Tag Archives: Stax

Rocks In The Attic #756: Various Artists – ‘Stax Does The Beatles’ (2008)

RITA#756This year’s Record Store Day was an embarrassment of riches. Not only did it deliver a bunch of sought-after soundtracks, but the funk and soul fan in me was well looked after too.

First released digitally back in 2008, a now double-LP of Stax artists doing Beatles covers sounds like something I’d make up in my dreams. Two of my favourite musical pillars colliding, the only thing that would beat this would be the unearthing of a secret LP of Stax songs recorded by the Fab Four themselves between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. I’ll keep dreaming about that one.

In fact, it doesn’t take much to imagine what Stax Does The Beatles sounds like. Much of the material collected here is available on the individual Stax releases they’re culled from, with only one or two hard to find tracks included. Probably the most famous cover, Otis Redding’s Day Tripper, is presented as an alternate take that’s just as rocking as the well-known version found on his Dictionary Of Soul from 1966. Another gem is a cover of And I Love Her, a b-side by Reggie Milner who only recorded two singles for Stax.

RITA#756aStax house-band Booker T. & The M.G.s  – once going so far as to record an entire LP in homage to the Beatles – turn in the highest number of performances on the album, responsible for four of its fifteen tracks (five if you include guitarist Steve Cropper’s solo effort of With A Little Help From My Friends, the title-track of his 1969 album).

The album’s liner notes make reference to the little-known fact that Brian Epstein once scouted the Stax studios as a potential place to record the Beatles. His visit to Memphis in March 1966 ultimately led to nothing – Epstein abandoned the idea due to fears over security – and the resulting album, 1966’s Revolver, was recorded back at Abbey Road like the majority of their work. It sounds like a match made in heaven though. “Who knows what it would have sounded like had we recorded it at Stax,” ponders Cropper.  Paul McCartney’s soulful Got To Get You Into My Life, covered here by Booker T. & The M.G.s, remains Revolver’s only glimpse of how close the Beatles came to recording a soul and R&B-influenced album in 1966.

The liner notes do make a glaring omission, however. Of all the records in the world, this really was the place to mention that John Lennon used to jokingly refer to the Stax house-band as Book-A-Table & The Maitre-D’s.

Hit: Day Tripper (Alternate Take) – Otis Redding

Hidden Gem: Something – Isaac Hayes

RITA#756b

Rocks In The Attic #532: Bill Conti – ‘Rocky (O.S.T.)’ (1976)

rita532I love the Rocky films, particularly the first one. As with everything, it’s a case of ever-decreasing circles with the sequels. I haven’t caught Creed yet, the sixth sequel-cum-spinoff-cum-reboot, which I hear is supposed to be pretty decent (and earned Sylvester Stallone a Best Supporting Actor nod – the loss of which his brother didn’t take to kindly to).

I recently re-watched the first couple of films in the series, I and II, followed by Rocky Balboa (number six in the series). Comparing the original with the sequels, it really hits home that it would really have been better off all round had they not followed the first film. It was a Best Picture and Best Director winner remember, but its strength has been diminished over successive years with a string of lesser sequels.

Stallone is probably to blame. He deserves the credit for writing the original film, earning a Best Screenplay nomination as well as a Best Actor nod in the process. But he also wrote the next four films in the series, and seemed happy to portray the character and receive a bigger pay-check each time.

Even though I love the first film, it isn’t without its flaws. There’s one particularly cringeworthy scene where to show Rocky as a man of the neighbourhood, he’s seen running down the street playing with the local kids. The over-acting in this short moment unfortunately makes him look like a retarded man-child.

Aside from the rousing main title, Gonna Fly Now, this soundtrack is full of nice grooves. It officially comes under the banner of Philly Soul, but instrumental cuts like Reflections could easily have come out of Memphis’ Stax studios, particularly from Isaac Hayes’ superb Shaft soundtrack.

Hit: Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky)

Hidden Gem: Reflections

Rocks In The Attic #503: Otis Redding – ‘Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul’ (1965)

RITA#503Probably Redding’s most famous of the studio albums he recorded during his short life, this is album number three of six. It earned a little more attention than its predecessors due to its frantic cover of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction which adorns the second side. It therefore finds its way into most rock-centric record collections. It’s usually the only Otis Redding record that appears in top albums of all times lists; and more often than not, it’s one of only a handful of soul albums to appear. In Rolling Stone’s Top 500, the record places at a respectable 75.

The record is mainly a bunch of covers, with only three songs penned by Redding himself. Also covered are songs by BB King, the Temptations, Solomon Burke, William Bell and three Sam Cooke songs.

The album was recorded within a 24-hour period in July, which is a great example of how quickly Stax could produce white hot material in the mid-‘60s. As per Redding’s previous albums, he was backed by Booker T.  & The M.G.s, with horns supplied by a mixture of the Mar-Keys and the Memphis Horns.

Donald “Duck” Dunn’s bass line on Respect has always interested me. It sounds very similar to McCartney’s bass line on the Beatles’ Drive My Car. Almost too similar, if you know what I mean. A cursory look at the dates shows that Redding’s song had been released as a single in August 1965, a full two months before the Beatles recorded Drive My Car.

Ian McDonald in Revolution In The Head, his seminal analysis on the Beatles’ recording career, points out that George Harrison had been listening to Redding’s Respect when they recorded Drive My Car. It sounds like it was Harrison’s urging that they record the song with a heavy bottom-ended, dual bass and guitar riff.

So there was definitely some musical thievery going on with Drive My Car, but it’s impossible to say whether McCartney or Harrison was the chief magpie.

Hit: I’ve Been Loving You Too Long

Hidden Gem: What A Wonderful World

Rocks In The Attic #497: Andrew Lloyd Webber – ‘The Odessa File (O.S.T.)’ (1974)

RITA#497I haven’t seen The Odessa File. The wife found me the soundtrack in the local charity shop, and I’m a sucker for soundtracks, so it was very much appreciated. Composed by a pre-world famous Andrew Lloyd Webber, it’s a mixed bag of material – a Perry Como Christmas tune, some rousing German choral marches and some very listenable instrumental incidental music.

Some of the instrumental music is so good in fact, it almost seems a shame that Lloyd Webber concentrated on musical theatre for the majority of his career. He might have been an outstanding soundtrack artist had he continued down this route instead.

Tracks like Solomon Tauber’s Diary or Music At Riga sound like they’ve been lifted off a blaxploitation soundtrack, maybe something from a label like Stax. They’re totally at odds with the rest of the record though, and very interesting especially as they were recorded by what was probably a very white band. A mention should go out to Vic Flick – the guitarist of Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme – who plays guitar on the soundtrack.

I’ll have to check out the film though. I’m a big fan of early Jon Voight, before he turned into a bit of a strange character. He’s probably more famous now for being the estranged father of Angelina Jolie, when he was obviously a very talented – and Oscar-winning – actor back in the day.

Hit: Main Title Music

Hidden Gem: Solomon Tauber’s Diary

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