Dear reader make this easy on me, please tell me you are familiar with Stax Records. You know, the legendary label based in Memphis who released some of the finest soul music of the 60s and 70s? Including artists such as Otis Redding, Bar-Kays, Rufus Thomas, Booker T & the MGs, Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, and so on. The story of the label and their famed studio is as amazing as the music.
Of course, as with any successful label with a heavy flow of releases there is likely to be a plenty of lost and/or overlooked gems in the “stacks” of recorded vinyl. Nothing can guarantee a song to be a hit and as a result many great songs never get their deserved attention at the time of their release and furthermore, stand to get lost and forgotten in time. That’s where collections like “Never To Be Forgotten (The Flip Side Of Stax 1968-1974)” play Mighty Mouse and come to save the day...
This set includes 10 7” singles (also includes a download card for the mp3s!) packaged in a thick and nicely designed flip top box, with an 84-page book. Only 4000 of these were produced and are numbered accordingly (I got #1205).
We originally got these for Record Store Day and with the hectic-ness of the day not all of them were put out on the salesfloor, so we ended up having some left over. On one hand, that was good because that meant I was able buy one for myself, so that was exciting. I finally got around to cracking it open to check it out and thought, “Perhaps I should alert the music loving world at large who might be interested in picking up one of the few ones we have left…”
Undoubtedly, the music was the primary motivation to getting this, but upon opening it up I found myself being a bit more child-like about the book. The outside packaging doesn’t even indicate that there is a book inside so it felt like a bonus! The book has plenty of pictures from that era. It captures the city, the recording studio, the artist, the offices, and key moments in history (such as receiving awards). Yet, that is the smaller fraction of the book’s contents. The rest of the pages are filled with commentary and stories about the history of Stax. Many stories, including the rise and fall of the label, is outlined in great detail and reveals once again that the music business is indeed a crazy one. Each of the included singles also gets it’s own review to provide some background on the artists and songs.
As for the music, as you might expect it’s filled with silky voices, expert musicianship, and sounds every bit as soulful as you can get. Listening to the sexy voice of Mable John, singing sad songs of failed love might make you feel guilty, as the strong groove and beautifully vocals have you feeling good, even in spite of her words of struggle. Ah, the power of conflicting emotions. I imagine John Gary Williams (of The Mad Lads)“The Whole Damn World is Going Crazy” might have been a bit edgy back in the day. However, I suppose his sentiment rings every bit of true now as it did then, even more so in some aspects. Timeless music. Bernie Hayes introduces the “Cool Strut” with style and flavor. He’s so cool himself he doesn’t need to sing a note. He just speaks to the people with a series of slick rhymes and charisma. Lee Sain has one of the funkiest cuts in this collection with his “Them Hot Pants”. It’s got a sound reminiscent of Dyke and The Blazers and Simtec and Wylie, which is some sure nuff funky company. The history behind the Melvin Van Peeples included tracks “Sweetback’s Theme” and “Hoppin’ John” are critical stories themselves. Let’s just say these songs are symbols of a revolutionizing of modern cinema, are responsible for discovering Earth, Wind & Fire, and can still light up a dance floor. Those are pretty impressive accomplishments. The Mad Lads aren’t household names, but they released an impressive discography of soulful music with striking instrumentation, emotional lyrics, and fantastic arrangements. Hip Hop fans might recognize “Gone! The Promises Of Yesterday” from its use by The RZA for Cappadonna, but one listen from start to finish assures you that it serves far greater purpose than just a quick sample source. Roy Lee Johnson’s “The Dryer” is filled with action. Soon as it came on I envisioned him live on stage at a small theater rocking live and as soon as that beat dropped in from the intro, with anticipation building hi-hats and organ, the ladies began to scream and a dancing frenzy took place until he brought it to a close with an intensified soul screech from the bottom of throat…
Among the most well known artists on here are Johnnie Taylor, Rufus Thomas and The Emotions. Johnnie Taylor takes two songs to help people get their love lives together. Unfortunately, a few decades later the average person hasn’t learned these lessons. On “Hijackin’ Love” he puts a seemingly complex situation in simple terms, “If somebody can steal a jet plane right out of the sky/If you ain’t doing what you supposed to do somebody will snatch your man right from under your eyes/They call it Hijackin’ Love…” On “Love In The Streets” he illustrates exactly how that previous scenario can play out if you don’t heed the advice. Offering the flipside of love woes, The Emotions sing of the beauty of finding great love. “My Honey And Me” speaks on it most directly, while “Blind Alley” finds the ladies needing to explain it even further to persistent men trying to win their love, but only to find, “You’re not penetrating, somebody else has got my time.” This one is a certified classic Hip Hop break, used most famously as the backbone for Big Daddy Kane’s “Ain’t No Steppin”. There certainly had to be a time when Rufus Thomas could be in the running for the funkiest man alive. The proven dance master hits the world with another one of his out there dances, introducing the “Itch And Scratch”. This song will never-not sound good! No matter your age, dance style, understanding of rhythm, there is absolutely no reason you won’t have a series of dance moves for this.
Essentially, what you have her is a time capsule of powerful music and incredible history, filled with some smile-inducing music that has stood the test of time, which speaks to your emotions and at the same time is all but guaranteed to inspire some fancy moves, head-nodding, and foot-tapping. That is unless you have no soul…
Written By Kevin Beacham
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