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In a 1982 interview on this site, the Talking Heads' David Byrne explains that he was inspired to cover Al Green's "Take Me To The River" because of how impressed he was with Green's ease in mixing sex and the sacred, using baptism imagery while singing about relationship problems. It is that blend of the secular and the spiritual that makes soul music so enticing...especially if, like Byrne, we were taught as children that the two were mutually exclusive. Soul music has roots in the gospel tradition with a strong focus on vocal melodies, call and response choruses, and the goal of testifying about issues very close to our hearts. However, the lyrical exhortations are usually about the pleasures of love and the pain of heartbreak, and the influences of R n' B and rock n' roll are added into the music. The form and the content align perfectly to lead to cathartic pop masterpieces where dancing is not the devil's activity but rather a holy expression of love between two people. OK, that's a bit heavy-handed, but you know what I mean....
Some of the most famous early soul musicians included Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, but the music soon took roots in cities all around the US. At the Stax studios in Memphis, Booker T and the MGs (along with the Mar-Key horns) were churning out hits with thick grooves, acting as the backing band for artists like Otis Redding and Sam and Dave. Up in Chicago, the music had a bit of a lighter edge. A few years later, songwriters and producers like Thom Bell and Gamble and Huff helped characterize the Philly soul sound with lush orchestral arrangements and more funk...a clear bridge to disco and smooth jazz. Down in New Orleans the music had a touch of swampy funk in it and, of course, Motown had their own sound going on up in Detroit (there are two playlists in the Vault devoted specifically to Motown songs). Out in San Francisco, people like Sly and the Family Sto