In the 60s, Motown records ruled the world. They had perfected the formula for a perfect radio hit. Naturally they were hesitant when their biggest star wanted to break away from the norm. What resulted was soul music’s greatest concept album, reflecting poverty, injustice, crime and the Vietnam War, which was a stark contrast from the label’s usually upbeat output. It provided new horizons for soul music and solidified Gaye’s reputation as one of the genre’s greats.
Back in the day cover versions had far more pull. It was one thing to have a great song, it was another to take someone else’s and make it greater. Otis Redding could sing the phone book and make it sound glorious, so of course he works wonders with songs from the likes of The Temptations, The Rolling Stones and fellow soul legend Sam Cooke.
No list of soul legends should ever be without the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin. One of the most influential female figures in pop culture and one of the greatest voices ever recorded. After moving to Atlantic records she provided her biggest and most powerful hit, her astounding cover of Otis’ ‘Respect’ which has become an anthem for women around the world.
Stevie Wonder was the poster child of Motown, their biggest earner, their most loved artist. By this point in his career he had produced more hits than most artists could dream of and was seriously considering quitting the music business. Instead he ended up taking a couple of years out and produced his best and most highly anticipated album. The resulting double album included the hits ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ and ‘Knocks Me Off My Feet’.
James Brown is one of the all time great performers. Really I could’ve picked any of his studio albums, as none of them (not even Man’s World) could possibly sum up the power and the passion of him live on stage. He was the Godfather of Soul, one of the pioneers of the genre and remains to this day one of the most influential figures in music history.