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Best British Soul Songs: 10 Heartfelt Classics From Soulful Artists
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List & Guides

Best British Soul Songs: 10 Heartfelt Classics From Soulful Artists

Undeniably different from their stateside cousins, the best British soul songs more than earn their place on the world’s stage.

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Soul music began in the United States – but that doesn’t mean British artists don’t have that soulful feeling. And some of this remarkably emotional vibe has been brought to us by singers who are not necessarily labelled as soul artists by critics or those who like to put music into categories. Here, then, are the best British soul songs – each a classic guaranteed to bring you a heavy dose of the soul shivers, created by Brits for the world to love.

Best British Soul Songs: 10 Heartfelt Classics From Soulful Artists

10: Seal: I Am Your Man (2009)

Seal is a future soul singer – though he is among the most soulful vocalists the UK has ever produced, he has almost never worked in a traditional soul setting, preferring an electronic, edgy sound or pristine acoustic clarity. He never accepts the most obvious path, even when covering old-school soul material. I Am Your Man is a Motown miracle, penned by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, a husband-and-wife team who were behind numerous smash hits. But this is one of their lesser-known compositions, first cut by Bobby Taylor And The Vancouvers in 1967 and remade five years later by Four Tops. Neither version was a big hit, but it is a fantastic tune, and Seal’s nous in spotting its ongoing potential and updating it brilliantly in 2009, as a fresh track for his Hits compilation album, confirms his strong understanding of soul music while claiming the vintage Detroit gem as one of the best British soul songs of the 21st century.

9: Shola Ama: Who’s Loving My Baby (1997)

Shola Ama, a London teenager, was singing for fun while waiting for a train when a music-industry figure heard her and instantly recognised her talent. By the time she was 16 she was signed to WEA, and she cut her first notch on the UK charts within a year. The fifth single from her debut album, Much Love, Who’s Loving My Baby is a satin-smooth slowie with a melancholy yearning feel emphasised by a G-funk synth line that wavers like the trembling lip of someone about to burst into tears. Ama evokes a believable sense of desolation, wondering how her one true love could be with somebody else, her vulnerable tones delivering her heartbreak perfectly. There’s soul here, but Who’s Loving My Baby also works as a pop record, and it gave Ama her third UK Top 20 hit. Thank God that train didn’t arrive before she started to sing…

8: Labi Siffre: The Vulture (1975)

Labi Siffre has never been a sock-it-to-’em soul man in the 60s style, nor a silky smoothie in the manner of many of his early-70s soul contemporaries. Many of his records present him as a troubadour carrying an acoustic guitar and a thoughtful lyric, but they don’t tell the entire story: Siffre is as soulful as anybody, and could get down and dirty with the best soul singers of his era, as The Vulture, from his 1975 album, Remember My Song, makes perfectly clear. The terrific groove, the easy way he sits on top of it, the tale of moral decrepitude his words convey… this is precision-tooled funky murder, and deserves to be every bit as celebrated as his Eminem-sampled I Got The, from the same album. Labi’s Vulture really flies.

7: Eternal: It Will Never End (1995)

Eternal were built in the image of US R&B act En Vogue, but scored far more UK hits than the group they emulated. Often viewed as a pop outfit, their music still possessed plenty of soul fire, and It Will Never End, from their Power Of A Woman album, holds its own among the best British soul songs of the time. A romantic number co-written by gospel/R&B star BeBe Winans, who also duetted with the group on their famed I Wanna Be The Only One, the song was intended to be a single but scheduling difficulties intervened. It’s the perfect update of the kind of glowing ballad that, say, Anita Baker might have delivered in the 80s. Eternally alluring.

6: Dame Shirley Bassey: Morning In Your Eyes (1974)

Shirley Bassey was a diva before there was soul music, and how many other divas can be called Dame – officially? Dame Shirley’s long, unmatched career has seen many highs, and her work with the arrangers John Barry and Johnny Harris has rightly been acclaimed for destroying musical and societal barriers in a uniquely stylish manner. Rather less commented on is a clutch of delicately soulful, deliciously subtly funky songs created with Gene Page for Bassey’s Nobody Does It Like Me album. Page made his presence felt throughout 60s soul music, gaining credits on albums by Marvin Gaye, Solomon Burke and Al Wilson, among many others, and in 1974 he was creating magic as Barry White’s arranger and musical director. Clearly, he had what it took to bring the best out in a strong musical personality such as Dame Shirley, and the gorgeous Morning In Your Eyes is one of the masterpieces they created together. You’ll be surprised how soulful it is.

5: Amy Winehouse: Tears Dry On Their Own (2007)

It can be shocking to hear Amy Winehouse’s music in 2023 and realise how alive and contemporary she still sounds (the young British soul icon died in 2011, entering the notorious “27 Club”). Tears Dry On Their Own, a No.16 hit in the UK in 2007, was delivered on a remake of the backing track of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s classic Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, from 40 years earlier, and it was audacious of Winehouse to even think of building an original new song on such a famous foundation. Yet her record was strong enough to wipe away memories of the original in order to take its place among the best British soul songs of all time. There could have been so much more, but the music Winehouse left us to remember her by once the tears had dried was truly remarkable.

4: Hot Chocolate: Rumours (1973)

Hot Chocolate started their career on The Beatles’ Apple label, then released a string of pure pop hits on RAK. It’s often forgotten just how funky and soulful the band fronted by the shaven-headed Errol Brown could be: their pensive Brother Louie was an underground disco hit in the US and was covered by funk legend Roy Ayers, and their 1974 album, Cicero Park, offered funky soul with a uniquely British slant. Best of all was the distinctive and dark Rumours, a 1973 single that sets up a hypnotic off-kilter groove with curious scything strings, over which Brown delivers a snarky, paranoid lyric, before the tune bursts into a genuinely frenzied climax or two. Radio DJs objected to some of the lyrics, so it was never among Hot Chocolate’s biggest hits, but Rumours was deep in a way you might never have expected if you thought You Sexy Thing was indicative of all the best Hot Chocolate songs were capable of.

3: Average White Band: If I Ever Lose This Heaven (1974)

The deliberate irony in Average White Band’s name may fall on deaf ears today, in an era when so many white artists deliver what is fundamentally music of Black origin. In the early 70s, when AWB emerged, their situation was anything but average: white bands generally played rock’n’roll, not funk’n’soul. The Dundee, Scotland, outfit were so good at their job that a defensive James Brown released a fiery single credited to Above Average Black Band, and soul legend Ben E King sought out AWB, forming a musical partnership that played to both parties’ creative advantage. The highly soulful If I Ever Lose This Heaven, from the group’s scrumptious third album, Cut The Cake, is a fabulous version of a Leon and Pam Ware song. It’s an utterly convincing addition to the best British soul songs, from what was then seen as a very unlikely source.

2: Beverley Knight: I Won’t Be Looking Back (2016)

Beverley Knight is such a major figure in British showbiz that it’s possible to forget just how great a soul vocalist she is… until she opens her mouth to sing. Knight has been dropping soulful bombs on record since 1995, winning admiration from princes (Prince, the funk legend) and queens (Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who made Knight an MBE), but her music remains soulfully focused. There are riches galore in her catalogue, not least 1998’s breakthrough Prodigal Sista album, but her delicious Soulsville, recorded in Memphis, is oozing with feeling, as the deep soul thriller I Won’t Be Looking Back makes clear.

1: Linda Lewis: Reach For The Truth (1972)

Like their US counterparts, British soul artists of the early 70s often wrote about the state of humankind. Linda Lewis was no exception. She is sometimes reckoned to have been the British Minnie Riperton, thanks to her remarkably flexible voice and ability to work beyond the standard soul music templates. The comparison may be valid, but the vastly talented Lewis, an East Londoner, was entirely her own woman, writing and delivering unique material. Reach For The Truth, from her second album, Lark, is a case in point. Topping this list of the best British soul songs, it moves from mellow to climactic in its own sweet way: assertive, soulful, even spiritual. While songs such as Sideway Shuffle and This Time I’ll Be Sweeter have gained more traction in recent years, they don’t quite demonstrate the free-flowing creativity and sheer wisdom Lewis expressed on the beautiful Reach For The Truth. Nonconformist, credible, undeniably different from its stateside cousin, this is British soul exemplified.

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