Stax Records to release Beatles and Motown Tribute albums

Two volumes demonstrate the broad appeal of Motown and The Beatles, and how the artists at Stax could make them their own

Two volumes demonstrate the broad appeal of Motown and The Beatles, and how the artists at Stax could make them their own

LOSANGELES, Calif. — Stax Records (now a division of Concord Music Group) willrelease Stax Does The Beatles and Stax Sings The Songs of Motown® Records on January 29. Stax, of course,was best known for creating its own songs — classics like “(Sittin’ On The)Dock of the Bay,” “Knock On Wood” and “Respect Yourself.” But in the hands of aStax artist, a Beatles or Motown song found a new Southern groove, oftenredefining what would seem improbable to improve upon.

“I wasmoved by the Beatles,” explained Booker T. Jones of Booker T & the MGs,quoted in Rob Bowman’s Soulsville USA. “I thought they were doing really great things. Theirrecords didn’t sound alike ever.” And thus Booker T & the MGs recorded theBeatles covers album titled McLemore Avenue, containing such songs as“Eleanor Rigby,” “Michelle” and “Lady Madonna,” all included on Stax DoesThe Beatles. MGsguitarist Steve Cropper called The Beatles “a cool group of superhumans. Hatsoff to the Beatles and thanks for the music.”

But Booker T & the MGs were by no means the only artists to turn to the Beatlesas a song source. Isaac Hayes turned in a 12-minute version of “Something,”included here, on his 1970 album The Isaac Hayes Movement. Carla Thomas chose PaulMcCartney’s “Yesterday” as part of her Live at the Bohemian Caverns sessions in Washington, DC. Shehad met McCartney in 1967 at London’s Speakeasy Club.  Otis Redding’s version of “Day Tripper” became an immediate classic— the Fab Four’s riff lending itself famously to Stax’s horn section. Otherprime Stax Beatles covers, contained here, emanated from David Porter, the Mat-Keys, Reggie Milner and John Gary Williams.

Album annotator Richie Unterberger writes, “While Stax was destined to be primarily rememberedfor the wealth of original soul classics it generated, Stax Does The Beatles reminds us that its artists werealso able interpreters of music first performed outside the Southern soulgenre.”

Liverpool wasn’t the only outside source of Stax hits. TheMemphis label found equal reserves within the repertoire of its Detroit rivallabel, Motown, proven by the 15 tracks of Stax Sings Songs of Motown®Records. JoelSelvin, pop music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, who wrote the notes for theMotown covers album, noted: “In Detroit, Motown followed an automated approachto making records, influenced no doubt by founder Berry Gordy’s early work atthe Ford plant, while in Memphis, the Stax musicians took a more organic tack.”

Yet when the shimmering teen pop of Detroit made it downto Stax’s Memphis studios, songs found a whole new life. Take, for instance,Margie Joseph’s soulful reading of the Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love.”The Staple Singers’ version of the Temptations’ minor hit, “You’ve Got To EarnIt,” penned by Smokey Robinson, narrowly missed the R&B Top 10 in 1971. Andblind soul singer Calvin Scott gave a gospel-tinged Southern workout to “Can IGet a Witness” for his album I’m Not Blind, I Just Can’t See.

As he did with the Beatles, Isaac Hayes re-imagined Motownwith his deconstructed cover of the Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye.” Thesong was a highlight of Hayes’ classic Black Moses album from 1971. Hayes alsocontributed production finesse his frequent songwriting partner David Porter’scover of the Stevie Wonder song “I Don’t Know Why I Love You,” featured onPorter’s 1970 Enterprise solo debut album.

Other Stax artists to cover Motown included Mavis Staples,Barbara Lewis, Billy Eckstine, the Mar-Keys, Fredrick Knight, O.B. McClinton,the Bar-Kays and the Soul Children.

 

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