This week in 1970, a television show debuted that became a ritual for some, an aspiration for others. Long before Saturday Night Live, Midnight Special (which also had its debut this week) or MTV, Soul Train brought a legion of performers to the small screen, most of them for the first time, as it tracked black popular music from the last days of the Motown era through funk, disco, hip-hop, New Jack Swing, neo-soul and beyond.
Soul Train was so successful even American Bandstand's Dick Clark tried to shuck some of creator Don Cornelius' mojo by creating his own series, Soul Unlimited, which lasted all of two months. Besides the choice musical guests - James Brown, Aretha Franklin, the Jackson 5, Gladys Knight, Curtis Mayfield and the O'Jays all made frequent appearances - Soul Train was the place to go to learn about all the latest dance moves and fashion trends for black and white kids alike. Personally, the show funked up many a Friendswood Saturday afternoon for Rocks Off via Channel 39.
Cornelius stepped down as conductor of Soul Train in 1993 but continued as executive producer, and the show finally went off the air in 2006. It lives on as an entertaining and elaborate Web site, annual awards show and one of the most enduring brands in pop-culture history. Jerry Butler, The Impressions, The Chi-Lites and The Emotions will perform at a special 40th anniversary concert in Chicago's Millennium Park on Labor Day.
To say happy birthday, Rocks Off searched YouTube for the 10 most popular videos from the show - some of them might surprise you - and threw in a few of our own favorite clips. Sorry about the resolution on some of 'em, but hey, it's the Internet.
We suppose you could have done this yourself, but then you would have had to wade through page after page of bad covers of Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" like we did, not to mention the original, which has been posted umpteen billion times. This way, all you have to do is cue up whichever one tickles your fancy and just groove.
See? Rocks Off really is the music blog with a heart.
Jody Watley* Rosie Perez Fred "Rerun" Berry (What's Happening!) Damita Jo Freeman, actress and choreographer Carlton Banks, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
* Watley's bandmates in '70s-'80s R&B smoothies Shalamar, Howard Hewett and Jeffrey Daniel, were also former Soul Train dancers.
That's all for now. Rocks Off wishes you a weekend full of peace, love and soooooooooouuuuuuuuullllllll!!!