I was watching a rerun of Public Television's Rock 'n' Roll
and thinking how lost soul music was from the accepted '60s rock
And I was thinking how strange this seems, because soul music
lay at so many crossroads that once traveled, could never be
returned to. For black music, soul lay at the crucial junction
between the overtly religion-tinged gospel that bled into black
pioneers' music in the '50s -- take Ray Charles and James Brown,
just to name a couple of the most prominent examples.
Soul also stood at the threshold of blacks taking control of the
music they made, both economically and aurally. Berry Gordy's
Motown Records is certainly the best-known (and deservedly so)
black-owned label, but in his wake there were countless others
who followed, black businessmen that lay the mold for moguls
such as today's Sean "Puffy" Combs and Death Row's "Suge"
Knight. Soul music also reached its peak at a time when, in both
black music and white music and all-points in-between, popular
music was moving away from a handful of Tin Pan Alley
professional songwriters, and toward musicians and, just as
importantly, producers, who wrote and performed their own
Finally, soul represented a fuller integration of black and white
and, more importantly, black and white audiences. While in the
jazz was admired by groups of left-wing intellectuals (replete with
berets and Fu-Man Chu mustaches, no doubt), artists such as Otis
James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Sam and Dave -- to say
nothing of Jimi
Hendrix -- were stars on both sides of the color line.
Still, somehow, despite the fact that soul did occupy such a
point, it is a period in American popular music that often gets short
thrift. Sure, James Brown gets his due, but people tend to focus on
groundbreaking '50s work. Same with Stevie Wonder and his '70s
Michael Jackson and his '80s Thriller. Otis Redding may get
mentioned, and maybe Aretha Franklin too, but on the whole, soul
is a hole in the history
of rock 'n' roll.
Thankfully, on the recorded music front, Rhino's wonderful,
elegant, retro, campy six CD set Beg, Scream, & Shout! The
Big Ol' Box of '60s Soul goes a long way toward rectifying this
First, and most immediately, the packaging: Rhino put the set into
a '50s-'60s-'70s-era record-box, complete with handle and snap
on front. But there's more: the CDs themselves are designed to
look like '45s, with each CD lying in the middle of a plastic record-
like platter that then all fits into a 45-size sleeve. And in the cut-out
at the center of each sleeve, you can't quite see to the end of the
CD, maintaining the "is it live?" mystique. In a final, fun (if perhaps
a bit, er, overboard) touch, Rhino has included the "'Lil 'Ol Box of
'60s Soul," which includes a trading card for each song (and that's
a lot of songs, with six CDs
averaging a little under 24 songs a pop) with a picture of the artist
the front and useful trivia on the back.
The whole schtick does remind us that even if we wanted to find a
lot of this music, we couldn't, for so much of it is only to be found
on initial-run 45s of independent labels (yes, they existed then,
too: they're not an invention of indie rock, but an often-times
And may the good Lord bless Rhino for tracking down all the best,
soulful beats and gathering it in one place. While the packaging
pretty neat, the seven-plus hours of music needs nothing else to
its exquisite eloquence. Divided into the mini-sets -- Beg,
Scream, and Shout, each of which contains two
discs -- the songs are supposed to fall into either the plaintive-
pleading category, the broken-heart category, or
the verge-of-falling apart category.
For my money, I'd take Scream, the second disc of which is
amazing. (OK, technically, all of the discs are amazing, but
needs to find favorites among favorites.) Starting with the
himself, James Brown opens with a white-hot "Out of Sight" (to
risk of relying too much on the heavy-hitters, Rhino almost always
to enforce a self-imposed rule of one artist, one-song), and only
better from there. Erma Franklin -- and yes, that's Aretha's little
sister -- belts out her original "Piece of My Heart" that's tighter,
heart-wrenchingly real, and more down 'n' dirty than the Janis
version that was to be a hit later in the decade. Five songs later,
still reeling, you can almost hear the crackle at the beginning of C.
the Shells' wonderfully melancholy (and almost humorous) "You
Are a Circus
(And I Am the Clown)," you get an idea of just how many utter
are on Beg, Scream & Shout that you really wouldn't ever
anywhere else. After all, when was the last time you saw a 45 of
Showmen's "39-21-46," also on Scream 2, for sale? Never
mind that, when was the last time you heard, or even heard of it?
(And yes... it's pretty
damn great as well.)
Add the throaty, impassioned Wilson Pickett singing "I'm in Love"
(which, incidentally, shows where Keith Richards got his "Beast of
Burden" riff from) and the disc-ending "Time is Tight" by Booker T.
the M.G.'s, everyone's favorite backing band in the '60s, and this
minutes -- one of six CDs -- is enough to put most people, or at
with a pulse, into musical heaven.
Beg, Scream & Shout! is filled with unexpected surprises:
be it Edwin Starr's "Agent Double-Oh Soul," "That's How It Feels"
by The Soul Clan, or "Memphis Soul Stew" by King Curtis that
itches you where it counts, you'll find it here... and you won't really
be sure how you lived without it for so long.
Beg, Scream & Shout! is, far and away, the best collection
of '60s soul gathered together in one place, and it's one of the best
looking sets to come down the pike in some time.
Let's hope, at least where soul music is concerned, that it's not the