Nina Simone
  • Nina Simone

The best soul isn’t always about girls, boys, love, longing, hotness, and heartbreak. Though I can’t hear enough versions of “The Tracks of My Tears,” and it’s impossible for me to tire of Solomon Burke singing about when my baby leaves me all alone, or Aretha assuring me she’ll never love another man the way she loves me, or Isaac Hayes hollering at that girl to walk on by, or—I mean, there’s one after another that makes you really feel , even more deeply than you were already feeling, what it means to dig somebody.

Still, soul developed along with the civil rights movement, so it should go without saying that some of the best freaking music ever made on this planet is driven by social and political commentary—a love for the world combined with a prophetic indictment of its evils and a vow to keep on keeping on.

As always, the music really does the talking and the teaching, so let me turn to it. Here’s a playlist of some of my favorite political soul cuts—that is, my favorites at the moment, since tomorrow I may have a whole new list. This one’s skewed toward the 70s, but then again, so am I.