Our Top 10 Songs By Underrated Soul Legends

Great soul songs conjure hazy images of smoke-filled clubs, sweaty suit-and-tied horn sections shuffling through dodgy choreography, and singers so viscerally passionate you're afraid for their blood pressure. While groups like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings have revived the genre, dusty stacks of record store vinyl (and the web) still contain more than six decades of emotional, evocative, energizing soul songs that have been all but ignored since the dawn of disco. These tracks are just a sample of artists that never got the attention they deserved, or were quickly forgotten after a moment in the spotlight.


Marva Whitney, “Unwind Yourself”
It's My Thing (1969)

Ironically, samples of Marva Whitney's “Unwind Yourself” have been 'unwound' by other artists so often that the song has its own reference page. Whitney was a featured vocalist in the James Brown Revue, and It's My Thing was produced by Brown and backed by his touring band, the JB's. It's My Thing is a fantastic James Brown record in disguise, featuring a female vocal arguably greater than the Godfather himself.

Charles Bradley, “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)”
Live KEXP Performance (2011)

Charles Bradley is the ultimate late bloomer–his first record, titled No Time For Dreaming (Daptone), was released in 2011 when Bradley was 62 years old. A small-time club performer for years, Bradley and his backing band The Extraordinaires performed at the Doheny Blues festival in Dana Point this weekend and will tour the world through early 2015.


Betty Davis, “Anti-Love Song”
Betty Davis (1973)

Betty Davis took her last name from a short-lived marriage to a jazz trumpeter named Miles, who described her in his 1989 autobiography: “If Betty were singing today she'd be something like Madonna, something like Prince … she was the beginning of all that when she was singing as Betty Davis.” More funk than soul, “Anti-Love Song” is one of Davis's rare slow jams, and her charisma remains terrifying.

Lee Fields, “I'm The Man”
Problems, 2002

Lee Fields appeared in the denouement of soul's heyday with 1979's Let's Talk it Over, and earned the moniker “Little J.B.” for similarities to James Brown's vocal and musical style. Fields has expanded his repertoire in the four decades since, and continues to tour and record songs like “I'm The Man”–during which he reminds listeners again that he is not, in fact, James Brown. Fields' new record, Emma Jean, comes out on Brooklyn-based Truth & Soul records on June 3.


Baby Washington, “Only Those in Love”
Single, (1965)

Though she lacks the diva notoriety of Aretha Franklin or Etta James, Justine 'Baby' Washington deserves just as much respect. As a solo singer, Washington had more than a dozen R&B chart entries from 1959 to 1973, including “Only Those in Love,” which was a Top 10 hit in 1965.

James Carr, “A Losing Game”
You Got My Mind Messed Up (1967)

James Carr lives at the R&B/gospel end of the soul spectrum, but the raspy emotion that he wrings from songs like “A Losing Game” makes up for any shortage in tempo. Often compared to Otis Redding, Carr suffered from bipolar disorder and released just two albums in the '60s.


Lyn Collins, “Take Me Just As I Am”
Check Me Out If You Don't Know Me By Now (1975)

Another of James Brown's 'Soul Sisters,' Lyn Collins was known as “The Female Preacher” for her imposing, no-nonsense style. If only church music sounded more like this.

Arthur Conley, “I'm A Lonely Stranger”
Sweet Soul Music (1967)

Arthur Conley's star time was brief, but bright – he wrote the title track to “Sweet Soul Music” with Otis Redding, which reached #2 on U.S. charts and sold more than one million copies. Subsequent releases were unsuccessful and Conley relocated to Europe in the 1970s, performing sporadically before succumbing to cancer in 2003.


Vicki Anderson, “Super Good”
Message From A Soul Sister compilation, (1992)

Vicki Anderson was on and off with the James Brown Revue for nearly a decade, both before and after Marva Whitney's tenure and prior to Lyn Collins' term. Many of Anderson's solo tracks replied to Brown's signature songs, including “Answer to Mother Popcorn” and “Super Good,” a reference to James Brown's “Superbad,” which is somehow also responsible for the career of Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

Darondo, “Let My People Go”
Let My People Go, 2006 (reissue)

Bay Area-based William “Darondo” Pulliam made smooth, street-savvy funk and soul in the early 1970s before disappearing from the music scene for most of three decades. A quiet Darondo revival began when a cover of his song “Didn't I” appeared in an episode of “Breaking Bad,” and other tracks were included in compilations and films.

See also:
10 Jazz Albums to Listen to Before You Die

Top Five Soul-Jazz Organists

John Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme': The Story Behind the Album

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