It's been said that the devil has all the best tunes.This simply ain't so.As Elvis acknowledged in his '68 comeback special all the best music has its roots in gospel and rhythm and blues.The songs on this album are closer than most to those roots, documenting the human rights struggles in America during the late '60's and early 70's.Whilst the 23 songs can only form a small part of these turbulant times they do show the wide range of styles employed by artists to put their message across.From the economic struggles of "When Will We Be Paid " to the social realities of "The Ghetto", from the vengeful "The Prayer" to the hopeful "Someday We'll All Be Free", from the harsh tale of what happened to "George Jackson" to the strong, despite all the deprivations and degredations, truimphant cry of "Free At Last", from the mocking humour of "Forty Acres and a Mule" to the sarcastic commentary of "The Revolution ...", from the fragile beauty of "Cryin' In The Streets" to the sheer force of "I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing" (in which the mighty James Brown doesn't so much as ask for the door of equality to be open as employ a battering ram on it!) all these songs show how important music can be when used as a force for change.They form an articulate and moving history of a struggle which still resonates today.In "We Are Neighbours" the Chi-Lites sing how "The Truth is the Light" because along with the rest of the artists on this disc they knew the rights to which they aspired and demanded could not and would not be denied.The devil doesn't have an answer to match these songs.To go back to Elvis he ended the '68 Comeback Special with "If I Can Dream" a song which wouldn't have been out of place here because to me it don't matter about the colour of your skin when it comes to appreciate and identify with the emotions and the struggles contained on this record.All you have to do is be able to listen.
I can only echo the sleeve notes to this excellent album. I am a white middle aged man, who grew up in the era from which this music was taken. The struggle, to which this provided the soundtrack, happened in an environment in which the colour of your skin defined the world you were permitted to inhabit. I hope that the fact that I have no real comprehension of what that must be like does not weaken my viewpoint that this is music which needs to be heard and its origins understood by all.
What you have in this compilation, is the angry voice of Black people in America - the Civil Rights agenda set to music. And what music. Many people have tried to define Soul, but for me if you want Soul, then look no further than this album. Artist after artist give vent to their frustrations and in doing so produce something beyond the norm.
The compilation moves in almost chronological sequence, and in doing so, shows how Sam Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come" signalled a shift in mood. Previous "protest" songs had been heavily cloaked, but now things began to get explicit, and a series of major Black artists recorded lyrics which gave full vent to their commuinities frustrations - Curtis on "We're A Winner" (and many more), JB espousing his self-determination philosophy, and Donny Hathaway, whose mellow and positive track became an anthem.
The lesser known artists on show here, perhaps, had less commercial concern, and it is their tracks which display some of the explicit anger at the plight of Black people. Try "The Prayer" by Ray Scott, which shows where Rap might have originated, or "Stay With Your Own Kind" by Patrice Holloway - the latter an almost Northern Soul track, with a scorching message. And then there is the Gil Scott-Heron, who, with "The Revolution...." laid down an agenda which was as compelling as it was uncompromising.