PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Various Artists: Stax Does the Beatles

Dara Kartz

Soulsville USA shows its relevance outside of Memphis with a pair of releases from Stax artists covering London and Detroit in their gritty soul sound.


Various Artists

Stax Does the Beatles

Label: Concord
US Release Date: 2008-02-26
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Various Artists

Soulsville Sings Hitsville

Subtitle: Stax Sings Songs of Motown Records
Label: Concord
US Release Date: 2008-02-36
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Stax Records has been spending a lot of time lately going through the vaults and dusting off some pretty incredible gems for proper release. The label's 50th anniversary last year was the impetus for a string of celebratory releases, including compilations of previously-unreleased material and showcases of their earlier catalogue. The latest in the series is a pair of albums that highlight a different angle of Stax talent: Stax Does the Beatles and Soulsville Sings Hitsville: Stax Sings Songs of Motown Records take the catalogue of two other song masters and throws them into the Stax studios. Beyond showing the ability of the Stax roster to interpret other peoples' music, both ultimately show how a Stax translation of any song would always be something unique, regardless of the author.

Worlds away from the Stax studio in Southern Memphis, the Beatles were often noted as a musical inspiration in interviews with Stax artists. Just as the Liverpool group had a solid writing team in McCartney and Lennon, so too did the Stax house, including the heavyweight writing team of Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter. The comparisons generally end there though, and the prime difference between the two groups is significant -- while the Beatles were well known for their songwriting and melodic styles, Stax artists were known for that gritty signature sound and style that always leaned more towards sounding impromptu than polished. Hearing the two artists overlap here is an interesting experiment.

The Stax style (and Stax artists) never lacked for personality, a point that is easily communicated as you listen through the label's catalogue. While the songs of the Beatles are classics in anyone's mind, the Stax treatment adds a twist that only further serves to reassure the genius of both sides. Otis Redding's gruff voice and energy on "Day Tripper" (along with those bright blasts of Stax horns that fit so well into the song's original guitar riff) is an example of the best of both worlds. The combination works. A later member of the Stax roster, Isaac Hayes offers a similar reconstruction of "Something", and turns the track into a 12-minute epic that was originally made available on his 1970 album, The Isaac Hayes Movement. While most of the album's offerings can be found elsewhere (only four of the 15 tracks are previously unreleased), there are enough examples here of the fusion working well for these songs to deserve a proper compilation.

The Stax trip over to Motown doesn't prove as smooth: all of the ways that the Stax artists' blend with the Beatles worked, the second experiment with Soulsville Sings Hitsville does not. Any fan of either record label -- and, yes, you usually have to make the choice early to be either a devotee of Stax or their early rival record label in Detroit, Motown -- could probably offer up the concern with this album even without hearing it. Just as much as Stax was known for a more organic, gritty and spontaneous approach to songwriting and recording, Motown was known for the exact opposite, with a more polished, produced and thought-out process behind its records. Motown in Detroit was a pop phenomenon, African-American artists breaking through on the mainstream charts in a consistent, and unheard of, way. The label's efforts and style became known as "The Motown Sound", essentially a style of soul music that included the heavy use of tambourine and drums, a focus on melody and a call and response singing style. These elements are at the core of the Motown songs; take that away and it's hard to replace it with anything else that will work.

We're all familiar with the versions offered up by the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Tempations ... the list honestly goes on and on with superb songs and performances. And it's interesting to hear Stax newbie at the time, Margie Joseph, singing a heavier version of "Stop! In the Name of Love", and the Soul Children offer their funky interpretation of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered". Many of Stax heavyweights have their own contributions here, including Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers and label house-band, Booker T & the MGs. The one glaring fact though is that these Motown songs don't really seem open for interpretation. Motown releases were extremely tailor-made projects that included everything from minute details in the studio to choreography on stage; tampering with these elements by another set of artists that have such a distinct style themselves just isn't a good fit. It's also probably why fans have to stake their claim early on with the rival labels, and pick one side or the other.

The Stax catalogue is a seemingly bottomless pit of musical treasures; the series of releases from the label over the past year is certainly a reminder of that. And fans always welcome the chance to hear more from their favorite artists on the label, especially those on the roster of the early days, whose material is harder to come by any other way. The label braintrust just might do well to consider Stax' own legacy of quality (as well as that of these artists) as they're plotting what I'm sure will continue to be a long list of re-masters, re-packaged, previously unreleased compilations. Maybe not every song ever recorded in the Stax studio should have a clever marketing theme behind it to be packaged up and released again today?

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.