Sweet Soul Music, a Brief History and Exegesis

Jean Mirre

One of my favorite one-hit wonders is Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music,” a sort of sonic collage of borrowed (polite word) sources paying homage to a few of the great soul singers of the Sixties.

The underlying source is Sam Cooke’s “Yeah Man,” released posthumously after Cooke’s bizarre murder (shot to death wearing nothing but a shoe and a sports jacket). [1]

I say collage, because Conley and his co-writer, the great Otis Redding, not only “borrow” from Mr. Cooke, but also co-opt the opening bars of the theme song from the movie The Magnificent Seven.

Here’s how “Yeah Man” commences:

 

Here’s the theme song from the movie:

 

 

And the beginning of Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music”:

 

 

Note initially the songs begin with the identical question, “Do you like good music.”  However, Conley substitutes Cooke’s “crazy about music” with “sweet soul music”  and sharpens Cooke’s “crazy about the dances” with “going to a go-go,” an allusion to the Smokey Robinson song of the same name. Specificity sharpens Cooke’s rather generic proclamations.

“Sweet Soul Music” is a tribute, a list of soul singers to be celebrated.

First Low Rawls.

Spotlight on Lou Rawls, y’all
Ah don’t he look tall, y’all
Singin’ loves a hurtin’ thing, y’all
Oh yeah, oh yeah

Then Sam and Dave

Spotlight on Sam and Dave, y’all
Ah don’t they look boss, y’all
Singin’ hold on I’m comin’
Oh yeah, oh yeah

Wicked Wilson Pickett is third

Spotlight on Wilson Pickett now
That wicked picket Pickett
Singin Mustang Sally
Oh yeah, oh yeah

Co-author Otis Redding is the penultimate singer cited

Spotlight on Otis Redding now
Singing fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa
Oh yeah, oh yeah

Finally, the Godfather is crowned king

Spotlight on James Brown, y’all
He’s the king of them all, y’all
He’s the king of them all, y’all
Oh yeah, oh yeah

Except Otis gets as encore allusion, the last singer’s name we hear in the song:  “Otis Redding’s got the feeling,”  Arthur grunts as the song fades away.

Check it out in its entirety:

 


[1]Hacienda Hotel, LA, 11 December 1964.  Check it out. Here’s one version: http://performingsongwriter.com/mysterious-death-sam-cooke/

3 thoughts on “Sweet Soul Music, a Brief History and Exegesis

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