St. Paul & The Broken Bones aren't the first artists to be saddled with the "blue-eyed soul" label. Ever since Elvis answered Sam Phillips' mercenary prayer for a "white man who had the Negro sound," the idea has been met with some degree of suspicion.
Yet from a purely musical perspective, the ethnicity of an artist remains secondary to what he or she creates. Here, as evidence, are 10 records — spanning half a century — that remain essential listening for any soul music fan, blue-eyed or otherwise.
Dusty Springfield, "Anyone Who Had a Heart" (1964)
Like Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield showed what a compellingly soulful performance can do for Burt Bacharach's sophisticated pop tunes. By the time the 24-year-old English singer reaches her mournful "What am I to do?" at the end of the first chorus, your heart and soul ache right along with her.
R. Dean Taylor, "There's a Ghost in My House" (1967)
Canadian singer Taylor remains best known for "Indiana Wants Me," a pop hit that gave little indication of his behind-the-scenes role at Motown Records. The hauntingly catchy "Ghost in My House," which he co-wrote with Holland-Dozier-Holland, might have been lost to history had it not been adopted by the U.K.'s Northern Soul movement.
Hall & Oates, "She's Gone" (1974)
Daryl Hall and John Oates' early homage to the Philly Sound stood out from the more singer-songwriterly material on their Abandoned Luncheonette album, with Hall's sublimely melismatic lead vocals conveying an emotional resonance that American Idol contestants can only dream about.
David Bowie, "Win" (1975)
Following his chameleonic transition from '60s singer-songwriter to '70s glam-rock icon, David Bowie ventured into what he dryly described as "plastic soul." Recorded in Philadelphia with Luther Vandross on backing vocals, this track from his Young Americans album sounds like anything but.
James White & the Blacks, "Contort Yourself" (1979)
Unless you're a born soulman like Charles Bradley, following in James Brown's footsteps is an exercise in hubris that's bound for failure. Unless, of course, you filter the godfather of funk's sound through an avant-junkie aesthetic that made the sax-wielding James White a legend in New York's punk scene.
Squeeze, "Black Coffee in Bed" (1982)
Because British '80s New Wavers had soul too. At least some of them.
Eddie Hinton, "Very Blue Highway" (1993)
Like R. Dean Taylor, Eddie Hinton was something of an ethnic anomaly. One of the few white singer-songwriters to emerge from the Muscle Shoals scene, he started as a session musician who also wrote enduring classics like Dusty Springfield's "Breakfast in Bed," before going on to release a half-dozen critically adored albums of his own.
Al Kooper, "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" (1995)
When Donny Hathaway was recording his version of Al Kooper's "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know," Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun expressed concern about the line "I could be president of General Motors." "Al," he insisted, "a black man could never be president of General Motors." Kooper changed the line to "I could be king of everything," and Hathaway's smooth soul record found crossover success on both the pop and R&B charts. Two decades later, Kooper recorded what's arguably the definitive version on his live Soul of a Man album, complete with stunning horn arrangements and a much more intense vocal. Plus, Kooper's laugh right after he sings the original General Motors line is priceless.
Duffy, "Rockferry" (2007)
The title track of Amie Duffy's debut album positioned the Welsh artist as the 21st-century reincarnation of Dusty Springfield and, alongside Adele, a likely successor to the Amy Winehouse throne. After parting ways with original producer Bernard Butler, she proved unable to fulfill the potential of this sadly soulful breakthrough.
Fitz & the Tantrums, "Breakin' the Chains of Love" (2009)
This first and best single from Fitz and company showcased a surprisingly refreshing mix of New Wave and Northern Soul. The L.A. neo-soul outfit has since drowned in its own '80s influences, but may yet get back on track. Stranger things have happened.
Leave a comment to tell us which ones we missed.
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