When I was growing up in the sixties, Atlantic Records used to have this really cool series of albums called Super Hits, where they would compile about twelve of their biggest-selling singles onto a single LP.
Since the Atlantic/Atco roster was one of the strongest in music at the time, this made these samplers can't-beat propositions. There usually wasn't a single clunker in the bunch. The album sleeves, which featured quasi-psychedelic cartoons with individual illustrations of every track, also pulled off the nifty trick of putting many of the top rock, psychedelic, and soul acts side-by-side in a single package.
So where on the one hand you might have Cream, Vanilla Fudge, and Buffalo Springfield; on the other you'd get Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Sam And Dave. Balancing both sides out, there was also usually a track in there by the Rascals, who were Atlantic's golden boys of blue-eyed soul at the time.
The reason I bring all this up — aside from the fact that I really miss those compilations (which are long since out-of-print) — is the many similarities with them I found on Stax Number Ones, the newly issued collection of Stax Records tracks from Concord Music Group.
I'm not one hundred percent sure what the relationship between the original Memphis-based Stax Records and Ahmet Ertegun's much bigger Atlantic label was in the sixties. What is clear is that the bread and butter of each was southern-fried soul and R&B, and to that end many of the same artists and even the same tracks from those old Atlantic Super Hits collections show up on Stax Number Ones as well.
Specifically, Otis Redding's "Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay" and Sam & Dave's monster hits "Soul Man" and "Hold On I'm Comin'" are cornerstones of both the Atlantic and Stax compilations, and as such are also textbook examples of the two different sides of sixties soul. Where Redding's ballad was an early forerunner to the smoother soul of latter-day Quiet Storm formats, Sam & Dave's twin slices of sixties funk are both party classics that endure to this day.
Sam & Dave's "Soul Man" was of course one of many hits penned by Stax house songwriters Issac Hayes and David Porter. Hayes' own signature hit "(Theme From) Shaft" — also included on Stax Number Ones — is of course the song that kicked off a thousand such blaxploitation film themes from "Superfly" on down. Hayes' classic also features one of the most instantly identifiable wah-wah guitar riffs ever.
From those great classics forward, the hits just keep on comin' on Stax Number Ones. Booker T & The MG's "Green Onions" may best be remembered for its signature organ riff, but Steve Cropper's guitar breaks sound as crisp now as they did then.
The gospel side of the Stax sound is represented by the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There," while Johnnie Taylor's "Who's Makin" Love" and Rufus Thomas' "Do The Push And Pull (Part 1)" are reminders of the simpler days when all a great song had to do to be sexy was offer a hint of carnal delight rather than paint a complete picture. Ah, those were the days…
As stylistically diverse a collection as Stax Number Ones is, what holds it all together is the distinctive Stax Records brand of Memphis Soul. A bit rougher around the edges than its closest sixties competitor at Motown, Stax Recordings were best characterized by their signature southern-fried sound. With great songs like these together on a single package, this Stax O'Wax Trax sounds just as finger lickin' good today.