Best Soul Songs Ever

Soul music originated in the 50s as a combination of Gospel and rhythm and blues, continuing the unparalleled innovation of Black music in America.

Below, you can read about the top soul songs ever, ranging from Motown classics to 21st-century favorites, each one beloved worldwide for its own reasons.

1. Everyday People by Sly and the Family Stone

Song Year: 1968

Sly and the Family Stone was a unique band that came about during the psychedelic 60s. Their brand of soul incorporated the sounds of psychedelic rock. “Everyday People” was an instant hit, reaching Gold Status and topping the Soul, Hot 100, and R&B Billboards in the States for a month.

2. I’ll Go Crazy by James Brown

Song Year: 1960

Known as “The Godfather of Soul,” James Brown is one of the most legendary performers and soul singers. “I’ll Go Crazy” is an early track that reached the Billboards when it debuted but didn’t achieve acclaim as one of Brown’s greats until he recorded it live for the album, Live at the Apollo.

3. A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke

Song Year: 1964

Sam Cooke began his career singing Gospel, transforming into one of the most famous soul singers of all time. Not only was he a beloved love ballad singer, but he turned into a champion for civil rights. His most famous activist song is A Change is Gonna Come, which continues to be the theme song of civil rights movements like Black Lives Matter today.  

4. For Once in My Life by Stevie Wonder

Song Year: 1968

Written by Motown songwriters Ron Miller and Orlando Murden, “For Once in My Life” went through various iterations, beginning as a slow song that debuted in 1965. While other famous Motown groups recorded the song, it wasn’t until Wonder’s upbeat, jazzy version that it reached the top three on US and UK Billboards.

5. That’s How Strong My Love Is by Otis Redding

Song Year: 1965

One of the most popular songs for weddings and couples, “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” was first sung by O.V. Wright and released in 1964. Thus, Redding’s version is essentially a cover. Still, his unparalleled voice with that raspy emotiveness sent this song to the top of the Billboards and remains one of Redding’s most famous songs.

6. Stop in the Name of Love by the Supremes

Song Year: 1965

Another Motown hit, “Stop in the Name of Love,” is one of the Supremes’ signature songs, topping the Billboards at number one for a month straight in 1965. It sold over 1 million singles in the U.S., reaching Gold status. Lead singer Diana Ross’ irresistibly sweet voice adds innocence as she pleads with her lover to take their courtship slower.

7. I Second That Emotion by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

Song Year: 1967

Written by lead singer Smokey Robinson and songwriter Al Cleveland for Motown, “I Second That Emotion” was subsequently passed around to various groups, including the Supremes and the Temptations. The song got its title and chorus from a conversation between Cleveland and Robinson while they were shopping for a gift for Robinson’s wife.

8. Let’s Stay Together by Al Green

Song Year: 1971

Perhaps Al Green’s most famous song, “Let’s Stay Together,” reached number one on Billboards as a single and then inspired the release of its namesake album. Rolling Stone Magazine considers this song in the top 100 of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Soul icon Tina Turner released a cover ten years later.

9. Parting Ways by Cody Chestnut

Song Year: 2012

A key member of the popular hip-hop group, The Roots, Cody Chestnut’s soulful voice always added a melodic softness that differentiated The Roots from other hip-hop groups. This beautifully nostalgic song was recorded in the 2010s. In 2020 “Parting Ways” was released as the theme song in the Pixar movie Soul.

10. I Want You Back by The Jackson 5

Song Year: 1969

Sung by child star and later pop king Michael Jackson along with his brothers, “I Want You Back” was The Jackson Five’s first major hit song. Rolling Stone includes it as number 104 of the 500 Greatest Songs in History. The Jackson 5 sang it at every concert, and it certainly launched Michael Jackson’s talent into the spotlight. 

11. I Need a Dollar by Aloe Blacc

Song Year: 2010

A lesser-known soul song, “I Need a Dollar” is a part of Aloe Blacc’s repertoire of singles. Written by Blacc, “I Need a Dollar” is a song about financial hardship and turning to alcohol to drown one’s sorrows. It topped charts in Europe and became the theme song for a hit HBO series.

12. Twenty-Five Miles by Edwin Starr

Song Year: 1969

Edwin Star may be famous for his funk song “War,” but he got his big break with this chart-topping soul song in 1969. When Motown bought out the record company that first recorded Starr’s song, Motown executives tried to further its popularity by having the Jackson 5 cover it a year later.

13. Lean on Me by Bill Withers

Song Year: 1972

Another song that made it to Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Songs, “Lean on Me” is the ultimate song of solidarity and the strength to move through adversity. It starts slow and simple, sung to the accompaniment of a piano, speeding up and incorporating more voices and instruments with the famous chorus.

14. Thin Line Between Love and Hate by The Persuaders

Song Year: 1971

A cautionary love song, “Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” reached the number one spot on Soul Billboards in the US. Written by the band’s producers, this sad song warns mischievous and dishonest men not to take their wives’ silence at their indiscretions for granted. It recognizes that love has a breaking point and can quickly transform into hateful and resentful sentiments.

15. In the Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett

Song Year: 1965

Released from the famous Stax studio in Memphis, “In the Midnight Hour” topped the Billboard charts despite selling a modest 300,000 copies. Songwriters at Stax wrote the song based on an earlier song Pickett had recorded where he’d used the same phrase.

It has since been listed as one of the greatest R&B songs in history by Rolling Stone and is on the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. 

16. When a Man Loves a Woman by Percy Sledge

Song Year: 1966

Sledge recorded this song for a small record label, but it was re-recorded and released through the famous Atlantic Record company, helping its rapid rise to number one. Sledge was the frontman, but the song was written by fellow band members Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright.

17. Sweet Soul Music by Arthur Conley

Song Year: 1967

Written by Conley and Otis Redding, “Sweet Soul Music” is a celebration of soul music, mentioning the two songwriters’ favorite songs as well as soul music’s most famous contributors like Brown and Redding himself. The song reached gold status, selling over 1 million copies and reaching the number 2 spot on soul billboards.

18. Groovin by The Young Rascals

Song Year: 1967

Groovin is the most famous song by The Young Rascals and a quintessential ode to lazy summer afternoons with your significant other. Written by band members Felixe Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati, the song speaks to how precious even the most mundane moments are when you’re with the one you love.

19. Have You Seen Her by The Chi-Lites

Song Year: 1971

A heartbreaking song about fleeting love, “Have You Seen Her,” was written by lead singer Eugene Record and bandmate Barbara Acklin. It reached No. 3 on the Billboards Top 100. Twenty years later, MC Hammer recorded a cover. 

20. Could It Be I’m Falling in Love by The Spinners

Song Year: 1972

Reaching No. 1 on the Best-Selling Soul Singles Billboard, “Could it Be I’m Falling in Love” was written by two of Atlantic Record’s most prolific songwriters for The Spinners vocalists Bobby Smith and Philippe Wynne. Smith and Wynne’s gentle voices complement each other, in this heart-melting love song. 

21. You and Me by Penny and the Quarters

Song Year: 1970-75

Penny and the Quarters were a soul band during the 70s that never made it to mainstream fame until filmmakers in the 2010s came across forgotten recordings of the song “You and Me.” The song was the theme song in the independent film Blue Valentine, a heartbreaking story of love and its subsequent demise.

22. How Does It Feel by D’Angelo

Song Year:2000

Winner of the Grammy for Best R&B vocals, “How Does It Feel” is modern soul master D’Angelo’s homage to singer Prince. Its risqué and hyper-sexual lyrics combined with D’Angelo’s equally sensual voice have made this song a favorite to set the mood for intimacy. 

23. Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher by Jackie Wilson

Song Year: 1967

An uplifting song recorded by Jackie Wilson, “You Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher” is the product of a joint effort between soul studios. It was written by Chess Records songwriters, and sung by a Chicago soul singer, with instruments and backup from Motown musicians.

24. I Heard it Through the Grapevine by Marvin Gay

Song Year: 1968

Written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfiled and Barret Strong in 1966, this song was first released in 1967 by Gladys Night. Both Night’s and Gay’s versions are inductees into the Grammy’s Hall of Fame.

They also both reached number one on Billboards. Years later, the Country Rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival released a cover that also made it to the Billboards.

25. The Tracks of My Tears by Smokey Robinson

Song Year: 1965

Another inductee into the Grammy Hall of Fame and Library of Congress’ registry of preserved songs, “The Tracks of My Tears” is one of Motown’s most decorated and acclaimed songs. The relatability of its lyrics about trying to conceal heartbreak along with its masterful composition has earned it praise from Rolling Stone as the greatest Motown song of all time.

26. Hold On I’m Coming by Sam & Dave

Hold On I’m Coming by Sam & Dave

Song Year:1966

This certified gold single from Sam & Dave has a silly story behind its lyrics. According to songwriters Isaac Hayes and David Porter, the title and chorus come from Porter’s retort to Hayes trying to rush him out of the restroom! 

27. Mr. Big Stuff by Jean Night

Song Year: 1971

Reaching number one on Soul Billboards, “Mr. Big Stuff” is Jean Night’s most-sold single, going double platinum. In it, Night chastises an arrogant man, cutting him down to size. It’s an empowering song for women and has been covered by countless female voices across genres.

28. Bring it On Home to Me by Sam Cooke

Song Year: 1962

A true testament to Cooke’s gospel beginnings, “Bring it On Home to Me” assumes the harmonizing and soulful howling characteristic of Cooke’s first gospel band, the Soul Stirrers. It has since been deemed one of the 500 songs that shaped rock and rock by The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame/.

29. You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman by Aretha Franklin

Song Year: 1967

From the Queen of Soul herself, “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” was written by Atlantic writers Carole King and Gerry Goffin after Atlantic owner Jerry Wexler referred to a “natural woman” as a concept of African American musical culture.    

30. 18 With a Bullet by Pete Wingfield

Song Year:1975

Another Atlantic Records hit, “18 with a Bullet,” ironically made it to number 18 on the Billboards. It was Pete Wingfield’s biggest hit as a singer and solo artist. However, Wingfield’s colorful career as a songwriter and producer is much more impressive.

31. Heatwave by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas

Song Year: 1963

Written by Motown’s prolific writer team Holland-Dozier-Holland, “Heatwave” talks about the steamy, craze-inducing effects of desire. It won The Vandella’s their first and only Grammy nomination.

32. I Got a Woman by Ray Charles

Song Year: 1954

An irreverent rewrite of a famous gospel song, “I Got a Woman,” is one of the Soul genre’s first songs. It was Charles’ break-out song, garnering attention and a contract with Atlantic Records, where he produced many of his hits.  

33. La-La (Means I Love You) by The Delfonics

Song Year: 1968

The Delfonics are a beloved soul and R&B band out of Phili, the pride and joy of Philly Groove Records. “La-La Means I Love You” is one of their most popular singles, reaching the top 5 on the Hot 100 Billboards and being featured in a long list of famous movies like Jackie Brown.

34. Respect by Aretha Franklin

Song Year: 1967

Originally written and released by Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin’s version is perhaps her most famous song. Redding praised Franklin for “stealing” the song from him during a heartfelt speech at the Monterey Pop Festival. It’s currently number 1 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. 

35. Sitting on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding

Song Year: 1968

Redding’s most famous song, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” describes Redding’s trajectory from Georgia to San Francisco to pursue his wildly successful music career. Redding recorded the song before going on tour, where he was killed in a tragic plane crash. It was released posthumously. 

36. Lonely Teardrops by Jackie Wilson

Song Year: 1958

A prototype of Rock and Roll from famed R&B extraordinaire, Jackie Wilson, “Lonely Teardrops” was one of the biggest hits of 1959. It was also the last song Wilson sang as he tragically died of a heart attack onstage mid-song.  

37. I Only Have Eyes for You by The Flamingoes

Song Year: 1959

The first version of this song was written for a 1934 film. Twenty-five years later, The Flamingoes adapted it into a soulful pop song that reached the top of the Billboard R&B charts as well as a place on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

38. This Old Heart of Mine by The Isley Brothers

Song Year: 1966

Another hit from the famed Motown trio of songwriters, “This Old Heart of Mine,” reached the top of the Hot 100 and R&B Billboards. It was The Isley Brothers’ only hit while on the Motown label, breaking away to spearhead their own record label three years later. 

39. I Can’t Get Next to You by The Temptations

Song Year: 1969

The Temptations’ most famous song, “I can’t get Next to You,” didn’t just reach the top of R& B Billboards but was also ranked as the third top song of the entire year. It’s considered a psychedelic soul song. Al Green covered the song in 1970.   

40. Midnight Train to Georgia by Gladys Knight and The Pips

Song Year: 1973

An adapted version of a Jim Weatherly song called “Midnight Plane to Houston,” “Midnight Train to Georgia” became one of Gladys Knight and The Pips’ most decorated songs. It won a Grammy Award and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. 

41. Piece of My Heart by Erma Franklin

Song Year: 1967

While you may be more familiar with the Rock n Roll adaptation released a year later by Janis Joplin, “Piece of My Heart” was originally a soul song recorded by Aretha Franklin’s older sister, Erma. It was nominated for a Grammy, which Erma lost to Aretha’s hit “Chain of Fools.”

42. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack

Song Year: 1972

Originally a folk song written in 1957, Roberta Flack’s soulful version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” won her a Grammy for Song of the Year as well as Billboard’s coveted rank of Song of the Year.

43. Walk on By by Isaac Hayes

Song Year: 1969

“Walk on By” was originally composed and written in 1963 by Burt Bacharach for the famous R & B star Dionne Warwick. Isaac Hayes released a neo-soul version in 1969, reaching the billboards. Hayes’ version is one of the most sampled songs for modern rap and R & B music during the 90s and 2000s. 

44. The Makings of You by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions

Song Year: 1965

Voted 24th Greatest Song of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine, “The Makings of You” is a musical masterpiece and played a key role in the 60s Civil Rights Movement. The song has since been covered by Bob Dylan and Bob Marley.

45. Back to Black by Amy Winehouse

Song Year: 2007

Amy Winehouse is one of the greatest white women soul singers in history. Her song “Back to Black” and album by the same name is the best-selling album in UK history. The song is about Winehouse’s descent into depression and alcoholism after splitting with her boyfriend. 

46. Time is on My Side by Irma Thomas

Song Year: 1964

“Time is on My Side” is a jazz song that both Irma Thomas and The Rolling Stones adapted into soulful and Rock versions, respectively. 

47. River Deep- Mountain High by Ike and Tina Turner

Song Year: 1966

Written by Phil Spector, “River Deep- Mountain High” flew under the radar and was re-released in 1969 to wider acclaim in Europe. It was then covered by fellow soul group The Supremes under Motown. It’s now a Grammy Hall of Fame song and acclaimed as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone. 

48. Everything is Everything by Lauryn Hill

Song Year: 1999

From Lauryn Hill’s massively popular album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, “Everything is Everything,” is an activist song depicting the strife of inner-city communities. It also marked one of the first appearances of John Legend on the piano at age 19. 

49. On Broadway by The Drifters

Song Year: 1963

“On Broadway” was almost an afterthought for The Drifters, lent to them for a recording session by a team of songwriters because they were a song short. It became one of the Drifters’ many hits, reaching the top 10 on Billboard Hot 100. 

50. I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) by The Four Tops

Song Year: 1965

Written by the Motown trio Holland-Dozier-Holland, “I Can’t Help Myself” wasn’t just the biggest hit of the year, but it was also one of Motown’s top hits of the entire decade. It has since been covered and used in countless commercials and movies.  

51. Stand By Me by Ben E. King

Song Year: 1961

Ben E. King wrote this song for The Drifters as an adaptation of an old gospel song. King ended up recording it himself, and it has since inspired over 400 other versions, along with being the theme song in its namesake movie in 1986.

Top Soul Songs Of All Time, Final Thoughts

Soul is a vast genre, featuring slow ballads and fast-paced dancing ditties sung with the most profound sentimentality. This list of the best soul songs ever gives you a small idea of the range of voices, themes, and melodies that have and continue to represent soul music.

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