You know everybody’s got their own way of doing anything, like you take this particular song for instance, it’s been done by many but I gotta do it my way…
(Bobby Womack’s spoken intro to his 1971 cover of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain’)
Back in the ’70s, long before that thing called streaming existed, the primary ways to hear the latest pop music were by watching TV variety shows, hanging out at the record store or by tuning into the most powerful pop music purveyor of them all, the AM radio.
And so because there were a limited number of places and airtime hours available to hear the latest pop music, people were generally exposed to a very specific bunch of songs at a time, as determined by whoever was programming all the aforementioned outlets. This meant that both younger and older generations were ultimately acquainted with the same hits. In other words, the pop Top 40 consisted of songs everybody knew regardless of their age, ethnicity or gender (a mad phenomenon we shall never ever know again).
This inevitably resulted in some existential and horrifying musical dilemmas wherein you and your parents could potentially end up liking the same song. Case in point, I loved Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, but so did my freakin’ Mom and that was 100% unacceptable. Speaking of which…
There were a whole lotta sensitive white boy singer-songwriters and easy listening hippie chicks in the charts in the ’70s. The sound they made was collectively referred to as MOR aka middle of the road better known these days as Soft Rock. To further clarify, The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Neil Young rocked. James Taylor, Bread and America soft rocked. MOR songs were all crazy in love with everything the universe offered, most especially ladies, summer, horses and Chevy vans.
Of course at the end of the day it really didn’t matter whether a song was technically soul, country, rock or its aforementioned soft subdivision because once a song hit the Top 40 in the ’70s world, it fell into one singular category: it was a pop song.
Lady + Horse + Summer = ’70s MOR Pop Music…
And of course artists were listening too so it was inevitable that some of these ubiquitous Soft Rock songs were going to get covered. And so began a small sub-trend wherein traditional Soul artists started covering Top 40 tracks by these MOR artists and molding them into R & B songs. These covers were rarely if ever straight copies of the originals, in fact it was pretty common for arrangements to be tweaked and lyrics to be altered. And of course if you were an artist of the masculine lover man variety it was mandatory to offer a little preamble at the beginning of the song because girl, there’s something you need to understand.
🔥 Welcome to the PuR Soul in the Middle of the Road Playlist featuring the best Soul covers of MOR-Soft Rock hits from the ’70s that were also recorded in the ’70s ( and a couple from the very early ’80s) 🔥
Sometimes weird, occasionally messy, often wonderful and in more than a few cases straight up better than the originals that inspired them. The jasmine’s in bloom…
*And yes, while Nina Simone is a Jazz artist, her version of “Alone Again Naturally” has to be heard to be believed.
Listen Here ! :
*And hey one last thing ! : There are a couple of tracks I wanted to include in the playlist that are not available on Spotify. One is only available on CD as of this writing and the other you can hear below on YouTube !
Carla Thomas: In 2013 a cd featuring previously unissued music from recording sessions Thomas did back in 1970 with legendary producer Chips Moman was released. There are a bunch of covers on it including an absolutely smokin’ version of James Taylor’s “Country Road”. Unfortunately it’s neither on YouTube or the streaming services as of this writing but it’s worth picking up the actual cd, which is basically a soul version of Dusty Springfield’s classic “Dusty in Memphis” album (if only it had been released at the time, sigh).
Lea Roberts: Listen as Neil Sedaka’s 1975 # 1 soft rock classic is given a super soul injection by Roberts.
The cover of ‘Summer Breeze is killing me! I love it. Thank you for this list!
Ha, glad you like it ! Ain’t that Summer Breeze the best 🙂 ?
Love this post and subject!! Al Green saved me through this Pandemic and I even though it’s not so soft, I love his cover of Light My Fire, and of course it includes a talking intro.