: Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) Movie Soundtrack Album Review
Coming to the end of a decade that has seen great advances in civil rights as well as ugly resistance to those advances, the festival showcased the many ways pop music could confront political and social realities. It is music filled with optimism and joy, but also with anger and urgency. Most of these artists capture all of these emotions at once, especially Simone. Questlove uses its setting as the climax of the documentary, and it’s not hard to see why: it distills so many ideas from the film into its three songs, especially “To Be Young, Gifted & Black” and “Are You Ready “. The latter, which closes the film and the soundtrack, is a pointed recitation of a poem by David Nelson from The Last Poets, with Simone almost pointing at the audience: “Are you ready? Are you really ready? Her performance acknowledges the struggles that await them in the new decade, but also highlights the power of their shared heritage and community to overcome anything America might throw at them. “Are you ready to smash things and burn buildings?” she asks, barely a year after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
King’s death looms large in the proceedings, although he is only mentioned a few times. Reverend Jesse Jackson presents “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” as a memorial to the slain leader, and it becomes a showcase for Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson. Their unrehearsed performance is one of the documentary’s finest moments, though the loss of visuals – the close-ups of their faces, the ecstatic quality of Staples’ jumps – robs the soundtrack version of some of its Powerful. It’s a passing of the torch that Staples would carry in the 1970s, but it’s also a glorious impromptu church service, with each singer pushing the other to new heights and taking the audience with them.
The summer of 1969 has become a focal point of White Boomer nostalgia, as events that don’t quite fit that narrative have been twisted or ignored altogether. Woodstock in particular becomes a touchstone for the Harlem Cultural Festival, and Questlove even invokes that event in the film’s first title card. The only overlap between these two festival lineups was Sly and the Family Stone, which obliterated audiences in Harlem just as they obliterated audiences at Yasgur Farm. They get two songs on the soundtrack, both funky in a way that speaks of indescribable joy while acknowledging the misery of the late 1960s. Distortion and PA feedback add some visceral aural violence to “Everyday People”.
Some of this footage was shown on television in 1969, but most of the tapes were tucked away in producer Hal Tulchin’s basement, unseen and largely forgotten. It was never truly “lost,” but it might as well have been, given how deeply other aspects of the era were packaged and repackaged. But the music speaks as loudly and as powerfully today as it did then. It’s alarming how many of the issues cited by artists and broadcasters persist today — police brutality, systemic racism, poverty, cultural erasure — but it makes the music feel fresh, alive, relevant in its celebration and commiseration. Both the film and the soundtrack carry this weight of history with grace and jubilation.
To buy: Gross Trade
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