I am a sucker for a great jukebox. I’ll pony up the quarters (or dollar bills) to get the greatest bang for my bucks, often dolling out the max plays for pay. I tend to prefer the old school jukebox that flips through album covers displaying the proprietor’s musical predilections and taste. For my money, the best tend to run the gamut of musical styles or drill down deep into one sound. Often at home, I find myself trying to recreate the diversity of styles and artists by grabbing a handful of records for rotation on the old turntable. But, some days you don’t want to keep going back and forth, so you want something that brings together a good mix of songs and, yet, I stray from “compilations” and “greatest hits” because they often lack the thematic unity of an album.
…and then sometimes you just find the perfect album sitting in the used record bin (in near mint condition no less) screaming to come home with you and blast through the stereo speakers. But, why keep this wondrous thing to yourself? Shouldn’t one share the fruits of their discoveries with others? I don’t want to be one of those boys who in the words of Cyndi Lauper, “takes a beautiful girl and hides here away from the rest of the world.” So I share.
What better gift to share than a set of classic, dare I say timeless, tracks from one of the U.S.’ most influential record labels: Stax Records. For those who are unfamiliar or don’t pay attention to labels (of whatever sorts), Stax along with Motown was one of the main incubators and promoters of 50s and 60s R&B, soul, funk and all their respective permutations. Where Motown tended to draw from the Midwest and East Coast, Stax based out of Memphis canvassed the South. Although the late, great Otis Redding is perhaps the most well known artist on the label, there are countless other greats like Wilson Pickett and Isaac Hayes that also either recorded or came under Stax distribution. (And, for the music cognoscenti, yes, Otis was technically on Volt, but it was a subsidiary of Stax, so I am grouping them together.) Although many of the artists on Stax aren’t household names, the songs are definitely rooted in our cultural DNA as North Americans from Sam & Dave‘s “Soul Man” to the Staples Singers‘ “I’ll Take you There” to the theme from Shaft by Hayes. Even if the titles or names don’t ring a bell, I bet the songs will register within seconds and you’ll find yourself singing along, perhaps even wondering, “how do I know the words to this?” The collective unconsciousness is a curious and beautiful thing. Who knows maybe you’ll even find some previously unknown gems like Johnnie Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love” — a clever rumination on the “player’s plight” with the right amount of cheekiness.
So do yourself a favor get ready for the weekend by getting into the groove with Stax’s Number Ones.
May your day(s) be groovy,