Blue-eyed soul (also known as white soul) is rhythm and blues and soul music performed by white artists. The term was coined in the mid-1960s, to describe white artists who performed soul and R&B that was similar to the music of the Motown and Stax record labels. Though many rhythm and blues radio stations would only play music by black musicians, some began to play music by white acts considered to have "soul feeling".
Georgie Woods, a Philadelphia radio DJ, is thought to have coined the term "blue-eyed soul" in 1964, initially to describe The Righteous Brothers, then white artists in general who received airplay on rhythm and blues radio stations. The Righteous Brothers named their 1964 LP Some Blue-Eyed Soul. According to Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, R&B radio stations who played their songs were surprised to find them to be white when they turned up for interviews, and one DJ in Philadelphia (unnamed by Medley but probably Georgie Woods) started saying "Here's my blue-eyed soul brothers", and it became a code to signal to the audience that they were white singers. The popularity of the Righteous Brothers who had a hit with "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" is thought to have started the trend of R&B radio stations to play songs by white artists in the mid-1960s, a more integrative approach that was then popular with their audience. Blue-eyed soul was applied to such artists as Sonny & Cher, the Beatles, Tom Jones, Barry McGuire, and Roy Head.
White musicians playing R&B music, however, began before the term blue-eyed soul was coined. For instance, in the early 1960s, one of the rare female blue-eyed soul singers was Timi Yuro, whose vocal delivery and repertoire were influenced by African American singers such as Dinah Washington.
Lonnie Mack's 1963 gospel-infused vocals earned him widespread critical acclaim as a blue-eyed soul singer. Groups such as The Rascals (originally The Young Rascals) had soul-tinged pop songs, but it was the soulful vocals of Felix Cavaliere that gave them the blue-eyed soul sound. By the mid-1960s, British singers Dusty Springfield, Eric Burdon and Tom Jones had become leading vocal stars of the emerging style. Other notable UK exponents of blue-eyed soul included The Spencer Davis Group (featuring singer-organist-guitarist Steve Winwood), Van Morrison, and archetypal mod band The Small Faces, whose sound was heavily influenced by the Stax label's house band Booker T. & the M.G.'s. Blue-eyed soul singer, Chris Clark became the first white singer to have an R&B hit with Motown Records in 1966. Most of the leading UK pop groups of the period – including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who – regularly covered Stax and Motown tracks on record or in concert, and all of them have acknowledged the influence of Motown and Stax artists on their music. In 1967, Jerry Lee Lewis, whose latter days at Sun Records (1961–63) had been characterized by R&B covers, recorded an album for Smash entitled Soul My Way. Delaney and Bonnie (Bramlett) produced the blue-eyed soul album Home on Stax in 1969.
Michael Sembello, who left home at age 17 to tour with Stevie Wonder, wrote and performed on numerous blue-eyed soul hits for Wonder, Brian McKnight, David Sanborn, Bill Champlin and Bobby Caldwell. Todd Rundgren began his career in Woody's Truck Stop, a group based on the model of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He left the band to form the garage rock band Nazz in 1967.
Outside the Anglo-American scene, in Italy, Mina and Carmen Villani fused elements of soul music with the traditional Italian pop music. Carola and Doris were notable Scandinavian artists who were influenced by soul music.
In February 1975, Tower of Power became the first white/mixed act to appear on Soul Train. Also in 1975, David Bowie, another early white artist to appear on Soul Train, released Young Americans, a popular blue-eyed soul album which Bowie himself called "plastic soul". It featured the funk-inspired "Fame", which became Bowie's first number-one hit in the US. Hall & Oates' 1975 Silver Album (real title Daryl Hall & John Oates) includes the ballad "Sara Smile", long considered a blue-eyed soul standard. "She's Gone", another soulful hit, was originally released in 1973 but did better as a re-release after "Sara Smile". Average White Band is a Scottish funk and R&B band who had a series of soul and disco hits between 1974 and 1980, their biggest two being "Pick Up the Pieces" from their 1975 best-selling album AWB, and "Cut the Cake" from their 1975 album of the same name. Boz Scaggs' 1976 "Lowdown", which featured Scaggs' laid-back vocals and a smooth funky groove, peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart (and reaching Top 5 on the R&B chart). In April 1976, The Faragher Brothers became the first all-white ensemble to make an appearance on Soul Train. In September that year, white funk band Wild Cherry released the Billboard Hot 100 chart topping funk/rock single "Play That Funky Music" and also went to number one on the Hot Soul Singles chart. The single would eventually sell 2.5 million copies.
In 1978, The Bee Gees topped R&B album charts with their Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, along with several songs from the album, including "Stayin' Alive", "Night Fever" and "You Should Be Dancing", which originally charted back in 1976. The Bee Gees again had a hit album on the R&B charts in 1979 with the Spirits Having Flown album along with its three pop number-one singles, "Too Much Heaven", "Tragedy" and "Love You Inside Out".
Other blue-eyed soul of the decade include the hits "How Long" by Ace (Paul Carrack, lead vocals), three hits by Ambrosia, "How Much I Feel", "Biggest Part of Me" and "You're the Only Woman", and Bobby Caldwell's soul standard "What You Won't Do for Love".
Hall & Oates' chart success was at its highest when their singles got heavy airplay on urban contemporary radio, as was the case with "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)", "One on One", "Say It Isn't So", "Adult Education", "Out of Touch", "Method of Modern Love" and "Everything Your Heart Desires". Most of those singles charted on the R&B and dance charts, including some number-one hits. Simply Red scored one of the most successful blue-eyed soul ballads of all time in 1986 with "Holding Back the Years".
Other blue-eyed soul hits of the 1980s include: Phil Collins' cover version of "You Can't Hurry Love", Culture Club's "Church of the Poison Mind" (1983), Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up", The Style Council's "Speak Like a Child", (1983) Eurythmics' "Missionary Man" (1986), and Steve Winwood's "Roll with It" (1988).As the decade drew to a close, British artist Lisa Stansfield had considerable success on R&B radio, scoring three number-one R&B hits, the most popular being "All Around the World".
A backlash ensued in the late 1980s as some black people felt that white people were cashing in on the popularity of their music. However, the extent of the backlash was not universally agreed upon. In 1989, Ebony Magazine published an article exploring whether white people were "taking over" R&B. The article featured various members of the music industry, both black and white, who believed collaboration was a unifying force, and there was agreement that the future of R&B was not compromised by the contemporary urban sound. A similar article in Ebony, written in 1999 highlighted conflicting opinions about the "blue-eyed" influence; however, the source of contention was not about the artistic merit of blue-eyed soul, but rather the economic inequality that persisted in American life and within the music industry.
Daryl Hall has described the term "blue-eyed soul" as racist, saying "It assumes I’m coming from the outside. There’s always been that thing in America, where if you’re a white guy and you’re singing or playing in a black idiom, it’s like: ‘Why is he doing that? Is he from the outside, looking in? Is he copying? What’s the point of it?’ C’mon, it’s music! It’s music."