This is potent medicine, good for what ails ya, a little bundle of comfort that will get you through dark days and long nights. And the best part is, you don’t need a prescription: The doctors will see you now and forever, or as long as you can get this box of soul salvation to play for you.
Stax soul lives again courtesy of a collaboration between Rhino Records and Concord Bicycle Music, who have control of the Stax record catalog and have compiled a 60 track, 3-CD set of the best of the Stax years, with more soul men and women than you can shake a tail feather at.
Just perusing the titles is enough to make a man or a woman drop to their knees and wail in anticipation of soulful deliverance. Otis, Booker T and the MGs, The Staples, Eddie Floyd, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Isaac Hayes, William Bell, and Sam & Dave all appear in all their sweaty, radiant glory; gettin’ down an rollin’ around in hot, greasy soul.
Just jump in anywhere. William Bell gets a couple of spins, first on his ’61 original “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” churning up smooth, buttery soul, setting Otis up for his gritty gospel/soul transmogrification on ’65’s Otis Blue.
Bell gets another go-round with Judy Clay on their ’68 soaring soul hit “Private Number,” which still manages to be funky even with the string seasoning.
Otis only pops up twice, on his heart-breaking career finale change-up, “Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay,” and then roaring like a backwater lothario, trying to defend himself against Carla Thomas’ country-boy charges (“you wear big ole bro-gan shoes and you need a haircut, tramp!”) on their duet, “Tramp,” from ’67’s King and Queen.
No soul collection would be complete without Eddie Floyd’s rat-a tat ’66 soul gem “Knock On Wood,” co-written with Booker T and the MGs’ guitarist Steve Cropper. Covered the next year by Otis and Carla, Bowie, Clapton, and Bolton all took a swing at it over the years, but its shelf life has been sustained by being the one song any vintage bar/garage/soul/blues band absolutely had to have in their quiver in order to survive.
You can throw the Staples’ “I’ll Take You There” in that same band survival quiver as well. Mavis’ orgasmic grunts and groans over Eddie Hinton’s chiming, churchy guitar and Swamper David Hood’s funky bassline got a whole bunch of youthful sinners knee-bendin’ to worship at the house of Staples. “Respect Yourself,” from the same Muscle Shoals session captured on ’72’s Be Altitude: Respect Yourself, is in there, as well as some Staples staples like “The Weight,” “If You’re Ready,” and “Heavy Makes You Happy.”
No Stax soul compilation would be complete without Sam & Dave’s ’66 call and response classic, “Hold On I’m Coming.” 1965’s “You Don’t Know Like I Know” was a standard on their setlist for their sweaty marathon tours that included years of playing nearly 300 dates annually. ’67’s “Soul Man” did pretty well on its own, but got a new lease on life in ’79 with The Blues Brothers takeover.
There’s plenty of other gems scattered throughout. Jean Knight’s in-your-face putdown classic “Mr Big Stuff”still sounds fresh and funky. Albert King’s rendition of Booker T’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” still gives you chills, and Rufus Thomas demonstrates why he was called the clown prince of soul with “Walking the Dog.”
You might feel that some of your favorite stuff got left out, but there was only so much room, and with the coverage of the individual artists compilations that the label has been doing earlier this year, the Stax catalog is well represented and preserved. It’s soul, man – it never gets old, and it’s never been done any better.