The Bar-Kays: Street Walker
From Gotta Groove (Stax, 1969)
I surprised myself when I realized that not only had I never written about this Bar-Kays album but I hadn’t even digitized a single song off of it. That’s only strange given that it ranks at the very top of my favorite Stax/Volt albums; along with the Mar-Keys’ Great Memphis Sound, I can’t imagine two more essential albums of funk-influenced soul instrumentals to emerge off the vaunted label.
What’s truly striking about several of the Bar-Kays’ songs is how f—-ing heavy they are, none more so than “Street Walker” which sounds like something George Clinton (or the Bomb Squad) probably wish he had composed. The late ’60s saw a massive influx of psychedelic rock influences into R&B – you can hear it in many Motown releases from the era for example – and it seems clear that the Bar-Kays were on top of that trend. (See the LP’s “In the Hole” for another equally heavy – though not quite as fuzzed out – track.
In contrast, what I like about “Jiving Round” is how breezy it moves. Compared to the irresistible gravity of some of the other songs, this one moves with snappy slickness. For whatever reason, it always reminds me of this song:
Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band: 65 Bars and a Taste of Soul
From Together (WB, 1968)
Not identical by any means but there’s a very interesting similarity in style between the two instrumentals; I wonder if the Bar-Kays were listening to Wright and the 103rd back in the late ’60s.