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News: BBC 4 Soul America - 3 Part Series Friday 4th Sept 2020


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BBC 4 Soul America - 3 Part Series Friday 4th Sept 2020. BBC Four has a new three-part series starting next Friday that may be of interest. Titled 'Soul America' it sets out to chronicle the journey of Soul Music.
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News/Article/Feature Highlight: BBC 4 Soul America - 3 Part Series Friday 4th Sept 2020. BBC Four has a new three-part series starting next Friday that may be of interest. Titled 'Soul America'

I welcome the series and as you say, the chuch/Gospel aspects need to be included, but I'd hope in a way balanced that enables more inclusion.   I feel the overall narrative of the series is too

It was okay but reduced the history too much for me to cover just Gospel/Aretha/Sam Cooke,  South/Stax/Otis & Detroit/Motown. Jackie Wilson and Chicago Soul, New York Soul & importance of

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Just watched it. The opening programme seemed pretty good. Some previously seen footage, but well packaged and interesting commentaries from people of the day and more current observers.
I liked Duke Fakir’s record centre lapel badge too!

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An interesting and enjoyable Part 1. Well put together and I've set a reminder for the rest of the series despite it clashing with one of my regular views.

Random thoughts:     Martha Reeves nearly burst into song during her tour of the Snakepit, phew.  Mavis Staples is a very nice lady. The Four Hi's...Heartbreak River was an old gospel tune. There's nothing to do in Muscle Shoals except mess about with music.

Looking forward to parts 2 and 3.

- Kev

 

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It was okay but reduced the history too much for me to cover just Gospel/Aretha/Sam Cooke,  South/Stax/Otis & Detroit/Motown.

Jackie Wilson and Chicago Soul, New York Soul & importance of Harlem Apollo, Drifters & Ben E King all totally ignored as examples. Black Doo Wop, girl groups and evolution into early Soul missing. Key early artists in the transition who were big stars at the time such as Hank Ballard or Little Willie John missing. No New Orleans soul mentioned at all which and no mention of Jazz evolving to incorporate the Soul Jazz subgenre of the time.  Footage of Civil Rights but The Impressions not mentioned alongside as could of added musical context.

Sometimes felt like a Civil Rights programme told through Soul music, not the other way around. Might of helped if key songs like Get a Job and You Better Move On mentioned. 

No doubt Stevie Wonder, Smokey, Impressions, JB will be in next week. 

I enjoyed the artist interviews and old footage - the rest I was very disappointed with. Soul deserves the Ken Burns style extensive series.

I am grateful for the series but do not see how such as Jackie Wilson, Fats Domino, Gladys Knight, Drifters etc could be totally ignored without even a mention as there was plenty of time for extensive non musical context.

I know I am asking for too much, modern documentaries now pick a narrow path through their subjects, but I welcome the day we get a more complete study.

Edited by Thinksmart
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I’ve just watched Soul America on record and enjoyed it.

It plays it pretty safe starting with the influence of gospel and doesn’t challenge the accepted wisdom that Aretha was the greatest soul singer but then its probably a truism. What was excellent was that it used the voices of the few soul survivors from the time: Candi, Mavis, Clarence Carter, Martha Reeves, Otis Williams , Duke Fakir  plus musicians like Spooner, Cropper and David Hood to tell their story. Al Bell told a great anecdote though I’m never sure whether to believe him I’m afraid. Carleen Anderson was an excellent choice for narrator.  There was some fantastic footage and a sad realisation that America has gone backwards on race relations – and quite a long way back.

There were faults. The Supremes were featured although as Mary Wilson said ‘we were pop not soul’ and no mention of Bobby Bland or Jackie Wilson. Maybe no film was available and just one picture of Etta at FAME but I quibble because I enjoyed the whole hour. It was an interesting insight into the birth and formative years of soul music.  I assume Marvin, Gladys, Ruffin and Curtis feature in the next episode.

Edited by Firecrest
Don't want to upset anyone.
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I enjoyed it but it’s so hard to tell the story in three parts .It would be so nice to see an alternative view on the soul scene rather than the well covered ground in part one.Nice to see anything on 60’s soul on the telly though!

 

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Don't think you tell could the definitive history of soul music in 3 hours. Inevitably there were short cuts and omissions, which was to be expected. What we did have was highly enjoyable, and served as a very good introduction to the topic. A more exhaustive series, drawing in many of the artists not included is probably something we will never get. More's the pity.

I think the civil rights issue is fundamental to the development of soul music. The music was the soundtrack to the era and I believe much of the music was inspired by political events. Can't see how you could tell the story of soul and not reflect upon the times and the circumstances under which it was created. More of that next week, I suspect.

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The BBC mess it up AGAIN! A frustrating experience for this viewer, very short clips of artists performing then in comes the voiceover. An overly simplistic potted history that seemed to focus on Dr Martin Luther King, Aretha & Otis at the expense of so many other important artists who made a significant contribution to the development  of Soul. Similar to the recent Motown documentary it barely scratched the surface with every topic then bounced back and forth. It resorted to the old tropes "raised in the church"- lots of clips of old ladies call & response with the pastor zzzz. There was not enough focus on the music and too much on Civil Rights. No doubt many gaps will be covered in eps 2 & 3 but the Genre is so wide it deserves a more indepth study similar to the two recent Ken Burns 10 part series on Country Music & Jazz. 

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6 hours ago, Tam La Motown said:

The BBC mess it up AGAIN! A frustrating experience for this viewer, very short clips of artists performing then in comes the voiceover. An overly simplistic potted history that seemed to focus on Dr Martin Luther King, Aretha & Otis at the expense of so many other important artists who made a significant contribution to the development  of Soul. Similar to the recent Motown documentary it barely scratched the surface with every topic then bounced back and forth. It resorted to the old tropes "raised in the church"- lots of clips of old ladies call & response with the pastor zzzz. There was not enough focus on the music and too much on Civil Rights. No doubt many gaps will be covered in eps 2 & 3 but the Genre is so wide it deserves a more indepth study similar to the two recent Ken Burns 10 part series on Country Music & Jazz. 

A 10 - part Ken Burns examination of the music would be fantastic but its never going to happen as this is a minority music. There were old tropes but some of those tropes might actually be true.  What was good was it was black voices telling the story including many that were there.

Sir - you were negative before you'd seen it, It wasn't perfect but I think you prejudged it wrongly.

Edited by Firecrest
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I thought given the one hour available episode 1 did a credible job, and I personally think it would be insulting and selling the music (and its followers ) short by ignoring its gospel roots and the civil rights issues around  at the time.  

 

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I welcome the series and as you say, the chuch/Gospel aspects need to be included, but I'd hope in a way balanced that enables more inclusion.  

I feel the overall narrative of the series is too narrow and episode two further focuses in on only one aspect.

Episode two only covers Soul from the perspective of black emancipation between 1967-1973. Hardly any female Soul artists are covered at all which was a big omission given the emergence of strong solo female singers in their own right. Sly Stone is not included (or LA at all), no Gil Scott Heron which is odd given the topic of the episode, nor Edwin Starr's War which would of been highly relevant.  It's very centred around who they have access to.  Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, James Brown are only included in relation to one signature song along the narrative of the episode.  It is interesting to watch and the footage/interviews are welcome - but the overall thread through it is told to resonate with current events, which I do really get. However it means you already need to know about the artists and Soul before watching it or you would think 'well who is this Curtis Mayfield being mentioned'.

We can say they don't have room to include more, but they have repeated segments of talking heads basically saying the same thing.  The Isley Brothers aren't mentioned but would of been a useful example of a band going from R&B through Soul to hard edged funk-soul, including rock guitar, their socially-conscious but melodic soul that crossed over and onwards into their romantic area - they are a perfect example of how many aspects of Soul are embodied in one act (and often one album).

Like many of us, I've got a large Soul collection after all these years and I'd suggest >70% of Soul songs are about love/romance/sex/relationships, or dancefloor/hanging out, or getting on/hustling/making money and the latest novelty dances and the like which is all entirely missing from the series, which is the broader life of the people whose music this reflects.  Tge series focuses on Stax a lot so if we look at the entire output of Stax in 1967-1973 range of the second part - most of the songs are still about love and the topics I mentioned above, rather than the topics covered exclusively in the episode.  WattStax was covered and what song was it that Rufus Thomas got everyone up to, the Funky Chicken!

For me most importantly, there's little sense of the joy and exhuberance of Soul coming through in the series (though that Rufus Thomas footage was a good example of people just wanting to let go, enjoy themselves and party with their own people). There's no connection at all that this is music also that was often made for their audience to dance to (in USA, I don't mean UK). Even with the social problems, USA perceived itself at the time as an aspirational, American-dream country. While that was denied to many at least the making money, capitalist focus of such as James Brown was touched on. The series is told as though Soul is almost entirely a form of protest music, which is far too narrow and not true. This was music made by young adults mostly reflecting all their experience so that overlapping complication deserves to be told too.  

Anything not already covered is going to get little  or no coverage in episode three which is all about the second generation of 'Soul Men' - the balladeers of 1970s and 1980s from the preview.  So it has to cram in that plus Philly Soul, the emergence of Funk (if covered at all), Disco, 80s synth Soul/Luther/George Benson as shown in the footage at the end and bring it all up to the current day.   

I really do think the lack of coverage of any female Soul artists beyond The Supremes and Candi Staton popping up to speak is perhaps the most jarring omission.  It is important to tell that part too as the series makes Soul feel mostly a male musical form.

By 1973 when the episode ended - Gladys Knight, Millie Jackson, Ann Peebles, Roberta Flack, Sylvia, Aretha, Tina Turner with Ike, The Pointer Sisters (plus other groups with female singers such as The Persuaders) all were in the year end Billboard R&B top hundred selling singles of the year. Gladys Knight in particular had five in the top 100 and two in the top 10 sellers - yet not one of them mentioned at all in the second episode as the series turns onwards to 'Soul Men' again. 

There is much still to enjoy in each episode, I'm just critiquing as this is our area of interest.

Edited by Thinksmart
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21 hours ago, Thinksmart said:

I welcome the series and as you say, the chuch/Gospel aspects need to be included, but I'd hope in a way balanced that enables more inclusion.  

I feel the overall narrative of the series is too narrow and episode two further focuses in on only one aspect.

Episode two only covers Soul from the perspective of black emancipation between 1967-1973. Hardly any female Soul artists are covered at all which was a big omission given the emergence of strong solo female singers in their own right. Sly Stone is not included (or LA at all), no Gil Scott Heron which is odd given the topic of the episode, nor Edwin Starr's War which would of been highly relevant.  It's very centred around who they have access to.  Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, James Brown are only included in relation to one signature song along the narrative of the episode.  It is interesting to watch and the footage/interviews are welcome - but the overall thread through it is told to resonate with current events, which I do really get. However it means you already need to know about the artists and Soul before watching it or you would think 'well who is this Curtis Mayfield being mentioned'.

We can say they don't have room to include more, but they have repeated segments of talking heads basically saying the same thing.  The Isley Brothers aren't mentioned but would of been a useful example of a band going from R&B through Soul to hard edged funk-soul, including rock guitar, their socially-conscious but melodic soul that crossed over and onwards into their romantic area - they are a perfect example of how many aspects of Soul are embodied in one act (and often one album).

Like many of us, I've got a large Soul collection after all these years and I'd suggest >70% of Soul songs are about love/romance/sex/relationships, or dancefloor/hanging out, or getting on/hustling/making money and the latest novelty dances and the like which is all entirely missing from the series, which is the broader life of the people whose music this reflects.  Tge series focuses on Stax a lot so if we look at the entire output of Stax in 1967-1973 range of the second part - most of the songs are still about love and the topics I mentioned above, rather than the topics covered exclusively in the episode.  WattStax was covered and what song was it that Rufus Thomas got everyone up to, the Funky Chicken!

For me most importantly, there's little sense of the joy and exhuberance of Soul coming through in the series (though that Rufus Thomas footage was a good example of people just wanting to let go, enjoy themselves and party with their own people). There's no connection at all that this is music also that was often made for their audience to dance to (in USA, I don't mean UK). Even with the social problems, USA perceived itself at the time as an aspirational, American-dream country. While that was denied to many at least the making money, capitalist focus of such as James Brown was touched on. The series is told as though Soul is almost entirely a form of protest music, which is far too narrow and not true. This was music made by young adults mostly reflecting all their experience so that overlapping complication deserves to be told too.  

Anything not already covered is going to get little  or no coverage in episode three which is all about the second generation of 'Soul Men' - the balladeers of 1970s and 1980s from the preview.  So it has to cram in that plus Philly Soul, the emergence of Funk (if covered at all), Disco, 80s synth Soul/Luther/George Benson as shown in the footage at the end and bring it all up to the current day.   

I really do think the lack of coverage of any female Soul artists beyond The Supremes and Candi Staton popping up to speak is perhaps the most jarring omission.  It is important to tell that part too as the series makes Soul feel mostly a male musical form.

By 1973 when the episode ended - Gladys Knight, Millie Jackson, Ann Peebles, Roberta Flack, Sylvia, Aretha, Tina Turner with Ike, The Pointer Sisters (plus other groups with female singers such as The Persuaders) all were in the year end Billboard R&B top hundred selling singles of the year. Gladys Knight in particular had five in the top 100 and two in the top 10 sellers - yet not one of them mentioned at all in the second episode as the series turns onwards to 'Soul Men' again. 

There is much still to enjoy in each episode, I'm just critiquing as this is our area of interest.

Some fair points , I was disappointed  at the absence  of Philly Soul. 

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22 hours ago, Thinksmart said:

The series is told as though Soul is almost entirely a form of protest music, which is far too narrow and not true. This was music made by young adults mostly reflecting all their experience so that overlapping complication deserves to be told too.

You make a good point.

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Thinksmart has made a number of very good points.

I enjoyed E2 as much for the social history as for the music. And I guess that really is the point of the programme. Its not a history of soul music, but how the politics of the time were reflected in the music.

To that end, I think the programme is interesting and worthwhile, though I share a frustration that many artists haven't been mentioned - no Sly Stone was a shocking omission for instance - and that it seems the music was only made in Memphis or Detroit!

 

 

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Yes I'm enjoying it on that basis too Westender - there's loads of interest in each programme even if I have delved into what's not there.  I think we get documentaries that reflect the time they are made and the same subject can have different emphasis in the retelling across the decades.

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The final part of this tried to cover a huge amount - PIR, the 70s male soul singers such as Barry White, Peabo and Teddy Pendergrass, Disco, Quiet Storm format, female soul, Luther and the like. It seemed to wrap up Soul in about 1988 to fit the time and didn't even mention anything afterwards other than showing Aretha at Obama's inauguration.

Inevitably it was just too much for an hour. Excellent footage as ever but it raced by in a superficial way. I got the sense they really wanted to make a dedicated programme on Luther.

The ending in particular was a bit frustrating I thought. 

Overall, what was there was appreciated although such a concise edit made for only the most cursory glance at the music.

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Yes, so much was crammed in to an hour that it did leave you feeling a bit unsatisfied. Lots of good bits, some very insightful comments and interesting contributions from the musicians but we could have done with a whole lot more.

The ending left us with the message that soul is done and dusted. And it is. There are no great singers, vocal groups have long disappeared, the funk bands have withered away and the era of great labels, writers and producers is long gone.

Pity that the legacy of those brilliant artists of the 60s and 70s wasn't developed and extended.

Why that is could have provided an interesting part 4.

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Why is it that whenever Luther is mentioned his career goes from backing singer to global star overnight. Change were a really successful act FFS.

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I do not agree that Soul is done and dusted, like many forms of music it is just absorbed into the wider culture and evolves onwards.  I'm buying loads of new Soul every month and enjoying it. But I take your point.

I envisage that the shows were edited fairly quickly as footage shown to trail the next episode then wasn't there for two of the episodes (George Benson specifically for episode 3).

Agree on Luther - I said that too at the time.

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On 07/09/2020 at 18:31, DukeBurgundy said:

A 10 - part Ken Burns examination of the music would be fantastic but its never going to happen as this is a minority music. There were old tropes but some of those tropes might actually be true.  What was good was it was black voices telling the story including many that were there.

Sir - you were negative before you'd seen it, It wasn't perfect but I think you prejudged it wrongly.

Sorry but I disagree. The 3 parts jumped all over the shop and barely scratched the surface of any topic featured. Minority music? Jazz is a minority music, yet it got the full Ken Burns treatment. Soul is such a wide umbrella, 3 hours left me gagging for more!

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4 hours ago, Tam La Motown said:

Sorry but I disagree. The 3 parts jumped all over the shop and barely scratched the surface of any topic featured. Minority music? Jazz is a minority music, yet it got the full Ken Burns treatment. Soul is such a wide umbrella, 3 hours left me gagging for more!

Yeah but come on, they class Jamie Cullen as jazz😂😂

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