Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Life should just be a nonstop Soul Train line

Don Cornelius (1936-2012)
Though it stopped airing in first-run syndication in 2006, Soul Train, whose influential creator and longtime host Don Cornelius died earlier today, will never stop rolling, thanks to YouTube.

The news of Cornelius' death made me go look up clips of Soul Train lines on YouTube. Goddamn, there are so many clips. No wonder Spike Lee concluded his bittersweet 1994 coming-of-age film Crooklyn with a montage of vintage Soul Train line clips. The fly dance moves in those clips can really cheer you up when you're down. (You can also trace the history of African American dance and fashion in those clips.)

I usually avoid posting several YouTube videos at once because I never know when one of them is going to be removed from the site, and then your post looks stupid when it's left with this rotting carcass of a dead embed. Below are several of my favorite Soul Train clips that I've run into today, and they're presented in chronological order, from the '70s to the '90s. Many of these videos have been on YouTube for awhile, so hopefully, there won't be one that will vanish.

Interspersed between the clips are two of the show's various original themes. Those two chunes are the Soul Train themes I remember the most from my childhood: O'Bryan's "Soul Train's a Comin'" and George Duke's "TSOP '87," a cover of a previous Soul Train theme, MFSB's "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)."

The Soul Train dancers get down to Curtis Mayfield's "Get Down," so that means this clip comes from the show's first season in syndication (1971-72).

In 1972, special guest Stevie Wonder made up a song on the spot about Soul Train. He would have been an awesome in-house musician on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

There's video footage of Wonder's "Soul Train" song on YouTube, but too bad it's attached to Wonder's lip-synched performance of "Superstition." If there's one thing I dislike about Soul Train, it's Cornelius' Dick Clark-style requirement that the musical guests had to lip-synch their tracks (as I've said before, lip-synching on a music show looks so dumb). But Cornelius allowed Wonder to break that rule for this one number that's more genuine and exhilarating than most Soul Train performances simply because it's sung live and improvised.

New York magazine's Nitsuh Abebe called Wonder's improvised number "One of the warmest moments I've ever seen on television... it'd make as beautiful a eulogy [for Cornelius] as anyone could ask for."

The track during this Soul Train line is Earth, Wind & Fire's "Mighty Mighty," which places this clip in 1974. Hey, guy in the Afro and gray tux at 1:35, duck!

During this Soul Train line to The O'Jays' 1975 hit "I Love Music," YouTube commenters claim that they can see Jody Watley, who started out as a regular Soul Train dancer, at 0:17 and President Obama at 2:17.

Electronic R&B from the '80s rules. O'Bryan's "Soul Train's a Comin'" is my favorite of the many original themes that opened Soul Train.

Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" places this clip in 1983, which was when the "P.Y.T." single dropped. YouTube is full of footage of dancing traffic cops, both male and female. I'm still waiting to see a dancing female traffic cop who's brave enough to do 0:10 and 0:13.

George Duke of "Reach for It" fame covered "TSOP" for the late '80s/early '90s Soul Train theme.

Like Jody Watley, Rosie Perez started out as a regular Soul Train dancer. The track that Perez is grooving to is Jesse Johnson's "She I (Can't Resist)," so that places this clip in 1987.

"Welcome to the new jack era, Soul Train!," exclaims Karyn White's 1988 track "Secret Rendezvous." Speaking of keeping things secret, hey, Keith Carradine, maybe you should have left the Soy Bomb-style seizure at home (1:55).

The booty dancing and Brownstone's "Pass the Lovin'" both place this clip in 199... Aw, who cares? She's bangin'!

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