Wide lapels and afros. Metallic jumpsuits and headbands. Baggy pants and fades. The weekly dance and music show "Soul Train" had it all over its 37-year run, launching the careers of countless black artists and proving that America was indeed ready for a show that wasn't "American Bandstand."

Musician and hip-hop luminary Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson of the Roots writes about the syndicated series, which ran from 1971 to 2008, in his new book "Soul Train: The Music, Dance, and Style of a Generation" (Harper Design).

Thompson was weaned on the show and captures the cultural phenomenon that was "Soul Train" in hundreds of photos he culled from private archives and 1,100 episodes. Focusing on the first three decades, he intertwines the history of "Soul Train" with the stories of the artists, dancers and late producer and host Don Cornelius.

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Thanks largely to Cornelius' tenacity and eye for talent, "Soul Train" became the longest-running syndicated program in television history — an amazing feat for a show that put soul artists and their fans center stage.

His production blazed a trail for black entertainment on TV and helped stoke the careers of acts such as Marvin Gaye, the Jackson Five and Prince. The show, which taped in Los Angeles and aired weekly around the country, featured everyone from Aretha Franklin to Public Enemy (and, oddly, Michael Bolton). Cornelius finally retired in 1993.

But despite breaking some of the biggest names in music, the show's legacy might be best summed up in the "Soul Train" dance line — a free-form dance-off that punctuated each episode. The raw energy, outrageous outfits and spontaneity made the higher-budget "Bandstand" seem like it existed only to placate your parents.

From the robot to the running man, the photos here capture a major reason why America kept tuning in: Who didn't imagine themselves busting moves down that line?

lorraine.ali@latimes.com

Twitter: @lorraineali