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Music Review: Stax Number Ones

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The Stax record label existed between 1961 and 1975 as the main soul and rhythm & blues rival of Motown. Located in Memphis, they produced a grittier, funkier sound than the impeccably produced Motown material. My apologies to Marvin Gaye as his sound was the big Motown exception to this statement.

The Stax catalog has been passed around during the past 35 years, but in 2004 The Concord Record Group gained control and began issuing various compilation albums. Stax Number Ones is the latest of these and represents the best of the label’s legacy.

The Stax label placed 175 songs on The Billboard Magazine Hot 100 pop charts and an amazing 275 on the R&B charts. This CD release gathers the fifteen that reached number one on either chart. As such, it presents the elite of sixties and seventies soul music.

Otis Redding placed dozens of songs on the charts between 1963 and 1967. On December 7, 1968 he went into the studio and recorded “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.” Three days later he was killed in a plane crash. His song would spend a month on top of the National charts in The United States and rates as one of the top ten soul performances of all time. If you want to explore the history of American rhythm & blues this is one of the songs to visit.

Sam and Dave placed two songs on the album. “Soul Man” and “Hold On! I’m Coming” were big crossover hits and had more of a pop feel than the usual Stax fare. The use of brass during “Soul Man” is Memphis soul at its best.

Interestingly, it is Johnnie Taylor who is the only artist to have three number ones included on the album. “I Believe In You (You Believe In Me),” “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone” and his huge cross over hit “Who’s Making Love” helped define the funky soul sound. His biggest hit, “Disco Lady,” released after the label’s demise, would top the pop charts for four weeks.

Isaac Hayes is represented by his chart topping “Theme From Shaft” which would also win The Oscar for best song. “Green Onions” was the first release by Booker T, & The MG’s. They were a rare early sixties interracial band featuring keyboardist Booker T. Jones, legendary guitarist Steve Cropper, and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn. This instrumental remains instantly recognizable.

When you add such tracks as “Knock On Wood” by Eddie Floyd, “In The Rain” by The Dramatics, “Mr. Big Stuff” by Jean Knight, plus songs by Rufus Thomas, The Staple Singers, and Shirley Brown you have an album with no filler.

Stax Number Ones presents the best of not only Memphis soul but of American rhythm and blues. The songs are an essential slice of American music.

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