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Soul Week

Friday, February 10, 2012

My life as a writer in the kleptocracy of Chicago

Posted By on 02.10.12 at 03:43 PM

Northwestern University
  • Titration451/Wikimedia Commons
  • Northwestern University
In honor of Soul Week at the Reader I went to Northwestern University and listened to Mick Dumke sing some of his favorite soul songs of all time.

At one point Mick got so excited he started break dancing.

Well, that's not entirely true. Mick didn't sing or dance. He did run through several of his favorites as we headed over to the school. Though that’s not really the reason I'm writing this bit. Just wanted to get in on "Variations on a Theme" before it ended.

No, Mick and I went to Northwestern to speak to a political science class taught by Don Gordon, the Rogers Park activist who ran for 49th ward alderman in 2007.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Minnie Riperton's "Reasons"

Posted By on 02.09.12 at 08:00 AM

The story of Minnie Riperton's life is all kinds of frustrating. Although she possessed one of the most shockingly beautiful voices in the history of pop music—a tender and supple thing that somehow spanned a physically impressive five-octave range—there were only a few years where she was alive and the world at large cared much at all. The Chicago-based psych-pop-rock-soul outfit Rotary Connection that she fronted early in her career wasn't the commercial A-bomb that Marshall Chess presumably was hoping for when he put it together, and her 1970 solo debut, Come to My Garden, was, upon its release, a straight-up flop. (Both Garden and the Rotary Connection catalog have since found a loving audience in the record geek community.) Despite those setbacks fate, Stevie Wonder, and an Epic Records intern managed to conspire to produce 1974's Perfect Angel—its breakout single "Lovin' You" brought Riperton to the level of fame that she deserved, which she enjoyed until her death from cancer just five years later.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Soul music: not just dusties

Posted By on 02.08.12 at 08:00 AM

Ronald Isley
  • Ronald Isley
The death of Don Cornelius last week has prompted a great deal of nostalgia for Soul Train and the wonderful performances that were a regular part of the show. But when it was actually on the air, the program had little time for nostalgia—it very much existed in the present. So rather than troll through great old clips, let’s celebrate the spirit of the show by looking at new soul music. We can ease into things by talking about some still-active artists who were scoring hits a decade and a half before Soul Train even went on the air: the seemingly eternal Isley Brothers, who appeared on the show many times.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The five worst covers of "The Tracks of My Tears"

Posted By on 02.07.12 at 02:32 PM

  • Crimfants/Wikimedia Commons
In order to research this post (about my five favorite versions of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “The Tracks of My Tears”) I had to make sure that my favorite covers were in fact the best ones. Which means I had to cross-check them against every available, YouTube-existing version of the song. Which means I repeatedly contemplated suicide.

In the process of being horrified by a song I previously thought to be infallible, I realized something important about the Motown sound: Everyone loves it. That means every no-talent bucket of contagious hate has to produce a rendition of a classic Motown song. As a result, the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have an inexorable soundtrack for their stay.

Here are the five worst covers of “The Tracks of My Tears.” Proceed with caution.

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The five best covers of "The Tracks of My Tears"

Posted By on 02.07.12 at 08:00 AM

Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
  • Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
When we elected to do Soul Week for this week’s “Variations on a Theme,” I don’t think I realized just how daunting a subject it could be. Soul music is a labyrinthine genre of nearly unyielding brilliance, labels big and small possessing a plethora of emotive power and gorgeous grit by one-offs, consistently reliable B-artists, and still unheralded geniuses. With this genre, I found it best to go with my reflexes and riff off of that.

On a dig last summer through the 12-inch soul bins at Dusty Groove, where I browse on at least a biweekly basis, I snagged a radio playlist promo of some of Motown’s greatest hits. The A-Side is Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “The Tracks of My Tears,” a song I had always loved but hadn’t heard in some time. A few weeks later, DJing at a neighborhood bar with a superlative sound system, I played the record and was blown away hearing it at that volume with sound quality that pristine. The few patrons seemed to enjoy it too, as I spotted smiles, head nods, and waved arms as the song streamed through the worn lacquer of the bar.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

The greatest Soul Train performance?

Posted By on 02.06.12 at 08:00 AM

Though I possess a vague knowledge of Soul Train and Don Cornelius, I had never quite realized the massive impact that both had on soul music, music television, and on soul music, music, and television. My knowledge of Soul Train was largely dependent on clumps of images, which appeared on MTV and VH1 in the 90s, a time when nostalgia for the 70s and its imagery seemed to be at its apex. Thankfully, the volume of writing on Cornelius and his impact, particularly in relation to Chicago, has made me realize just how significant a figure he was.

I've spent the past few days trawling YouTube for clips from Soul Train, and I've been floored by many of the performances from the show's 70s heyday, but one performance in particular stood out from the rest.

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Starting today on the Bleader: Soul Week

Posted By on 02.06.12 at 07:00 AM

Today begins a new edition of our blog feature "Variations on a Theme," in which we devote digital ink to a topic that fascinates us. This week, it's soul music.

In honor of the late Don Cornelius, who passed away suddenly and sadly last week, we're devoting a whole week to soul music. If you haven't read Jake Austen's story on Soul Train in Chicago, you can read it here. And here's some early Don Cornelius memorabilia, courtesy of Tom Weinberg, via Michael Miner.

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