Last Saturday, VH-1 premiered “Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America”, a documentary paying tribute to a show that’s an integral part of black history, music history, and black music history. In the days before BET and MTV (and even during the years when MTV existed but played next to nothing by black artists), “Soul Train” was just about the only place to go to see R&B, funk and hip-hop artists performing their hits on television. In addition, Don Cornelius’s show was where you went to acquaint yourself with the latest and hippest dance moves, and it also alerted you to what was hot in fashion. Here in 2010, that might not seem like such a big deal-after all, we live in the age of the internet-any information you want at the touch of a button. However, for most of “Soul Train”‘s thirty-six year run, it was THE destination for anyone who wanted to see what was going on in black music culture.
The special itself was pretty enjoyable. Commentary was offered by everyone from the show’s creator and longtime host, Don Cornelius, to legends like Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle and Eddie LeVert of the O’Jays. Modern-day talking heads like Toure and ?uestlove (my brother in blerdness, who also composed the original score) spoke their piece as well as some of the legendary Soul Train dancers (including Jody Watley, Jeffrey Daniel, Rosie Perez and Cheryl Hong-the Asian honey with the long, long hair). Hell, they even got Sly Stone to talk. And most of y’all know how rare it is to see Sly Stone ANYWHERE. The special was obviously put together with reverence and care.
Of course, there were lots of clips to be shown as well. From Aretha jamming out to “Rock Steady” to Stevie composing an original Soul Train tune to MJ doing the robot to a coke-addled David Bowie badly lip-synching “Fame”, many of the performances that made Soul Train a legendary institution were included.
As much as I enjoyed the special, I’ve gotta say a couple things disappointed me:
1) 90 minutes was nowhere enough time to go through the entire history of the show. It probably should’ve been divided up into multiple parts. The first few years of the show were covered in fairly exhaustive fashion, but they sped through the last 25 or so years of the show in about a half hour.
2) There weren’t enough clips. Someone (Centric, are you listening?) needs to run a Soul Train marathon over the course of a week (or at least a weekend). Limit the dance performances and maybe abbreviate each episode into the artist appearances plus the Soul Train line (and maybe the Scramble Board?). That would be a very easy way to keep me parked in front of the TV without moving for days on end.
3) This last thing wasn’t really a disappointment so much as it was a SMH moment. If VH-1 can put together something like this, and they do such a good job with the Hip-Hop Honors every year, then what the FUCK do we need BET for?
Anyway, “Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America” will most likely be re-run into oblivion like everything else on VH-1, so I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see it. I highly recommend that you do. In the meantime, check out the Soul Train website, and also check out some classic performances on Soul Train’s YouTube page.
And as always in parting, I wish you love, peace, and…SOOOOOOOOOUL!!!