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1967's 'Summer of Soul' - Part II

(Soundbite of song "I Was Made To Love Her")

Mr. STEVIE WONDER (Singer; Songwriter): (Singing) I was born in Lil' Rock, had a childhood sweetheart, we were always hand in hand. I wore high-top shoes and shirttails, Suzy was in pigtails, I knew I loved her even then…


Stevie Wonder was one of the Motown hit makers who pretty much owned the top of the Billboard soul charts during the summer of 1967. That Motown sound - sweet, optimistic and polished - contrasted starkly with another group of R&B singers who topped the charts, too, but with a different kind of soul.

(Soundbite of song "Baby I Love You")

Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN (Singer): (Singing) Because I love you. Baby, baby, baby, I love you. Ain't no doubt about it. Baby, I love you. Baby, baby, baby, I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you. I love you, baby, I love you.

CORLEY: Aretha, the sound was grittier, sweatier than Motown's. The contrast made for a unique battle of the bands in singing styles that had never been heard before.

Well, today we continue our Summer of Soul '67 series with a closer look at the regional influences that produced some of the best-known soul and R&B music and American pop cultural history. And joining us again from the Duke University studio is Mark Anthony Neal, professor of pop culture there.

Mark, thanks for joining us.

Professor MARK ANTHONY NEAL (African-American Studies, Duke University): I'm glad to be back.

CORLEY: Well, you know, we had to start with Stevie, long known as little Stevie Wonder. But by the summer of '67, he wasn't called little anymore. But he kind of had a unique situation at Motown. Why don't you tell us about his place at Berry Gordy's hit factory?

Prof. NEAL: You know, in some ways, when he first got to Motown when he was, you know, discovered, I mean, Berry Gordy really thought of him initially as a novelty act, you know, as a way to sell some records, when you think about Fingertips, you know, a few years earlier.

But by 1967, clearly Stevie Wonder is coming into his own, you know, as a singer, as an artist. And with a song like "I was Made To Love Her," I mean, you start to see, I think, the inklings of the great Stevie Wonder that emerges in the 1970s.

(Soundbite of song "I Was Made to Love Her")

Mr. WONDER: (Singing) 'Cause I was made to love her, I was made to live for her, yeah, yeah, yeah. Ah, I was made to love her, build my world all around her…

Prof. NEAL: I mean, he's starting really to come to voice in the literal sense of the word in getting a sense of what recording process is like and what the songwriting process is like. And this is really where he's announcing, you know, I'm not a little kid anymore. I'm growing up.

CORLEY: Right. He was big, not little.

Prof. NEAL: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: Well, of course, there was Motown, which was very mainstream. There was also Stax Records, that institution of Memphis R&B, hot-buttered soul. How did these singers and musicians view themselves, and did they kind of work with each other?

Prof. NEAL: You know, as the story goes, I mean, you know, Berry Gordy wanted to sign Aretha at some point in the early '60s, when she signed with Columbia. I mean, she's from Detroit, I mean…


Prof. NEAL: …it seems like it would have been a logical connection there. And I think unfairly we often compare Motown to Stax as, you know, one being more authentic than the other. But, you know, when talking about Motown, I mean, the bottom line is that, you know, Berry Gordy's model for Motown was the automobile assembly line. There was a regular process in which, you know, the songwriters would compete to write the songs. The producers would compete to produce the artists. They would all sit there in quality control. I mean, it's very much a controlled environment, much the way that we think about the assembly line.

I think when you think about Stax, you think of it as so much more of an organic process. You know, folks sitting around and making music and trying to come up with something that will work. And in the case of Aretha, I mean, I think, you know, the great thing about when she signed with Atlantic, I mean, Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun are very clear that they want something very special with her. And Wexler decides, you know, we want a particular kind of sound. So let's pack Aretha up with her entourage and take her down the Muscle Shoals and connect her with these, you know, quote-unquote, "redneck," you know, musicians, you know, who knew how to play the music.

(Soundbite of song "Baby, I Love You")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Baby, I love you.

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Baby, baby, I love you.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Baby, I need you.

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Baby, baby, I need you.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Baby, I want you.

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Baby, baby, I want you.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Babe, I want you.

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Baby, baby, I want you.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Got to have you, baby.

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) Baby, baby…

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Don't let your neighbors tell you…

(Soundbite of song "All I Need")

THE TEMPTATIONS (Musical Group): (Singing) And darling, all I need is just to hear you…

CORLEY: Well, the Temptations also had a big hit in the summer of 1967. So Mark, take us through this, please. Why was it important for Gordy to have such a polished sound? And what did that say about black identity at that time, if anything at all?

Prof. NEAL: Berry Gordy was always clear. I mean, when you go back to those Motown Records and the little, you know, phrase that's on all of those records is sound of young America. You know, he was very clear that he was packaging black pop music for a broader American young pop audience. I mean, literally, the way that he calibrates the sound, you know, just thinking about how this music is going to sound in someone's car radio. You know, all of the artists went through this charm school process.

CORLEY: Right.

Prof. NEAL: And it was very much about, you know, presenting blackness into the public sphere, but in a way that was very much controlled and glamorous.

CORLEY: So that was all about business then?

Prof. NEAL: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, you could really think about Motown as, you know, more than anything being kind of a business model for how black folks were going to integrate into the larger society.

CORLEY: All right. Well, we're speaking with Mark Anthony Neal, professor of pop culture at Duke University.

We went all through that summer with artists like Wilson Pickett, who was neck and neck on the charts with The Temptations and Stevie Wonder and other Motown artists, though all with a totally different sound.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WILSON PICKETT (Singer): (Singing) I'm as happy as a man can be. I'm in love.

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) Love, love.

Mr. PICKETT: (Singing) I'm in love. I'm in love.

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing) Love, love.

Mr. PICKETT: (Singing) I'm in love.

CORLEY: Now, this was an Atlantic recording in a big East Coast label, but the musicians used here came from the Gulf Coast, is that right?

Prof. NEAL: Again, Southern musicians, again, you know, packaging a, quote-unquote, "northern soul sound." You know, the Wicked Wilson Pickett, you know, was at his peak at this point in time, right. And for Wilson Pickett, I mean, it was a range thing; it was Southern soul music but also like Otis Redding. It really was a very pronounced, public, black masculinity. You know, in some ways, this generation of soul singers are, in some ways, the first generation of black men who could be popular by being black men, and not having to tone down, you know, their persona in any way to be successful.

CORLEY: Well, last week, you talked with Michel about how the political upheaval of that summer bled into this music, and how Aretha Franklin's "Respect," for instance, is really a protest song. But not all the big R&B hits were about rebellion or rising up, were they?

Prof. NEAL: No, not at all. I mean, you have to think about this, you know, the month of July '67, I mean, are bookended by riots in Newark and then riots in Detroit. And while that stuff is reflected in some of the music and obviously how folks were feeling about the (unintelligible) of the times, the reality is that, you know, most folks are trying to get from day to day. And the value of soul music was that music was the music that they could put on, you know, during their leisure times to go out and dance on Friday and Saturdays; it was the music that allowed them to get from one day to the next. And not all of that music was going to be explicitly political in that sense.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. Well, we're nearly out of time, Mark, but not before we get to an artist who also battled for the top spot on the chart during much of July and August of '67, the Godfather.

(Soundbite of "Cold Sweat")

Mr. JAMES BROWN (Musician): (Singing) I don't care about your past. I just want our love to last…

CORLEY: James Brown. He was also that rare artist who had his own label, is that right?

Prof. NEAL: Absolutely. And very early in his career understood the power of controlling his own music and his own legacy.

(Soundbite of "Cold Sweat")

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) I break out in a cold sweat…

Prof. NEAL: The thing that's so great about "Cold Sweat," you know, which is his breakthrough song, you know, in the summer of 1967, is that because James Brown toured all the time, you can almost make the argument that James Brown didn't represent a regional sound but very much a national sound.

I mean, he was on the road 300 times a year. And when you hear this period of time from, like, 1967 to 1972 beginning with "Cold Sweat," you could make the argument that there never was a black artist that was as in sync with the black community. I mean, literally, he's shaking their hands and they're dancing to his music every night.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. You know, I attended James Brown's funeral, and I have to tell you that people were still jamming to the man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: All right. Well, we will have to end there. Next time, we'll get to some of the surprises from that summer, including some of the white soul singers who popped up on the charts like these guys.

(Soundbite of "Groovin'")

THE YOUNG RASCALS (Musical Group): (Singing) Groovin' on a Sunday afternoon, really…

CORLEY: Mark, thanks so much again for guiding us through the Soul Summer of '67.

Prof. NEAL: Well, thank you again for having me.

CORLEY: Mark Anthony Neal is a professor of pop culture at Duke University, author of "Sounds in the Key of Blackness: A Rhythm and Blues Nation" and other volumes. He was at the studios at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.