Tag Archives: Motown

Rocks In The Attic #474: Various Artists – ‘Stax – Number Ones’ (2010)

RITA#474Stax Records: my favourite record label, hands down. Grittier than Motown, a talent pool for Atlantic, and a tale of a rags to riches underdog in a socially conscious and racially integrated framework, Stax has got it all. The 2007 documentary (Respect Yourself: The Stax Record Story) is essential viewing, but I’m waiting for the big budget Hollywood film to tell the story. Idris Elba as Otis Redding, anyone?

Brother and Sister Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton started a country label, called Satellite Records, out of their garage in the late 1950s, but it was when they started recording R&B and changed their name to Stax that they got the attention of Atlantic Records, who picked them up with a distribution deal.

Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Eddie Floyd, The Staple Singers, and of course, the Stax house band Booker T. & The M.G.s.; the label’s roll-call read like a who’s who of ‘60s and ‘70s soul acts. There’s something there for everyone, and a bunch of great number one hit singles, as this collection attests.

The Atlantic partnership proved to be the best and worst thing to happen to Stax though, and this is why it would be great subject material for a film. By distributing their records, and sometimes using the Stax studios to record artists on their own label, Atlantic acted as a protective big brother to Stax; but not for long.

In 1967, Atlantic was sold to Warners, and Stax fell by the wayside. Jim Stewart asked for the return of the Stax masters, but found out that Atlantic’s cuntish lawyers had included a clause in the 1965 distribution contract that gave away the rights to the Stax material to Atantic. Betrayed by his more savvy business partners and by his own naivety, Stewart eventually drove Stax into bankruptcy after a few short years as an independent. Such a shame.

I can’t remember the first time I heard about Stax. It was probably through my Dad, who has a great compilation – Atlantic Soul Classics – which captures (exploits?) a couple of acts from the Stax roster. I’ve since picked up that album on vinyl. After that, it was probably going back and discovering Booker T. & The M.G.s via the Blues Brothers. Good times.

Hit: (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay – Otis Redding

Hidden Gem: Who’s Making Love – Johnnie Taylor

Rocks In The Attic #259: Dexys Midnight Runners – ‘Too-Rye-Ay’ (1982)

RITA#259I like to think that if I was in the first incarnation of Dexys – a Londoner drafted into the band due to my mean skills on the trombone or sax, and my love of Motown – and Kevin Rowland then sent the band into this direction for their second album – all fiddles, dungarees and ponytails – I’d probably want to leave the band. In fact, the second I saw somebody walk into the room with a fiddle, I’d punch Rowland in the face. Seeing Rowland dressed as a woman on a cover of a later solo album might lead me to believe I had very much made the right decision to leave.

That’s not to say that Too-Rye-Ay is a bad album. It’s not. The melodies are still there, and the homage to American music is very much still there in a cover of Van Morrison’s Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile) – with the band’s appearance on Top Of The Pops providing one of the best television bloopers ever, as the dance in front of a video screen featuring darts player Jocky Wilson – but their image had taken a turn for the worse. On Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, they had dressed as New York dockworkers in the style of On The Waterfront. Now they just looked like idiots.

Come On Eileen, even after its over-use at every party and wedding since 1982, is still a fantastic single – a trans-Atlantic number one, in fact. There’s hurt and emotion in there, in between the lyrics, hidden in a way I just can’t comprehend. I get the same feeling I do when I hear a Michael Jackson song, where a couple of seemingly throwaway lines in the bridge sound like the most important thing in the world.

I could still do without the fucking fiddle though.

Hit: Come On Eileen

Hidden Gem: The Celtic Soul Brothers

Rocks In The Attic #25: Lionel Richie – ‘Can’t Slow Down’ (1983)

Rocks In The Attic #25: Lionel Richie - ‘Can’t Slow Down’ (1983)I’m not sure why I have this – I think it may have something I pilfered from my parent’s collection when I was starting to listen to vinyl in a big way. For years it remained on my shelf, unlistened to, and then I noticed it had a song – Running With The Night – that featured on the soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I’m glad I finally listened to it, as the rest of the album isn’t half-bad.

Bookended by his big US #1 solo hits – All Night Long (All Night) and Hello – the album is his second solo output after leaving The Commodores, and is full of hits. Each of the five singles taken from the album charted in the US Top 10 – not a bad start for somebody described by one critic as ‘the black Barry Manilow’.

My good friend Roger used to use a ticket stub from a Lionel Richie concert as a bookmark, mainly as a conversation starter to meet girls on the train during his commute to work. Apparently it worked most of the time.

Hit: Hello

Hidden Gem: Running With The Night

Rocks In The Attic #14: Stevie Wonder – ‘Hotter Than July’ (1980)

The 1980s weren’t very kind to Stevie Wonder. Commercially, he did great – The Woman In Red soundtrack, Ebony and Ivory, Part Time Lover – but his critical successes were largely left behind in the 1970s. I love his classic period, starting with 1972’s Music Of My Mind, and I’d put this album, Hotter Than July, in there as the final album of that run.

It’s a very happy album, and other than Happy Birthday which sounds very ‘80s, the rest of the album stands up to the best of his work on Talking Book or Songs In The Key Of Life. In terms of songwriting, you could put any of these songs on those albums, and the only thing that gives the album away as coming from a slightly different time is that the synthesiser sounds are starting to sound a bit 1980s. They’re not as ‘jolly’ as the synth sounds from songs like Ebony And Ivory, but you can sort of hear them going in that direction.

Looking at the album credits, Michael Jackson pops up as one of several backing vocalists on All I Do, although you can’t hear it’s him. As usual Stevie plays most instruments on most of the songs – all keyboards, drums, and of course vocals. You get the idea that if Stevie Wonder walked up to your house and rang the doorbell, it would be the funkiest sounding time you’d ever hear it ring.

Hit: Happy Birthday

Hidden Gem: Master Blaster (Jammin’)