Styles & Forms | Urban Soul | Soul & R&B

Although the 1960s Golden Age established soul as the foundation of Afro-American pop, the 1970s and 1980s saw soul’s supremacy challenged and ultimately ended by, in turn, funk, disco, electro, dance-rock, hip hop and house. In hindsight, the soul music of the 1980s went into a form of stasis, waiting for a new style of soul to revive the genre.

Nevertheless, soul, like rock’n’roll, will never die, and a few true soul voices continued to survive and adapt to the new market. Before looking at these 1980s urban soul artists, it’s necessary to acknowledge the important performers who kept soul breathing during the funk- and disco-deluged 1970s.

Sweet Soul

Producer Thom Bell and songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff set up the Philadelphia International label in the late-1960s. By the mid-1970s, the trio had established the ‘Philly sound’, a massively successful blend of gospel- or doo-wop-influenced vocals and heavily orchestrated black pop that heavily informed disco through the music of The O’Jays, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The Three Degrees and the cast-of-thousands house band MFSB. Bell also co-wrote and produced for the three vocal groups who defined the mellifluous sound of sweet soul: The Delfonics, The Stylistics and The Spinners, who all produced a string of much-loved romantic hits in the early 1970s. Bell had no hand in Chicago’s Chi-Lites, who mined an identical seam, reaching a peak of tear-stained male masochism on 1972’s gorgeous ‘Have You Seen Her?’ An altogether more defiant gospel-derived take on sweet soul came from Atlanta’s Gladys Knight & The Pips, a 1950s vocal group who had signed with Motown in the 1960s, fronted the first and funkier version of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ in 1967, and scored their biggest Motown hit in 1972 with country composer Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’. The group became part of the Motown talent drain the following year, when they signed for Buddah and made the extraordinary ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’, a weepy ballad about heading back down south that showcased one of the toughest and most expressive voices in soul history.

The first solo sweet soul superstar arrived when Teddy Pendergrass, gravel-voiced lead singer of Melvin’s Blue Notes, went solo in 1976. His definitive take on boudoir soul seduction produced a string of US hit albums before a car crash in 1982 paralyzed him from the neck down. Undaunted, Pendergrass continued to record throughout the 1980s, duetting on ‘Hold Me’ with a pre-stardom Whitney Houston in 1984.

An even more tragic story concerns critically acclaimed Chicago vocalist Donny Hathaway. His virtuoso blends of soul balladry, subtle jazz and Latin grooves brought admiration but little commercial impact, aside from hit duets with former classmate Roberta Flack. In 1979 he fell to his death: a suicide brought about by depression over his faltering career, which seemed to symbolize the demise of soul in the disco...

To read the full article please either login or register .

Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


An extensive music information resource, bringing together the talents and expertise of a wide range of editors and musicologists, including Stanley Sadie, Charles Wilson, Paul Du Noyer, Tony Byworth, Bob Allen, Howard Mandel, Cliff Douse, William Schafer, John Wilson...


Classical, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Country and more. Flame Tree has been making encyclopaedias and guides about music for over 20 years. Now Flame Tree Pro brings together a huge canon of carefully curated information on genres, styles, artists and instruments. It's a perfect tool for study, and entertaining too, a great companion to our music books.

Rock, A Life Story

Rock, A Life Story

The ultimate story of a life of rock music, from the 1950s to the present day.

David Bowie

David Bowie

Fantastic new, unofficial biography covers his life, music, art and movies, with a sweep of incredible photographs.