It’s not unusual for new music to be described as “Memphis soul” or as having the “Memphis sound." That easily identifiable sound was for the most part was defined in the ’60s by the artists of the mighty Memphis-based Stax Records. Now, in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of Stax Records, Concord Music Group and Rhino Records have teamed up to resurrect some of the best material from the Stax vaults, with first up being the ambitious Stax Classics compilation series.
Giving the spotlight to 10 artists, each release in the Stax Classic series features 12 songs that are a mix of hits and lesser-known deep cuts. CD versions of the series will include newly-penned liner notes. Here’s a look at some of the Stax Classic titles available now.
Otis Redding – Of course the mega hit “[Sittin’ On] The Dock of the Bay” leads off this set; all 11 of the other included cuts also charted but significantly lower. Redding’s take on the chestnut “Try a Little Tenderness” is a standout, as is the brassy pop of “Mr. Pitiful” and “Respect,” the Redding-penned cut that would go on to be a hit for Aretha Franklin. Closing the collection is Redding’s take on the Rolling Stones classic “Satisfaction.”
Sam & Dave – Sam Moore is still going strong today while Dave Prater passed away in 1988, and this compilation is a firm reminder of how great the guys worked together in the ’60s. Stacked at the head of the track list are biggies “Hold On! I’m a Comin,’” the beloved “Soul Man” and “I Thank You;” further in the duo tackles the tearjerk ballad “When Something is Wrong With My Baby,” the funky “You Got Me Hummin’” and the bluesy “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down.” No wonder Sam & Dave were known as “Double Dynamite.”
Carla Thomas – Thomas has the nickname the “Queen of Memphis Soul” and with cuts here like “B-A-B-Y,” “I Like What You’re Doing (To Me)” and “Let Me Be Good to You” it’s easy to hear her as Stax’s answer to the Motown girl groups that were all over the charts at the time. Standouts include the humor-infused “Tramp” which is a duet with Otis Redding, “Cause I Love You” where Carla duets with her father Rufus Thomas and the sweet pop of “Pick up the Pieces,” which originally was only released as a single.
Albert King – This singer and guitarist is considered one of the all-time blues greats and these Stax sides are for the most part famous works. They include “Born Under a Bad Sign,” a take on the Elmore James classic “The Sky is Crying” which was later famously covered by Stevie Ray Vaughn and “I’ll Play the Blues for You, Part 1.” Other standouts include a live take on “Blues Power,” the sassy “Crosscut Saw” and the funky, only slightly remorseful “Breaking up Somebody’s Home.”
Isaac Hayes – This set opens with perhaps Hayes’ most famous cut ever, the unlikely singalong hit “Theme from Shaft,” one of the all-time greatest cuts from a Blaxploitation film. Fans never really knew what they would get from this late star, other than the fact that it would be soulful, and here the material ranges from “Walk on By,” a slow jam with psychedelic guitar lurking in the background, to the breathy take on “Never Can Say Goodbye” to the funky, 10-minute-long venture into earthy psychedelia that is “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic.”
Other artists featured in the first flight of Stax Classics are Booker T & the MGs, the Staple Singers, William Bell, Johnnie Taylor and the Dramatics. Besides the Stax Classics series, Concord and Rhino plan on rereleasing select Stax titles on vinyl as well as an Isaac Hayes box set and other collections, and the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Stax Records will continue with releases throughout the year. During its original 15-year run Stax released 800 singles and about 300 albums and placed 243 hits on the Top 100 R&B charts.