additionally, Philly soul masters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff added rich string-laden hits with irresistibly grooves for Philly listeners to enjoy.

Withers took full advantage of this rich musical legacy, crafting his own timeless and contemporary approach that simultaneously celebrated past and present experiences: work, family, romance and loss. His albums were elegant and intimate with an intimate feel brought on by Withers’ distinctive vocal presence over an elegant backing track of acoustic instruments and strings; these recordings still resonate today thanks to contemporary artists including Barbra Streisand and BlackStreet trio who have covered his songs or used samples in their own work.