1967 may be remembered for psychedelic pop and the Summer of Love, but it was also a super-soulful time in chart history, thanks in no small part to Stax Records in general and Sam & Dave in particular.
On 9 September that year, Messrs Moore and Prater continued their run of hits on the esteemed southern soul label with the irresistible Isaac Hayes and David Porter composition and production ‘Soul Man.’ Such was its crossover potential that it entered the Hot 100 that day, at No. 79, a week before it even arrived on the R&B charts. It went on to be a complete smash in both formats.
The spirited performance of the joint lead vocalists was fuelled by the superb support of the MGs, minus their leader Booker T at this point as he was away at college. ‘Soul Man’ went on to top the R&B listings for an extraordinary seven weeks, from mid-October to the beginning of December, and spent three weeks at No. 2 pop, held off the top only by Lulu‘s film theme ‘To Sir With Love.’
“I got the idea from watching on TV the riots in Detroit,” Hayes later told National Public Radio. “It was said that if you put ‘soul’ on the door of your business establishment, they wouldn’t burn it. Then the word ‘soul,’ it was a galvanising kind of thing for African Americans, and it had an effect of unity, it was said with a lot of pride.
“So I thought, ‘Why not write a tune called ‘Soul Man.’ And all you had to do was write about your personal experiences, because all African Americans in this country at the time had similar experiences.”
Half a century on, the song continues to reinforce its place in the pantheon of R&B music. In September 2017, Sam Moore was part of the remarkable Stax Records concert that took place as part of the BBC Proms season at London’s Royal Albert Hall, where ‘Soul Men’ rang around the hallowed hall with all of its power intact.
‘Soul Man’ is on Soulsville U.S.A.: A Celebration of Stax, which can be bought here.
Follow the Greatest Soul 45s playlist.