Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration: Blueprint of Progress
By
Nate Rustemeyer
8/14/2007 8:30:24 AM

"By any logic that one can call forth, musicologically and sociologically, Stax Records simply shouldn’t have been possible” writes Rob Bowman in the Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration [Stax] booklet from the new box set. Throughout the sixties and early seventies, in the city of Memphis, which practiced racial segregation up through the seventies, the integrated staff at Stax Records churned out grooves, anthems, and ballads that influence music and popular culture throughout the years.

Stax produced many songs that virtually everybody knows. Example: “Hold On I’m Comin’” and “Soul Man,” by Sam and Dave. The Blues Brothers extrapolated on their routine in 1978. Then there’s “Mr. Big Stuff” sung by Jean Knight, reworked by Heavy D and the Boyz and an Oreo Double Stuff Cookies commercial in the 90’s. And who doesn’t know how to whistle along with Otis Redding’s “(Sitting on) the Dock of the Bay”? However, these well-known songs are hardly what make this collection special.

Also of note is treasure trove of sampled material and original versions. Salt-N-Pepa’s “What a Man” is nearly identical to Linda Lyndell’s original, raps aside. Then there is Jewel’s version of Shirley Brown’s “Woman to Woman,” the final hit from Stax in 1974. Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft” deserves mention because it is a groundbreaking biological parent of funk, disco, and hip-hop.

Then there are the musicians that didn’t sample or cover songs, but were simply inspired by Stax or inspired Stax. It sounds as if Andre 3000 from Outkast probably heard Frederick Knight’s “I’ve Been Lonely for So Long” a few times. Knight’s falsetto and the track’s simple guitar is just one example of the variety of songs Stax produced. And you’ll note that the chuck-a-chuck, wah-wah pedal sound that Tom Morello produces with Rage against the Machine, was borne of Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft.” In addition, Soul Children’s “Hearsay” sounds like James Brown screaming over a Jackson 5 single.

Also providing auditory pleasure are original and alternative versions to popular songs. Otis Redding wrote and originally performed "Respect." If you love the song, but you are sick to death of hearing Aretha Franklin sing it, this horn-laden original is most refreshing. “Dedicated to the One I Love” was already a hit in 1959 by the Shirelles, but here the slow tempo male version by the Temprees is especially sweet. In addition, Eddie Floyd’s original rendition of “Knock on Wood” stands up high against all cover versions, including Amii Stewart’s #1 hit in 1978.

Other classics on the compilation by both singing groups and individual singers are also worth checking out. Group songs, like the Dramatics’ “Whatcha See Is Watcha Get” and “In the Rain,” the Emotions’ “So I Can Love You,” and The Astors’ “Candy” are especially savory. There are also great songs by individual singers, like Johnnie Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love,” and William Bell’s “Private Number”, and blues guitarist Albert King’s “Born under a Bad Sign.” Something must be said about Rufus Thomas. He is the doctor of dancing styles, one of which operated under the title, “Do the Funky Chicken.” He was also the father of Carla Thomas, whose “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes)” starts off the two-disc set.

The sprinkles of the cake, however, are the songs by the studio bands at Stax. They often released their own tunes-sans vocals. Booker T. & the MGs scored hits with “Green Onions” and “Time Is Tight.” The Mar-Keys ranked with “Last Night.” And the Bar-Kays hit big with horn-crazed “Soul Finger” and then rode the Shaft wave with “Son of Shaft.” Most of the Stax recordings used members of these bands and recorded live, contributing to the “Stax sound.”

Back when black and white segregation was the norm, Stax proved that some enlightened souls existed-- as both artists, and the fans to support them in the celebration of cultural diversity. On this 50th Anniversary Celebration double CD, there are fifty tracks to enjoy, each of which foreshadows the musical and social progress that follow their original releasing.

 

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