Putting The Soul Back In Rock History

I was watching a rerun of Public Television's Rock 'n' Roll

and thinking how lost soul music was from the accepted '60s rock

history.

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

material.

Finally, soul represented a fuller integration of black and white

music,

and, more importantly, black and white audiences. While in the

'50s,

jazz was admired by groups of left-wing intellectuals (replete with

black

berets and Fu-Man Chu mustaches, no doubt), artists such as Otis

Redding,

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

decisive

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

his

groundbreaking '50s work. Same with Stevie Wonder and his '70s

oeuvre, or

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

persistent oversight.

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

on

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

financial necessity).

And may the good Lord bless Rhino for tracking down all the best,

most

soulful beats and gathering it in one place. While the packaging

is

pretty neat, the seven-plus hours of music needs nothing else to

speak for

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

especially

amazing. (OK, technically, all of the discs are amazing, but

one

needs to find favorites among favorites.) Starting with the

Godfather

himself, James Brown opens with a white-hot "Out of Sight" (to

avoid the

risk of relying too much on the heavy-hitters, Rhino almost always

manages

to enforce a self-imposed rule of one artist, one-song), and only

gets

better from there. Erma Franklin -- and yes, that's Aretha's little

sister -- belts out her original "Piece of My Heart" that's tighter,

more

heart-wrenchingly real, and more down 'n' dirty than the Janis

Joplin

version that was to be a hit later in the decade. Five songs later,

when,

still reeling, you can almost hear the crackle at the beginning of C.

and

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

gems there

are on Beg, Scream & Shout that you really wouldn't ever

find

anywhere else. After all, when was the last time you saw a 45 of

The

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.

and

the M.G.'s, everyone's favorite backing band in the '60s, and this

70

minutes -- one of six CDs -- is enough to put most people, or at

least those

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

last.