The Gospel: Is The 21st Century In Need Of a 'Soul Train' Revival?

Monday, February 8, 2010

If you were by a TV set last Saturday, you might have gotten a chance to expose your peepers to VH1's Rock Docs special about the 40 year retrospective of the popular music showcase, Soul Train. The Train rode, rocked and reeled for 35 seasons, beginning in 1971 and ending in 2006, and saw the evolving nature of soul music, from late 70's disco, into the electronic 80's and then into the Hip-Hop lane merge of the 90's. Not to mention showed Black culture in a positive fashion to a mass audience. The show made stars such as Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye bigger, and introduced us to the likes of Teena Marie and Rufus & Chaka Khan. In short, an ever-revolving door of musical acts got their big break on the show and went on to make music history. The impact of Soul Train proved to pump the music market more than one probably thought, and nothing like the show, which spawned dances like the Backslide (aka The Moonwalk), fashion and gave us the party staple, the "Soul Train Line", has ever come to light ever again. Sure we can probably view shows like MTV's TRL as being a grandchild of the show with the addition of music videos, but Soul Train was in a class of its own.

There have been rumors swirling about of the show getting a revival for the 21st Century, not only in a movie format and DVD's of vintage episodes, but all new episodes showcasing the musicians of now. While it sounds like a pretty energetic idea, I had a conversation with my father (aka Audio Dad) about if it is indeed a good idea to bring back Soul Train with an all new format, and my father was strongly against them reviving the show. Like civil music nerds, we verbally duked it out, and in some ways I see where he is coming from. Then again, I also can see if the show was revived for a new generation how it could change how we consume music....

In the beginning, Soul Train was an outlet to give Black musicians a spotlight for their talents when White music programs like American Bandstand weren't allowing them on the show. Soul Train evolved into a phenomenon into the mid-70's on that basis alone. Now that music, in a sense, is more integrated and most R&B acts have "crossed over" into the Pop market, the "new" Soul Train probably won't be as much of an cultural and social impact like it was back in the 70's and 80's. This was the argument my father had, and it does make sense. He also said that there isn't much emphasis on dance music these days. Part in part he's right because we don't have "dances with names" (i.e."Tootise Roll") that provoked a dance craze. Pop enthusiasts might disagree as acts like Lady GaGa have kind of brought back that sensibility to shake the groove thang, but in part, dances aren't commercialized like they used to be.

Yet on the optimistic flip side, if Soul Train was revived maybe, just maybe, it could save how music is consumed by the public. If you're a music enthusiast like I, you know that the music industry is wobbling on eroded earth at this point with inconsistency, shoddy promotion from record labels and mediocrity. 

The Internet has also become more sophisticated since Soul Train dropped off the air in 2006, and the Internet has vastly changed the way that music is distributed and consumed by listeners. Buying albums isn't the constant as downloading has taken the place of that. The rise of the "independent artist" and the "smaller label" is also present, and how a lot of artists are abandoning traditional promotional methods to get their music heard. It's a truly different world how music is distributed and discovered, and bringing Soul Train back to the broadcast might change that.

I'm thinking if they revived the show that we get to see more underground artists or lesser publicized acts. Imagine if Brittany Bosco, The Foreign Exchange, Paloma Faith, J*Davey or Eric Roberson were featured on the show? Would they become less of a smaller venue act? Would they get more exposure by being on a show like Soul Train? Would those artists being on a revised Soul Train change radio and what music is played on it? And what about the waning music channels, would they get a boost with this type of programming?

Then we also have think, would these independent/lesser known artists avoid being on the program all together, just because they want to not commercialize their sound? Who knows, and it really depends on the artists who participate and how the show will be executed. 

Maybe I'm putting the cart before the horse and getting ahead of the plans that Soul Train have for rekindling interest in the show, because they may not even revive the show as I'm basing this lengthy word spill on a damn rumor. Yet, to curb my boredom I like thinking about the "what if" aspect of this. So since having a conversation with someone who actually experience the real legacy that was Soul Train (thanks Dad!), it was interesting to note if indeed Soul Train could be replicated again for new eyes and ears.

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