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Album review: 'Stax '68: A Memphis Story'


Various Artists

'Stax '68: A Memphis Story'

Craft Recordings

When Elvis Costello was recording "Get Happy," he writes, "I bought myself a stack of Stax singles." No wonder; some of pop music's greatest tunes originated at the Memphis label. "Stax '68: A Memphis Story," contains every single from 1968, with120 songs spanning five CD's. The collection begins with Otis Redding's "The Dock of The Bay," released after Redding died in a plane crash at the age of 26. That masterpiece is followed by Sam & Dave's "I Thank You," showcasing Stax's trademark fusion of gospel and soul. Vocalists varied, but the musicians boasted greats like Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper and Isaac Hayes.

With the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis, 1968 was turbulent. Stax reflected that with tunes like "Long Walk to D.C." and "The Ghetto" by The Staples Singers. But most of the songs, like Johnny Taylor's "Who's Making Love," involved romance. With the zeitgeist shifting toward psychedelia, Stax had to reinvent itself, resulting in tunes like The Aardvarks' "Unicorn Man" and Southwest F.O.B.'s "Smell of Incense." Thankfully, R&B prevailed.