I experienced a couple interesting things this weekend which have inspired me to create this piece. I watched a George Clinton interview of recent vintage and I saw Wilbur Hart’s Delfonics.While seemingly unrelated they’re both key to this discussion.
George for his candid takes on the whats and whys of his songwriting as well as a keen sense of knowing what the people want. The Delfonics are virtual poster boys for this discussion and while this isn’t a review of their performance, it was nice seeing and hearing them perform great tunes from their catalogue. It was said performance which reminded me of some of the myriad ‘physical’ components of what’s come to be called Sexy Soul.
To be sure the term Sexy Soul certainly wasn’t something I can remember being invented by any of ‘us’.
It’s said it was an inadvertent marketing move.
Let’s look at the music.
What’s referred to as Sexy Soul only existed for a relatively short time span.
It’s a music associated with who I call ‘Bloomers’ – i.e. black baby boomers. It has all of the proper elements of Black music like R&B chord changes, Gospel vocal inflections, Doo Wop harmonies and even call and response.
What made it stand apart were the lyrics, vocal attack and intricate orchestrations. This period was framed by the heyday of Motown, the gutbucket Soul of Stax/Volt and the emergence of The Philly Sound.
And most importantly it accompanied the birth of Funk.
James Brown, The Meters, Kool and The Gang and Sly and the Family Stone along with a burgeoning Funkadelic were all at their most vicious at this time. It begins around 66-67 or so and is for all intent and purposes over by 1975.
This is not to say there weren’t further attempts at creating the sound but more often those paled in comparison. With the crooners like Eckstine or Jackie Wilson or Wilson Pickett or JB or any of the majority of male R&B singers the music was Soul lounge lizard. Heartbreak hotel, days of wine and roses stuff. Stuff for the old heads.
This was the music for the children of post office or gov’t workers or other neighborhood types.
It’s from back in the day and around the way.
Funk was the musical answer to Civil Rights. It used said newfound ‘rights’ to push, prod, challenge, assert and protest. It’s foil was not just slow dance stuff. This was called the slow jam or slow drag and unlike it’s predecessors it was far more sexual in vibe than actual lyrical
content. Blaxploitation movies were out along with all of the Black Arts Fests mashing up on each other. We needed a break from the ‘blackness’ as well as from ‘the man.’
The slow drag offered all that and more.
The music had visceral imaging created by french horns, lush stain arrangements and key changing swoops and time signature changes. But none of it would disturb one’s ability to grind w/their partner. It was that smooth and the drums always seemed to have a rhythm which matched hip swiveling, leg intertwined subtle humping.
It’s largely attributed to cad type males dressed to foppish excess in frills, lace shirts, matador pants and other ‘affected’ attire. It’s as if someone would intone ‘tally ho’ announcing the hunt. However females such as Barbara Mason. Honey and the Bees, The Emotions, Brenda and The Tabulations, The Fuzz, The Tender Touch, and Creative Express to name a few with female leads held their own nicely.
How Can I Tell My Mom and Dad That I Been Bad, Cmon Back I’m Not Ready To Let You Go, Are You Ready, Dry Your Eyes, The Touch of You. Oh How It Hurts are but some of these titles.
These are very adult adolescent records. Quite oxymoronic I know but remember these kids were possibly the most musically diverse if not sophisticated to ever listen and dance to Black Music. Bloomers are familiar w/everything from Louis Armstrong to Charlie Pride; Oscar Peterson to Billy Preston; Harry Belafonte to Hugh Masekela; Duke to Coltrane; JB to Aretha Franklin and all in between.
It’s major practitioners were groups like The Delfonics, Black Ivory, The Stylistics, Blue Magic, The Intruders, The Moments, The Epsilons and The Ethics. There are many others to be sure. And there were two particular (otherwise crooner types) who’ve made significant contributions to
this genre: Isaac Hayes and Teddy Pendergrass. Both had extended monologues of the type one might hear over scotch and water at a bar in the
hood. They not only had the sexiest slow drags but they’d scold and otherwise rhapsodize about their women and their conquests.
Honorable mention goes to Billy Paul. Me and Mrs. Jones has become the grandaddy of Sexy Soul salaciousness. And a hit to boot.
There’s more to this lil niche of our culture. Maybe you’ll share your thoughts, suggestions or experiences w/ Sexy Soul in the comments section below.