American Bandstand may have been first to air, but once it premiered Soul Train soon became the indisputable American cultural institution of soul music. And no disrespect to Dick Clark, but now that the Best of Soul Train has finally arrived on DVD (for the show’s 40th anniversary) this is the televised music collection to own.
What stands out most prominently when watching any of the three discs in this package is that the glory years of R&B and Soul that Soul Train highlighted, pre-MTV era (1971-1980), was not just your parents’ music. Nor was it just the infectious soundtrack of a generation. These sounds actually provided the blueprint and foundation for all popular black music today. And Soul Train as a series was indeed as creator and original host Don Cornelius put it, “the hippest trip in America.”
And now finally, after getting morsels of classic Soul Train snippets in movies over the years ( Spike Lee’s Crooklyn) and in documentaries (most recently VH1’s Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America), the eight-hour Best of Soul Train DVD collection, in stores now, features 50 performances from some of the genre’s most legendary artists including Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, The O’Jays, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Sly & The Family Stone and The Jackson Five.
Also featured on these discs are the eternally funkiest movers on the planet—the Soul Train Dancers and the Soul Train Line, a tradition still upheld at any family or professional gathering coast to coast featuring music. [And Soul Train Dancer trivia alert: see if you can spot ex-Shalimar member Jody Watley, Breakin’s Aldolfo ‘Shabba Doo’ Quinones and actor Darnell Williams (All My Children‘s Jesse Hubbard) in this volume.] Even the advertisements in this collection are classic; vintage commercials from Ultra Sheen and Afro Sheen products are here and yes, that hilarious spot with Frederick Douglass urging a young blood to get his afro in check is also included. Plus there is three hours of bonus interview footage with Cornelius, Watley, Smokey Robinson and more.
A highlight in the parade of artists featured in this collection is the live performance (no lip sync people) of hip hop’s glory years (1987-1991) most sampled artist, Soul Brother #1, The Godfather of Soul himself, Mr. James Brown. JB treated the Soul Train audience to a mini-concert of his greatest hits, including Get On the Good Foot, Try Me, Get Up I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine. And during the final jam, (featured in the classic clip below) Brown made Super Bad so funky that even Soul Train dancer Damita Jo Freeman couldn’t stay off the stage. (It’s the Godfather’s showcase but Ms. Freeman’s definitely stole some of his show) So trust me when I say this DVD is a keeper for your home collection, you dig? Love, peace and soul forever. —Ronke Idowu Reeves
Clip courtesy of Soul Train Holdings: