Gospel is a very broad term for a lot of different genres and styles of music.

I really enjoy the "toe-tapping", "black gospel" variant, including songs as

  • "Oh happy day"
  • "I go to the rock"
  • "I can go to God in prayer"

But also the more secular soul songs of Ray Charles:

  • "Swanee river rock"
  • "Ain't that love"

It seems kind of an upbeat happy blues, with a lot of syncopation and call-and-response and specific chords.

How do I search for this type of music? Soul is way to broad, R&B blues and jazz refer to other kinds of music. Gospel and even black gospel are broad and include a lot of slow songs, worship, and pop-style modern songs that I'm not interested in.

Is there a more specific definition for the music style I'm looking for? (preferably a neutral term referring to the style of music itself rather than the contents of the lyrics)

2 Answers 2


Chris Sunami is right-on: soul is the secular continuation of the kind of gospel music you describe, and if you're interested in not being limited to religious music, it's the place to start.

It's true that soul is a broad genre, but as opposed to say, electronic music, it's not something whose fans have delineated into highly specific subgenres. Rather, the styles of soul are often associated with specific labels (Stax, Motown, Atlantic…) or places (Memphis, New Orleans, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia…) Also, some notable soul musicians started their own record labels, or otherwise developed a community of performers whose music is of the same basic style. (For example, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green…) It's also the case that most of the major soul musicians recorded diversely: uptempo and slow music. If you really don't care for the slow stuff, I think you just have to sample around.

This may be a case where, rather than searching for genres, you should read up on the history of the music. Articles and books about soul will relate music you already know you like to music you haven't heard yet. From there, you could start a Pandora or Rdio station that would play you lots of related music. Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music is a great general starting place, especially in line with what you've already indicated you like. It doesn't cover New Orleans or any Northern soul, but what it does it does very well.

Another angle: this was music from a "singles" era, so there are a lot of compilations, some of which will lead you to specific artists you love. I learned a lot about soul from Rhino's Beg, Scream, and Shout— it is a great comprehensive introduction to this music. It's out of print, I see it listed used on Amazon for about $70, which is a fair price for a six disc set. I see that some but not all of the volumes are on the iTunes store and Rdio, so you can sample that way.

Here are some more things you can stream to sample:

Anything like this is hopelessly incomplete, so while it would be fun to go on, I have to stop. Hopefully it's a starting point. Also, referring back to the kind of gospel you described at the beginning, a record which I love but which I can't find streaming is None But the Righteous: Chess Gospel Greats


Finally, while an introductory answer has to focus on the best-known artists, there's a lot of other great stuff to hear, and you don't have to dig as hard for it as people did 10 or 15 years ago. There are great labels reissuing overlooked gems from the 60's and 70's (often with a single-city focus). Check out Numero Group's Eccentric Soul and Good God! series, as well as Now Again and Light in the Attic.

And there are current artists making new music that ought to be heard. Being from Chicago, I'm especially fond of JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound and of course, there are great ladies like Sharon Jones and Bettye Lavette. So don't stop with the dusties...

  • 1
    Thanks a bunch! I also found a series on youtube, search for "The Greatest Gospel Songs of the 40s, 50s, and 60s"
    – Cloud
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 9:26

You're basically looking for a type of music that was born in the late 50's and peaked in the 60's and 70's (recorded primarily by black American musicians of both religious and secular backgrounds) so searching by time period might help (see this example).

Soul is the name of the genre specifically inspired by Ray Charles' secularization of the gospel sound, but as you mentioned, it's a broad category that includes a fair share of slow songs and ballads. I'm not sure there's any single term that would rule out the slower songs, but gospel funk or uptempo soul might be good phrases to try.

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