Soul is a music genre born in the United States in the late 1950s and thrived in the 1960s, combining elements of African American Gospel, R&B, and often Jazz, later influencing Rock & Roll, Funk, Disco, Hip Hop and just about every genre to follow it.
When I first came up with the idea to make a play list of Soul/R&B love songs from the 1960s, I thought it would be a fun little project, but once I started the project – although fun – it was far from little.
So many songs that I thought were love songs took unexpected detours. As I began pulling tunes, titles were often misleading. Listening to song after song, I found lyrics taking turns like “I love you… but”. Finding songs without the “but” was somewhat challenging.
The twelve tunes I finally settled on here have no ifs or buts. Some soft, some hard, some flirty and some sexy, but all filled with good lovin’.
“(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” by Jackie Wilson
There is so much love in this Jackie Wilson classic that – along with some ectoplasm – it brought the Statue of Liberty to life to battle the forces of evil in the movie Ghostbusters II. In 1967, this most uplifting of soulful (and Gospelly)love songs reached #6 on the Pop charts, and #1 on the R&B charts.
“Something You Got” by Wilson Pickett
This 1966 funky number was never released as a single, and therefore never charted. It was the second song on Pickett’s second album. Regardless, it’s a priceless, and Atlantic Records ‘Wicked’ Wilson Pickett breathes funky loving soul into this uncharted and little-known gem.
“I Say A Little Prayer” by Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin took this Burt Bacharach tune to #3 on the R&B and #10 on the Pop charts in 1968. Dionne Warwick released it a year earlier with better results on the Pop charts and lesser on the R&B, and although both versions are outstanding, this one little question as to why Aretha is the Queen of Soul.
“I Need Your Loving” by Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford
Philadelphia duo Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford crank the soulful loving on this1962 #4 R&B hit (#20 Pop). One of the bluesier jams on this list, the repeated lyric “I need your loving every day” brings its message home loud and clear.
“Hold On! I’m Comin’” by Sam & Dave
This was the first Pop Top 40 hit for Stax recording artists Sam & Dave in 1966, coming in at #21, while reaching #1 on the R&B charts. Due to initial objections by radio station over the suggestive title, it was re-released as “Hold On, I’m A-Comin’”. Perhaps one of the most danceable tracks on this list, whatever the title, this one makes you want to move your feet.
“Nothing Can Change This Love” by Sam Cooke
Written and recorded by the great Sam Cooke, considered by many to be the architect of Soul music. The title of this track reflects the sentiment of this soulful 1962 ballad, which reached the Top 20 in both the Pop and R&B charts. Sam Cooke touches a tender nerve with this beautiful love song as only he can. Easily the most romantic of slow jams on this list.
“B-A-B-Y” by Carla Thomas
One of the more light and playful love songs on this list, B-A-B-Y is downright flirtatious and sexy, while retaining a soulful groove. This 1966 single went Gold for Carla Thomas, respectively reaching #14 on the Pop and # 3 on the R&B charts.
“Stand By Me” by Ben E. King
A timeless classic from former Drifters lead singer Ben E. King, this tune reached #1 on the R&B charts in 1961, but reached the Pop Top 10 twice; first in 1961, and again in 1986 as the title track to the movie “Stand By Me”. This soul classic is Carolina beach music at its best.
“I Thank You” by Sam & Dave
Sam & Dave’s second entry on this list “I Thank You” was a Top 10 hit on both the R&B and Pop charts in 1968, and their last appearance on the Pop charts altogether. Soulful and upbeat, this fun tune describes an express gratitude for love.
“When A Man Loves A Woman” by Percy Sledge
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin
Two tunes I’ve always sort of lumped together, Percy’s from 1966 was a #1, while Aretha’s a #8 (#2 R&B) from 1967. Chart positions aside, these songs almost mirror the sentiment of love, respectively from the male and female perspective. Both Soul super-hits, these are more gender-specific than others on this list. Additionally, both are slow and romantic ballads.
“At Last” by Etta James
Slow song of slow songs, love song of love songs, soulful of soul songs, Etta James classic “At Last” needs little introduction. As iconic as this 1961 tune may be, it never even made it to the Pop Top 40, although it did reach #2 on the R&B chart. “At Last” was written in 1941, originally recorded by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, but it is the Etta James version that has reigns supreme.
The upside to the project was that I got to brush-up on a lot of Soul and R&B tunes… a whole lot. Listening to talented greats like Otis Redding (who didn’t actually make the cut), Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke and looking for the songs that hit the ‘sweet spot’ was actually pretty fun. Listening, checking the lyrics, and finally clearing a dozen songs that conveyed love. So what that it took me over a week right?
All great for any excuse to express love. A romantic dinner, a wedding reception, or just because you’re in love.
Love the love…
Post Script: Although the tunes on this list were released on a variety of labels – Stax and Atlantic being the predominant ones – I intentionally omitted the Motown catalog from this list, which had enough love songs in it to warrant its own list.
Post Post Script: In regard to the great and talented Otis Redding, if anyone reading this can suggest one of his tunes for this list, feel free to let me know in the comment section.
Sources: The Billboard Book of Top 40 [Pop] Hits and The Billboard Book of Top 40 R&B Hits by Joel Whitburn and Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits by Fred Bronson.