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1969: The Post Listens To “The Soul Sound”

Published: August 5, 2010

Popular music was knocked back on its ear in 1969. There was an explosion of new sounds and directions that year, which saw new releases The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, The BeeGees, The Beach Boys, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Chicago, etc. and etc.

What made it such a memorable year was the diversity of music. Unlike later years, when one style of music seemed to dominate the charts, 1969 yielded a crop of highly diverse offerings. One the most original sounds arising in that year was “soul music.” Growing out of ancient roots, it was just starting to blossom. Eventually, it would develop numerous branches that would yield some of the best music in American.

This was how The Saturday Evening Post described this new musical genre [PDF download] :

A year ago, at the Monterey Pop Festival, The Who exploded smoke bombs and demolished their instruments onstage. Jimi Hendrix, having made a variety of obscene overtures to his guitar, set fire to it, smashed it, and threw the fragments at the audience. But “the most tumultuous reception of the Festival,” according to one journalist, went to Otis Redding and the Mar-Keys, all of them conservatively dressed and groomed, who succeeded with nothing more than excellent musicianship and a sincere feeling for the roots of the blues.

In examining Soul Music, the Post chose to focus on the pivotal role played by the Memphis music industry.

All over Memphis the boom is on: New recording studios are being built, and old studios are being expanded to meet the growing demand for the “Memphis Sound,” which everyone wants his recording to have. And in the traditional recording centers of New York, Los Angeles, and the old Tennessee rival, Nashville, the signs of Memphis’s musical renaissance are being read with some unease; for, down among the magnolias and the cotton bales, this strange and unprecedented combination of farmers, businessmen. dropouts, day laborers, shoeshine boys and guitar pickers is making Memphis a new center of the pop-music industry. The recording industries of New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville are all much bigger; Memphis is probably a distant fourth. But Memphis has lots of hits. Recently, on a just-average week, 15 of Billboard’s Top-100 pop records and 16 of the magazine’s Top 50 rhythm-and-blues recordings were Memphis products.

There are many explanations for Memphis’s musical success, but they all boil down to that one word: Soul. Bob Taylor, vice president of the American Federation of Musicians’ Memphis chapter, says, “We don’t have the world’s best musicians, or the greatest recording equipment. But one thing the music of Memphis does have is the ability to communicate to the listener a sincere, deep feeling. You can’t listen to a Memphis record without responding to what the musicians felt when they made it. You have lo, al the very least, tap your foot.”

Isaac Hayes at the piano while David Porter sings.

At the Stax/Volt studio, which produces many Memphis hits, songwriters Isaac Hayes (at piano) and David Porter pursue a song they hope will be as big as their Soul Man and Hold On, I’m Coming.