Best Soul Songs

Updated on April 29, 2024

Have you been trying to find new songs to add to your soul playlist? Soul music emerged in the 1950s as a genre that blends R&B, gospel and jazz into an emotional, expressive sound.

Timeless soul songs capture the passion and pain of life with powerful vocals, aching horns, and stirring melodies.

From icons like Aretha Franklin to new torchbearers like Adele, here are 20 of the best soul songs of all time.

1. "Respect" by Aretha Franklin

With Franklin's interpretation, "Respect" was elevated to the status of a feminist anthem and a plea for social justice. Respect was released in 1967, a year in which the United States experienced significant social and political turmoil.

Many people connected with the song's message of empowerment and equality, and it ended up serving as the movement's anthem. It is the ideal illustration of how gospel, blues, and jazz are combined in this genre. Additionally, regardless of ethnicity or gender, the lyrics are inclusive and relatable.

Aretha Franklin's song Respect is a timeless classic that will be loved for countless years to come.

2. "A Change Is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke  

After being escorted away from a hotel room, Sam Cooke composed this civil rights anthem in 1964. His silky, yearning voice perfectly encapsulates the fight and aspiration for equality among Black people.

Melancholy melody provokes feelings. It is a beautiful and moving ballad about having faith and enduring hardship. Although the words of the song are about African Americans' struggles in the divided South, its message of change is universal.

The melody has a strong sense of forward motion and is straightforward but effective. Sam's expressive and soulful voice perfectly captures the song's complete spectrum of feelings. Change Is Gonna Come belongs on every soul listener's playlist.

3. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Aretha Franklin 

Aretha transformed the folk song by Simon & Garfunkel from 1970 into a potent, gospel-infused performance masterpiece. Her strong vocals use music to spread the gospel. The song's slow, bluesy beat, which also evokes emotions of loss and longing and is ideal for the message of providing support, enhances Franklin's vocals. 

The song's message, which is to offer support and comfort to someone who is struggling, is successfully communicated through the music, which is also pretty straightforward.

This song should surely be on your soul playlist, according to YouTube users, since it is a timeless soul song that will definitely impact you.

4. "I'll Be There" by The Jackson 5 

This upbeat #1 hit from 1970 was performed by 12-year-old musical prodigy Michael Jackson, demonstrating the joyous sound of Motown's hit-making machinery. Gospel music has an effect on The Jackson 5's voices, which lends the song a spiritual feel.

It also includes piano, bass, percussion, and guitars, but they are used subtly so that the vocals can stand out. The song is ideal for a soul playlist since it has a cozy, comforting vibe.

The lyrics are brimming with love and assurance, and the tune is straightforward but infectious.

The song serves as a reminder that we are never truly alone and that someone is always there to support us.

5. "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green

Al Green's velvety voice popularized sensual, heartfelt soul. This 1972 song is underpinned by mellow organ and guitar riffs that drip with sincere love. Green's voice weaves in and out of the harmony while playing a quiet, subtle melody.

With a blend of piano, bass, drums, and horns, the instrumentation is simple yet powerful. There is a sense of warmth and sensuality throughout. On the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the song peaked at number one, proving that it was profitable.

Since then, several musicians have covered it, such as UB40, Amy Winehouse, and John Legend. Any playlist with soul music must include this song.

6. "I Say a Little Prayer" by Aretha Franklin

Aretha discusses devotion and desire in this 1968 Burt Bacharach classic song. Her voice deftly shifts between assertiveness and softness. The song features a smooth, soulful groove, and the melody achieves simplicity but effectiveness.

The lyrics, delivered in a casual manner, overshadow the chorus, which becomes more emotional. Franklin's strong and emotive voice gives the song a lot of soul. And the sassy backing vocals can enhance the attractiveness of it. In the song's lyrics, a woman begs God to send her her true love. She expresses her belief in God's promise to answer her prayers and grant her requests for pleasure and fulfillment.

This song stands as a fantastic example of soul music, and numerous artists have covered it over the years.

7. "When a Man Loves a Woman" by Percy Sledge

People consider Percy Sledge's heartbreaking ballad of profound love from 1966 a masterpiece. His deep vocals can shine on mellow musical tones. It inspired upcoming Southern soul crooners. A man in the song passionately loves a woman.

The lyrics of his song vividly depict how she makes him feel and how he would do anything for her. You'll want to play the song over and over because of its timeless quality.

Over the years, a variety of musicians, including Michael Bolton, Whitney Houston, and Lauryn Hill, have covered this song, which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Fans of soul music have long cherished it for its bursting passion and emotion.

8. "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

In this 1967 duet, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sing together about how love overcomes any difficulties. Both of them deliver jubilant vocal interplay, and the grand instrumental arrangement has since become a classic.

The song, warm and inviting, with a catchy tune and an upbeat pace, exudes a great vibe. The production and collaboration of the song are excellent. The timeless soul music in this song has stood the test of time. It will make you grin because it embodies love, optimism, and tenacity.

"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" is an excellent addition to your collection of soul music.

9. "Unchained Melody" by The Righteous Brothers

They created this song for the 1955 movie Unchained, but it wasn't until The Righteous Brothers sang it in 1965 that they turned it into a smash hit. The song's passionate melody and heartbreaking message of love and longing both captivate audiences.

It features a straightforward but catchy tune that intensifies throughout the song. Bobby Hatfield passionately delivers harmonies, and Bill Medley's background vocals are luxuriant and evocative.

Many people have chosen it for events such as weddings and funerals, and numerous TV shows and movies have featured it. It stands as an eternal masterpiece that stirs intense emotions in its listeners.

10. "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder fused funk and soul in this 1972 megahit. His energetic clavinet riffs and unforgettable melodies showcase his musical genius. It is a funk song with a catchy melody and lyrics that warn against believing in superstitions.

The song's vibes are funky and upbeat, with a driving beat and horns that make you want to dance. The history of Superstition was inspired by Wonder's own experiences with superstition, and he wrote the song as a way to challenge people's beliefs in things that they cannot see or prove.

This is a great addition to any soul playlist, and it is a song that you will never forget.

11. "Let's Get It On" by Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye pioneered seductive, sensual soul with this 1973 classic celebrating passion and romance. The song's vibe is sensual and inviting. The melody is slow and languid, with a pulsing beat that sets the mood for intimacy.

Gaye's vocals are smooth and seductive, and he sings with a passion that is both playful and intense. "Let's Get It On" was a commercial success, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It has been covered by many artists, including Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Christina Aguilera.

If you are looking for a soulful song that will make you feel good, then "Let's Get It On" is the perfect choice for you.

12. "A Natural Woman" by Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin recorded the most well-known and acknowledged version of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" for her 1968 album Lady Soul. Critics and music enthusiasts consider it one of the best soul songs of all time. Even the Grammy Hall of Fame inducted it in 1999.

The song's lyrics discuss how love has the ability to change a person and how it can make a lady feel strong, attractive, and vibrant. Franklin's dynamic performance brings the song to life and ensures its undeniable hit status.

The melody of this song is also resonant and captivating, making it a tune you'll want to sing along with numerous times after you've heard it.

13. "The Tracks of My Tears" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

Smokey Robinson's unmistakable falsetto shines in this 1965 song for Motown's The Miracles. The lyrics express the heartbreaking pain of hiding melancholy with a smile.

The melody, featuring a sinking bass rhythm, heightens the song's evocative quality and conveys feelings of sadness. It is a soul ballad that describes a man attempting to hide his sadness following the end of a relationship. The song boasts a melancholy melody and a slow bluesy beat.

In addition, it reached #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. "The Tracks of My Tears" is a timeless soul song that has endured for a prolonged period of time. Without a doubt, it is a strong and stirring song that belongs on your soul playlist.

14. "Dancing in the Street" Martha Reeves and the Vandellas  

This 1964 Motown classic by Martha Reeves is a joyous call to dance away your troubles. This upbeat saxophone song features fast rhythms and hand clapping.

It was originally released in 1964, but in 1965 a new version was added with a call-and-response segment between Martha Reeves and the backing vocalists. Many people perceived this new interpretation of the song as a call for peace and harmony in the wake of the Watts riots.

According to the Billboard Hot 100 chart, this single peaked at #2. If you are looking for a soulful song that will make you move, "Dancing in the Street" is the ideal choice.

15. "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King 

In his timeless 1962 ballad, Ben E. King's sonorous voice portrays unbreakable friendship. This song became a global hit and reached #1 on the American Billboard Hot 100 list. Many musicians, including John Lennon, Otis Redding, and Aretha Franklin, have covered the song.

The vintage arrangement and exquisite melodies determine the atmosphere for this old-fashioned romantic melody. It creates a cozy, relaxing, and comfortable vibe. The tempo is peaceful and steady, and the melody is plain but unforgettable.

As the lyrics emphasize the need for support and companionship through difficult times, the song fosters a sense of connection and brotherhood. It's a timeless classic that you can always turn to for relief and happiness.

16. "Midnight Train to Georgia" by Gladys Knight and the Pips  

Gladys Knight's poignant 1973 song is about a woman who, despite the fact that her beloved is leaving at midnight, intends to accompany him back to Georgia.

The song features a deep, steady and moody beat. Most of the band's minimal arrangement includes keyboard, bass, drums and horns. However, Gladys Knight's powerful vocals emotionally charge the composition. In addition, it reached the top spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart and received a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus.

Many singers, such as Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Aretha Franklin have recreated the song. It is a strong and moving song that will transport you back in time.

17. "Rolling In the Deep" by Adele

British musician Adele brought soul music's expressive strength into the 21st century with this 2011 song, which won a Grammy.

Adele's dynamic vocals rise above the calm, soulful tune. The beat's persistent thrust creates a sense of anxiety and emotion.

This composition focuses on a relationship that has failed. Adele sings about the loss and sadness she is experiencing, but she also displays her courage and determination.

The song serves as a potent hymn for everyone who has ever experienced a challenging breakup. Its message of tenacity and resilience will inspire anyone who has faced difficulty.

18. "I Got You (I Feel Good)" by James Brown

The opening trumpets and frantic cries of this 1964 hit highlight James Brown's passionate style of soul. It is regarded as one of the most iconic songs in the recent history of popular culture and is recognized for contributing to the definition of the groove genre.

Although Brown's singing style and the accompaniment give the melody a distinctive taste, its chorus follows a twelve-bar blues pattern. The syncopated, funky rhythm receives a lot of attention, emphasizing the original rhythm for each phrase. It's challenging to resist the thrill and power produced by this song.

It marked Brown's first chart-topping single on the Billboard Hot 100 and paved the way for his future as a mainstream performer. Additionally, this song had a huge impact on many other musicians, such as Prince, Michael Jackson and Bruno Mars.

 19. "(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding

Otis Redding encapsulated his beloved soulful tone in his 1968 posthumous record. He composed the song a few weeks before he lost his life in a plane accident in December 1967.

Although Redding left the composition undone when he passed away, his producer Steve Cropper managed to finalize it using the demos. Soothing guitar whistling supports his gloomy voice, which conveys nostalgia and longing.

Despite its repetitious and simplistic nature, the tune is immensely catchy. Slow and bluesy music serves as the ideal accompaniment to the song's message of soul searching and pondering.

Numerous musicians, including The Animals, Grateful Dead, and Eric Clapton, have covered what is regarded as one of Redding's trademark songs. Without a doubt, it is a legendary classic that belongs on your soul playlist.

20. "Ain't No Sunshine" Bill Wither

Bill Withers' groundbreaking song from 1971 showcased his soft, genuine baritone and slender acoustic guitar. Originally recorded as the B-side for "Harlem," "Ain't No Sunshine" achieved instant success because fans liked it more. Withers' emotive and heartfelt singing eloquently conveys the song's lyrics' sentimental sorrow.

Despite its few lyrics, the passionate sounds manage to capture deep loneliness and heartbreak. It is a timeless soul tune that fits on any soul music playlist.  

These deeply affecting songs span eras but are connected through their authenticity. The genre's emphasis on conveying real human emotions, experiences, and struggles through the lead vocal performance shines through in each of these stirring soul standards.

We hope you enjoy our playlist, and that it motivates you to learn more about this wonderful musical genre that not only tells life stories but also makes history.