by Peter Guralnick ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 1, 1986
Serious, definitive grappling with the nature of soul music, a form of black pop derived from gospel married to rhythm and blues, and which existed in its pure state for about 10 years--from the middle 50's to the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. when the wind went out of soul. Guralnick spent over four years writing and interviewing for this book and the work shows, though Sweet Soul Music is not meant to be exhaustive. (It's exhaustingly minute here and there, with paragraphs that just go on and on as if his word processor had picked up the story on its own.) As for what is soul music--Guralnick's definition varied with his work on the book and he never does reach a reader-satisfying formulation. It's enough to say that it begins in the sincere exhortations of gospel (singing to You God) that somehow married the devil (rhythm and blues and commerce) and came up with ""you found me cryin' in the chapel"" (which has ""you"" both ways, as quasi-religious, sanctified sex, or this world and the next at once). But woven into that are the facts that Southern freedom music and the stirrings of civil rights were gospel-based, and so soul was laced with that as well. This worldly yet striving music--while extremely heartfelt--was utterly black and unsalable until the Elvis of Gospel, Sam Cooke, crossed over to ""the devil's music,"" sending ""shock waves through the worlds of both gospel and pop. ""Cooke's repertoire went through many changes, but he'd learned literally how to use his soul-stirrings to heat up his female listeners at the Copa; he was ready for major stardom at last when he died of three gunshot wounds in a lurid motel incident. Ray ""the Genius"" Charles is credited equally with Cooke for bringing gospel to pop, though the blind Charles always regarded himself as more adult, singing songs built on a despair unmatched by the naked kitsch of soul. Other giants springing up were James Brown, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, Aretha Franklin and Al Green. Guralnick also covers the business of soul music in great depth, since soul eventually found itself competing for the same dollar as rock and pop and r&b, all of which changed the nature of soul. A touch too serious, but chockablock with first-hand chat and marvelous anecdotes. Selected discography.
Pub Date: May 1, 1986
Page Count: -
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1986
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