What was created as a centerpiece of a “movement” was born out of necessity and urgency. Fifty years after its initial appearance, it’s a landmark of greatness, pure and simple.

The short story, which is pretty well-documented goes like this: in early 1968, Stax Records was effectively cleaned out by Atlantic Records due to a very serious misunderstanding towards Atlantic’s distribution deal with Stax. Stax neglected to see the fine print which said (in effect) “if the deal with Atlantic Records should terminate, all master recordings would revert to Atlantic Records”. The deal did come to an end when Atlantic was purchased by Warner Brothers and Stax elected to not be part of the deal. Gone were the masters to Otis Redding (who had just died, along with most of the members of The Bar Kays), Sam & Dave (who actually were signed to Atlantic and on loan to Stax), Booker T. & The M.G.’s, Carla Thomas, etc. All the work done from Stax’ inception in 1959 (originally as Satellite Records) was now gone.

New co-owner Al Bell had to do something. The label was going to, in a word, die. But although Stax had also lost their most valuable assets, they recovered quickly. Booker T. & The M.G.’s, writer/performer Isaac Hayes, Carla Thomas, etc., all stayed with the label and it began to turn around, starting with the sale of Stax to Gulf + Western.  Johnnie Taylor gave Stax its first big post-Atlantic hit in 1968 with “Who’s Making Love”, which became the label’s best-selling single to that point. But Al Bell had to begin rebuilding the catalog; thus, Stax, released a whopping 27 albums (Rufus Thomas’ May I Have Your Ticket Please? was to be the 28th album released by the now Gulf + Western-financed Stax, but the album was never finished) and 30 singles in mid-1969. Isaac Hayes stepped into the spotlight with Hot Buttered Soul. Originally seen just as a solo artistic project for Hayes to make up the numbers, it went on to sell over three million copies in 1969 and helped usher in the second phase of Stax’s story.

But the centerpiece to all this flurry of activity was the 2-album compilation that served as the name of Bell’s mission: “Soul Explosion”. It was an offering of the “new” Stax – the new (now-legendary) “snapping fingers” logo; a more contemporary and sleeker sound; funkier, grittier and of the moment. A new stable of artists to be introduced with some familiar favorites and the label’s rebirth/beginning of the next chapter.

50 years since the album was released, Craft Recordings has very lovingly seen to the resurrection of this masterpiece collection and on vinyl only. It’s part of the “Made In Memphis” program –  the lacquers for the 2-LP set were cut by Memphis-based engineer Jeff Powell at Take Out Vinyl and pressed locally at Memphis Record Pressing (MRP). A perfect reproduction – and if you’re only just hearing about or learning of Stax and the importance of the label as a musical entity or as an unaware social experiment gone right, this is the quintessential primer. 2 albums; vinyl, as it was intended to be heard and capturing a time and sound like no other.

Look at the track listing below; seek out a copy and get it – this is one of the most important documents to return to circulation this year.

ESSENTIAL LISTENING

Soul Explosion 2-L.P. Track Listing:

Disc 1, Side 1:

Johnnie Taylor, “Who’s Making Love”

Jimmy Hughes, “Like Everything About You”

Booker T. & The MG’s, “Hang ‘Em High”

Carla Thomas, “Where Do I Go”

Eddie Floyd, “I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)”

Southwest F.O.B., “Smell Of Incense”

Albert King, “Cold Feet”

LP 1 – Side 2

Booker T. & The MG’s, “Soul Limbo”

The Mad Lads, “So Nice”

Eddie Floyd, “Bring It On Home To Me”

William Bell & Judy Clay, “Private Number”

The Staple Singers, “Long Walk To D.C.”

Ollie & The Nightingales, “I’ve Got A Sure Thing”

The Bar-Kays, “Copy Kat”

LP 2 – Side 1

Booker T. & The MG’s, “Soul Clap ‘69”

The Staple Singers, “Hear My Call”

Johnnie Taylor, “Save Your Love For Me”

Jimmy Hughes, “Peeped Around Yonder’s Bend”

Carla Thomas, “Book Of Love”

The Mad Lads, “These Old Memories”

Southwest F.O.B., “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”

LP 2 – Side 2

The Bar-Kays, “Hot Hips”

Ollie & The Nightingales, “Heartache Mountain”

Johnnie Taylor, “Twenty Years From Today”

Eddie Floyd, “It’s Wrong To Be Loving You”

Judy Clay, “It’s Me”

Booker T. & The MG’s, “Booker’s Theme”

Albert King, “Left Hand Woman (Get Right With Me)”

Soul Explosion is currently available

http://staxrecords.com

By Rob Ross

Rob Ross has been involved in the music industry for over 30 years - as guitarist/singer/songwriter with The Punch Line, freelance journalist, producer, manager and working for independent and major record labels. He resides in Staten Island, New York with his wife and cats; he works out a lot, reads voraciously, loves Big Star, traveling down South and his orange Gretsch. He's pretty groovy!

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