Founded by Don Cornelius in 1970, as an R&B "dance party" TV show in Chicago. Cornelius had been a successful local radio personality, one of those DJs with both the quick verbalizing and the to-die-for baritone. The show was taken national a year later, syndicated with the help of a top local black business - Johnson Products, makers of hair care products Afro Sheen and Ultra Sheen; the first half hour's commercials were theirs, while the second half hour's spots were sold to other sponsors.

The show was a fairly quick success, in those markets that would carry it; there was some resistance, since a "black American Bandstand" was either a "too-novel" idea in those days, or something that already existed (in less-fab form) on one of the local stations, depending on the market. Those locally-produced shows would die off in the next few years, as Soul Train slowly became a national institution, getting picked up by broadcasters in more and more cities.

Cornelius moved the show to Hollywood, for better access to fab-ness, and the show took on its current form; the styles, sounds, and dances change, but I suspect it's still Soul Train. (At least I hope so, since I've done gone and made this node; those of you who watch: correct me if I'm wrong, and if I am, I'll eat a bug).

You have the "Soul Train Dancers", the upper class of dancers in the "Soul Train Gang"; in the early 70s, this meant The Lockers, a troupe that included Fred "Rerun" Berry and Toni Basil. When they asked to get paid for being on the show (they damn well deserved it, being the most compelling reason to watch), it was "see ya!" from Don, and The Lockers went on to bigger and better things. Jody Watley, later of the group Shalamar and her own solo singing career, was once a Soul Train Dancer.

Then there's the guests, who show up to lipsync their newest "product"; obviously it's some R&B artist, but in the early years, David Bowie made an appearance, around the time of Young Americans (singing "Fame", I think), and Elton John performed live (was it "Benny and the Jets"?).

And the "Soul Train Scramble", that skill-testing challenge, where the two contestants must unscramble the letters of the name of a black celebrity or a figure from black history to win a prize. It's so easy, you could almost do it blindfolded. Jimmy Walker, in a parody (Soul Bus), did a version of the scramble, where the contestants just stood there dumbfounded, while an exasperated J.J. (playing the host) dropped clue after clue, in a desperate attempt to stop the insanity. It didn't help.

The theme, originally by MFSB, was an outgrowth of Cornelius' support and admiration of the music that Gamble and Huff was doing in the early 70s - G&H returned the favor by recording a new theme song for the show, which later became a hit record, as "TSOP" (with vocals, such as they were, by The Three Degrees, who would later achieve a degree of stardom).

Nowadays, it's basically a joint venture between Don Cornelius Productions and Tribune Entertainment, the media conglomerate home of WGN, the Cubs, and the Chicago Tribune. There's the Soul Train Music Awards, the "Lady of Soul" Awards, and other doings. There was, at one time, a record label, distributed by RCA.

Cornelius himself ceded the host's chair a few years back, to in the demo celebrity guest hosts. So I miss channel surfing towards the top of the hour and seeing him, though I suppose he no longer wears those suits with the humongous shoulder pads that would make me giggle - it was the ultimate statement of the 80s "power suit", with shoulders big enough to hold your dinner plate. But it would be fun to hear his hosto profundo again, booming out his wishes for more...

    "LOVE...
      PEACE...
        and
    (*kiss*) SOOOOUL!!!"

Also the name of an 80s indie band, from South Carolina, I think. I don't know if this ever went to court.
'Soul Train' was also a single by the obscure mid-80s Birmingham band Swans Way, reaching number 20 in 1984. It was later included in their album 'The Fugitive Kind' and is the only thing that the group are remembered for. Later on they split, with two members going on to form a band called Scarlet Fantastic.

It's a very strange song. Vocalist Robert Shaw (not the Robert Shaw) sounds like Bono, whilst the instrumental backing combines disco drums with jazzy saxophones with an orchestral string section, the end result sounding something like Michael Nyman. The strings were apparently the group's big defining gimmick.

The song appears to be a portrait of obsession; the vocalist gives the words everything he has, even thought they don't seem to mean anything. The chorus is memorably over-the-top, complete with an orchestral fanfare and vocalised 'Whoo-whoo' noises.

'Soul Train'
by
Swansway (Kahal/Jones/Shaw)
-
Words in (brackets) are sung as an 'echo' in the manner of Kraftwerk's 'Computer Love'.

It's midnight here
It's midnight here
soul train

Ha
It's midnight here on the soul train
Ha
It's midnight here I'm on the soul train

Don't wanna fly
(don't wanna fly)
try to walk in the rain
(try to walk in the rain)
don't wanna fly
(don't wanna fly)
try to communicate
(try to communicate)

And I try I try I try
(Whoo-hoo-ooo)
but I'm tired I'm tired I'm tired
(Whoo-hoo-ooo)

Ha
It's midnight here, I'm on the soul train
Ha
It's midnight here, I'm on the soul train

With all my mind
(with all my mind)
towards my aim
(towards my aim)
with all my mind
(with all my mind)
there's nothing I can change
(nothing I can change)

And I try I try I try
(Whoo-hoo-ooo)
and I'm tired I'm tired I'm tired
(Whoo-hoo-ooo)

(there is a seriously monged saxophone solo)

And I try I try I try
(Whoo-hoo-ooo)
and I cry I cry I cry
(Whoo-hoo-ooo)

(inaudible)

It's midnight here,
(it's midnight)
I'm on the soul train
(on the soul train)
It's midnight here
(it's midnight)
I'm on the soul train
(on the soul train)

I'm on the soul train
soul train
soul train
Whoooooo

I'm not strong enough
(soul train)
I'm not strong enough
(soul train)
I'm not strong enough
(soul train)
I'm not strong enough
(soul train)
I'm not strong enough
(soul train)
I'm not strong enough
(soul train)
I'm not strong enough
(soul train)

(soul train)

(soul train)

(soul train)

(soul train)

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