STACKS OF STAX (PT. 2) (W/ GIVEAWAY)

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(In case you’re curious what “Part 1” is, I wrote that in 2009.)

Stax was the first music label I ever took an active interest in. This was probably back in 1992, when I decided to splurge with some credit I had at Amoeba and I picked up the the Complete Stax/Volt Singles, 1959-68, 9 CD box set. I can’t even recall why I was motivated to cop it except that 1) the cover looked cool and 2) I must have known a bare minimum about Stax/Volt to think “hey, maybe I’d learn something from this.”

That set stayed in heavy rotation for months and clearly, I wasn’t alone in that. One thing that I feel like isn’t acknowledged enough is that its release set off a spate of rap artists sampling from the Stax/Volt catalog. The examples are legion and maybe it’s a coincidence in a few cases but really, is it just convenient timing that this box set drops in ’91 and by ’93, the RZA is minting classics that loop up Wendy Rene and The Charmels (both of whose songs appear on that first volume)? I think not.

Those box sets – there are three of them in total, spanning 1959 through 1975 – were just the beginning. Over the years, the folks who own the Stax back catalog have done a steady job of mining it for different anthologies and just over the past few weeks, two new Stax-related box sets have hit the scene.

First, there’s the new Stax Vinyl 7s set. This is, if I have my count right, their fourth time reissuing singles within a 7″ box set (notably, they were early to the game, with their first set, called the Stax Box coming out in the mid-1980s!). The focus of this latest set, released to commemorate the label’s 60th anniversary, is somewhat surprising: compiler Richard Searling focused on Stax-related releases that gained a cult following in the UK’s Northern Soul and crossover scenes which is stark contrast with the label’s famed Memphis sound roots. It’s not an unwelcome way to explore the Stax catalog, just an unexpected one.

The challenge for Searling was to come up with a new way to repackage old treats and to that, he focused on tracks that have long been difficult – if not impossible – to get on 7″. Let’s cut to the chase: the best thing in this box, in this regard, is Lou Bond’s sublime “Why Must Our Eyes Always Be Turned Backwards” which has never been released on single. I wouldn’t say that it’s worth copping the box just for this single but it’s the first thing that leapt out to me. It’s kind of amazing, really, that no one’s bothered until now to put this out on 45; it’s so frickin’ amazing.

If the Lou Bond was “never before” status, then a slew of singles fall into “you could have bought these once but good luck finding them now” territory. One of them, the Montclairs’ “Hey You!” was previously re-released in 2001 but the original copies on the Stax subsidiary, Arch, easily sell for $1000+ and I can understand why: it’s an incredible crossover tune. I don’t think I’d drop a G on it but if you threw me a copy and asked for a few hundred, I wouldn’t hesitate a second to cop. It’s that good.

Some other gems include J.J. Barnes’ stomper “Sweet Sherry,” as well as the slow-burning “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” by Carla Thomas. As far as I know, neither song received a formal Stax/Volt release back when they were first recorded though both have also been subsequently reissued onto 45 in the years since.

We have a copy of the boxset to giveaway! To enter, 1) name the three songs used in this short snippet mix and then 2) post your answers here. Good luck.

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2 comments to STACKS OF STAX (PT. 2) (W/ GIVEAWAY)

  • Spiritual Songs

    This has nothing to do with your topic. However, I tried last year to list all the spirituals I know (having grown up in the 70s). Kumbayad through it. Because that is all I could recall! Soul music I use to connect to the ‘negro spirituals’. And I can’t seem to name a few. I should be able to do so – right? Since that is the heritage of the south (outside of legacy – which is apparently is slavery) where the spiritual is a song of redemption and having outlived the past of challenge through a connection with that which is vast in scope … a connection, they say to god, as that is a single theme. “By The Rivers of Babylon” – which is the Psalms of the Bible. You can do it that way – is what I found. I also found Jesus Walking the Lonesome Valley. Again the heritage of the south where oppressed poor white populations outlived their legacy of having landed without and not. Can I say that? Politics perhaps preside. Having said that – I guess Bob Marley is spiritual … is he officially considered that? Speaking about politics. He would be the modern spirtual writer of the West Indies – say: “These songs of freedom … Redemptions Songs” See Cassandra Wilson’t version. Because that speaks spiritual to me. Has soul music really worked into the modern era this way if it inherited its place in the line-up of music this way. Say the Black Boys of Alabama? Soul music or Spiritual music? Try “none of us is free” , you end up in the freedom songs of the student movement days. But they have that right bass voice – ‘wahaa’ that gives you the old fashioned foot stomping of a good spiritual revival. Is that the last? Where is the new music. We really need something champion us along on this era. namaste.

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