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Dave Godin's column for Soulful Kinda Music. Issue 51

For some reason I’ve been churning through a lot of old, and great, records that I’ve not played in a long time, and, as always with R&B and Soul, how fresh and meaningful they still sound no matter how old they are. Joe Turner’s original “Shake, Rattle & Roll” has surely got the be the swingingest, busiest and lewdest number ever and what a voice that guy had. Homer Banks’ “A Lot of Love” still has that slightly sinister edge made all the more telling by the slightly surreal lyrics, and Mary Wells’ “The Doctor” has to be one of the sexiest songs ever. And the common thread amongst these three highly disparate examples of Blackamerican music is that you FEEL them and what they convey, rather than THINK about what they convey. 

And this, I reckon, is where a lot of cultural critics go wrong. Maybe they’d like to “feel” but can’t, so what’s the best defence against that? Why, theory! You see, anyone can study theory. You can now get academic degrees in all sorts of cultural subjects (even Pop music I believe!), and, provided you attend lectures fairly regularly, and write essays more or less affirming everything you’ve been told in the lecture, you’ll come out with a degree at the end of it. (Universities can’t fail too many students, it’d have such a dire knock-on affect on their future funding). 

And it is precisely this, what I call, “academicisation” of culture that has had such a deleterious effect in all areas. Much of the UK music phenomena of the 60s and 70s was the result of the wonderful art school system that used to exist. Any layabout, misfit or creative dreamer could spend a few years in art college simple by taking along a few samples of work, and convincing the interview panel it’d be a rather good thing for him / her to be there. 

You didn’t get a degree at the end, merely a certificate saying where you’d been for the past few years, but it allowed creative people time, space and a bit of money to ponder if the creative life was really for them. And often it was, as witness the case of David Hockney and David Bowie, and many others too. 

Then the control freaks took over. They changed the rules and to go to art college, you had to have all the necessary qualifications needed to go to university. Goodbye dreaming, hello theory! The very people who should have gone and would have benefited from going didn’t stand a chance of acceptance. 

And in some ways, this culture of theory triumphing over creativity has resulted in a certain soul-less culture where the outer form supersedes the inner mystery. 

One of the great things about R&B and Soul music is that it has always put the inner before the outer. (Mind you, reactionary forces are presently at work trying to amend this, but that’s another story). I often smile to myself now when I hear certain oldies played on the radio with enthusiastic accompanying them, because I think why didn’t the Establishment say all this when the records were new, and how come as new releases, you could count the number of air spins they had on one hand? 

Well, again, it’s all to do with theory. Motown is now considered theoretically a good thing. So’s Northern Soul. But anyone who was around when these things were being born knows full well that theory had sweet nothing to do with any of it! Both were the products of wayward feelings - from people who mistrusted the intellectualising of every last thing and yet who trusted what they felt! 

We now have theories that it was Motown almost single-handedly who brought about the victory of the Blackamerican civil rights movement, and remembering Emmet Till of course doesn’t play so well. And of course, Chess-Checker, Okeh, Brunswick and so many others are marginalised to footnotes because their story is a bit more complex, less theoretical and the programme researcher probably has only the vaguest idea of their existence. 

But, Soul people are special people (and god knows I’ve met hundreds in my time), because they march to a different drum beat behind a different banner. And the beat is a bit like Homer Banks, and the banner has countless names on it! 

Those of you who are into authentic R&B or R&B when it was gradually moving on over into Soul, must get Ace Records magnificent tribute to B. B. King - a boxed set of four CDs culled from his days at Kent records in the States, and with a superb booklet full of wise words, much information and rare and fascinating pictures and memorabilia. B. B. King, despite his persistence and longevity, had never in view, been given quite the amount of praise and prominence he deserves, but this set more than makes up for that omission. A great collection from a truly great artist. 

Time may soon be running out for those “friends” of Soul music who put recordings on their websites and make them available for free downloading. Both The Library of Congress and The Recording Industry of America are set to chase these thieves for royalty payments on the copyright material. I somehow doubt that copping the “missionary position” plea of doing all mankind a favour will wash with them, (and since when have Black folks needed favours from White folks?), and American copyright violations will be tried according to American law. Retroactively!

Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary subcommittee on courts, the internet and intellectual property is introducing a bill to combat this. As he said, "Theft is theft, whether it is shoplifting a CD in a record store, or illegally downloading a song."

 Until next time, Keep the faith!