Soul Man

June 20, 2024

This month I’m focusing on Rock Songs of the 60s.

Today our song is:  Soul Man

Wikipedia tells us this about the song:

Co-author Isaac Hayes found the inspiration for "Soul Man" in the turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In July 1967, watching a television newscast of the aftermath of the 12th Street riot in Detroit, Michigan, Hayes noted that black residents had marked buildings that had not been destroyed during the riots – mostly African-American owned and operated institutions – with the word "soul". Relating this occurrence to the biblical story of the Passover, Hayes and songwriting partner David Porter came up with the idea, in Hayes's words, of "a story about one's struggle to rise above his present conditions. It's almost a tune kind of like boasting, 'I'm a soul man.' It's a pride thing."

According to David Porter, the reference to "Woodstock" in the song does not refer to the 1969 counter-cultural music festival, but instead to a segregated rural vocational school in Millington, Tennessee called Woodstock Training School. Porter, who did not attend the school, said the line was included to stress the importance of getting an education. Woodstock Training School, which had been renamed Woodstock High School in 1963, was converted into an elementary school following desegregation in 1970.

Sam sings the first verse, with Dave joining in the chorus. Dave sings the second verse, with Sam joining in the chorus. Sam sings the third verse, with Dave joining in the chorus, followed by a brief bridge section by Dave and then a coda, in which both Sam and Dave repeat the title phrase a half-step up, before the song's fade.

The exclamation "Play it, Steve" heard in the song refers to guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T. & the M.G.'s, the house band who provided the instrumentation for it and other Sam and Dave singles. Cropper provided guitar for both the original Sam and Dave recording as well as the live and studio covers by the Blues Brothers.

Issued on the Atlantic-distributed Stax label for which Hayes and Porter worked, Sam and Dave's "Soul Man" was the most successful Stax single to date upon its release. The single peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart. "Soul Man" went to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States during the autumn of 1967. Outside the US, it peaked at number two in Canada. "Soul Man" was awarded the 1968 Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental. In 1999, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Cash Box reviewed the single saying "Few enough acts pack the impact and terrific ability to attack a song with vigor that Sam & Dave have. Couple this drive with a solid slamming song like 'Soul Man,' add some groovy ork support and a readymade following and the result is an instant smash." Record World predicted that it "will wow the pop and r/b fans in no time flat"



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