On paper, Booker T. & The M.G.’s shouldn’t work. If you put their original material to one side, all that is left is a band covering instrumental versions of the hits of the day. I’ve never been a fan of the type of instrumental covers where the lead instrument – in this case, Booker T. Jones’ organ – tends to play the vocal melody. The same goes for guitar groups like The Shadows, where Hank Marvin will play the vocal line on his guitar. It can sound very infantile.
But, it works with Booker T. & The M.G.’s. A couple of songs are close to sounding a little hammy, but on the whole, mainly due to their choice of songs, it avoids the type of pitfalls that trouble a lot of instrumental groups. The skills that each member of the M.G.’s bring to their respective instruments puts them in a much better position than most instrumental groups, which tend to be built around one particular musician.
I have the 1966 Atlantic repressing of this album, in mono. The sleeve isn’t in great condition, but it’s holding together. I’d like to get my hands on the original 1962 Stax pressing – as this album, the band’s debut, was the very first album released on the Stax label (the three previous offerings of the label were distributed on the Atlantic label).
I love Stax. I recently bought the 7” box-set they brought out for Record Store Day this year, and even though that covers the kind of tracks that most people have never heard, that “lesser” material they were producing is still sweet to listen to 40 years later.
As far as instrumentals go, you really can’t beat Green Onions. It’s got a slightly menacing sound, which I think is why it still sounds fresh today. With that sort of tempo and bass line, it should sound poppy and dated, but they approach it without overcooking it. Booker T. Jones may ham it up on the organ when they play it live, but in the studio he remains composed and gives the track chance to breathe.
I bought this only last Sunday, from Real Groovy in Auckland. Got it home, put in on the turntable and while it’s on its first listen I turn on the internet and find out that Duck Dunn has passed away.
The music world has lost a lot of good people in the last couple of weeks – Levon Helm, The Beastie Boys’ MCA, Duck Dunn, and as of the day before yesterday, Donna Summer. That’s be a nice little band right there – an odd band, but something worth listening to.
McElmore Avenue, as the front cover might suggest, is Booker T. & The M.G.’s doing Abbey Road. Released only a few months as The Beatles’ swansong, it’s missing a few songs (my favourite, Oh! Darling is noticeably absent), but this gives the M.G.’s a bit of room to improvise on the songs chosen.
It’s a great little album, with the band on top form, working their way through a largely instrumental and heavily re-ordered version of Abbey Road.