Stax '68: A Memphis Story

In retrospect 50 years on, and proof is found in the music within this 5-CD box set, it can be said that 1968 was a very good year for Stax Records, the legendary Memphis-based soul label. No one would have thought that at the time though. The entire country was shaken in 1968 by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an event that took place at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, a place where Stax artists often lodged and even wrote songs. Adding sting to the label's 1968 were the death of Stax artist Otis Redding in late 1967 and the defection of Stax artists Sam & Dave to Atlantic Records. Tellingly, "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay" by Redding and "I Thank You" by Sam & Dave were the first two singles Stax released in '68, and they kick off this exhaustive compilation of every single, including B-sides, that the label released in the trying year. There are references to the rough year scattered throughout the 134 songs; Shirley Walton was in the studio working on the King dedication "Send Peace and Harmony Home" when King was assassinated; Staples Singers cut "Long Walk to D.C." is also a tribute to King. Eddie Floyd's funky and rocking "Big Bird" is about Floyd's attempt to get to Redding's funeral but some of the lyrics can be taken another way; "Open up the sky/'Cause I'm coming up to you/So send down your wings/And let 'em bring me to you." So the listener may or may not feel the pain of the times occasionally here; mostly though Stax '68: A Memphis Story is just a good romp through an awesome collection of songs. Because of the inclusion of the B-sides, even the biggest fans of Memphis soul may discover delightful treasures they didn't previously know, like "Don't Get Caught," Mabel John's sensuous tale of infidelity, Rufus Thomas's amusing "I Think I Made a Boo Boo" or the Jeanne & the Darlings cut "Hang Me Now." Stax was not in the habit of using throwaways as B-sides and all of the B's here make for an impressive set in their own right. All the stars of Stax 1968 are here: Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MG's, Bar-Kays, Albert King, Johnny Taylor, Carla Thomas, William Bell and Bobby Whitlock to name a few. Lesser-known groups like Kangaroo's, Ollie & the Nightingales, the Mad Lads, the Aardvarks and the Pop Corn Generation represent too. The set's packaging is stellar too, dolled-up with previously-unseen photos from the Stax archives, striking full color graphics for some of the year's albums and essays from Steve Greenberg and Andria Lisle with Robert Gordon. An included discography of the singles provides information on songwriters and the single's release date. Get it here.

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