“Plastic Soul” should be an impossible thing, because of the very essence of what makes Soul music so good. Since he already explained that better than I ever could, I’ll turn the stage over for a moment to The Commitments‘ Jimmy Rabbitte:
Soul is the music people understand. Sure it’s basic and it’s simple. But it’s something else ’cause, ’cause, ’cause it’s honest, that’s it. Its honest. There’s no fuckin’ bullshit. It sticks its neck out and says it straight from the heart. Sure there’s a lot of different music you can get off on but soul is more than that. It takes you somewhere else. It grabs you by the balls and lifts you above the shite.
So “Plastic Soul” was an insult black musicians first used in the ’60s to describe white artists like The Rolling Stones trying to play Chicago blues-styled rock. And they weren’t just white, but pasty, English white. To which I say, so what? All music is derived from one common source — the first guy to bash two things together to make a sound he liked. Everything since then has been innovation, borrowing, or theft. And I’ve listed those three items in what is probably the increasing order of occurrence.
Leave it to David Bowie then to just come right out and tell the world he’s recording Plastic Soul music. Here’s a guy who made his fame recording a science fiction ode to the Apollo moonshot and 2001: A Space Odyssey, who then went on to create futuristic alter egos like Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. Bowie had always reached forward, but there he was breezily announcing that he was going to reach backward, into the roots of American Soul.
But you know what? He somehow still manages to grab you and lift you, even though by his own admission it was all pretense.
Tonight’s selection is “Fascination” from 1975’s aptly-titled Young Americans, and it has that (ahem) genuine Philadelphia sound from start to finish.