Reissues and compilations are receiving extra credit here at 48hills, so make sure to take advantage of them. Even though the summer is hitting a midpoint, good taste always stays in style. Enjoy!
WRITTEN IN THEIR SOUL, THE STAX SONGWRITER DEMOS (CRAFT RECORDS)
America is learning a lot about itself celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip hop this year. Many of the genre’s early ’80s classic albums were produced under limited resources, time, and adverse conditions. However, this bare-bones aesthetic can serve as a producer’s guardian angel. It’s not just about saying “less is more”—with a simplified delivery system, original message, gist, and feeling are conveyed promptly without unnecessary distraction.
In the seven-CD collection showcasing the legendary Memphis label Written in Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos’, there is an early version of “Respect Yourself” (the 1971 hit by the Staple Singers) performed by Mack Rice and written alongside Luther Ingram on acoustic guitar. This uptempo ode to self-dignity pops with solo verve, and you can almost see the shoulders that will hunch up during its playback.
“Some demos become the exact map followed and some, like ‘Respect Yourself,’ spark a new interpretation,” stated Mack and Ingram by way of a press release. “When Mack created it on an almost-tuned guitar, it sounds a lot more like Talking Heads or some other driving punk rock song than it does the epitome of the Staple Singers’ message music.”
With 146 songs totaling seven-and-a-half hours of music, this Stax Records nerd-out buried treasure doubles down on what should already be quite apparent: This little imprint, now owned by Concord, is one of the most influential record labels in the world.
Stax is rightfully credited with creating “The Memphis Sound” and launching the careers of icons such as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & The M.G.’s, The Staple Singers, Sam & Dave, Rufus and Carla Thomas, The Bar-Kays, and many other artists who forever changed popular culture. In total, this label placed 167 hit songs in the Top 100 in pop and 243 hits in the Top 100 in R&B.
These skeletal structures easily could have charted as well.
You can order the compilation here.
THE WHITE STRIPES, ELEPHANT 20TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION (THIRD MAN)
They perceived the animal as noble, mating for life, and only attacking if its young is threatened. Such was the reasoning behind the title of Elephant, The White Stripes’ big ole 2003 breakthrough of a moment that snatched up everybody outside of the indie-hipster glitterati of which Jack (who mentioned the album’s name-game on a Marc Maron podcast decades later) and Meg were getting a bit sick.
Hipsters be stressing folk out.
With everyone snapping their necks to the sport-loving jock jam “Seven Nation Army,” which Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings turned into a jawn (still its best cover to date), Elephant went for the financial and critical jugular.
It had hits, B-side secrets, deep cuts, and hidden blitzkrieg daggers …
Between whipsmart micro darts like “Hypnotize,” in which the duo serves up a ripper of a speed-pill-induced love song, to the pitched-up psych of “Black Math,” into stomp-foot bangers like “The Hardest Button to Button,” concert anthems like “There’s No Home For You Here,” and the blues swagger of “Ball and a Biscuit”—everywhere you turned, the album had joints.
The duo pulled a majestical rope-a-dope. Let the normies have all the “Seven Nation Army” they want. White Stripes were building legacies, insuring this album would be up for re-release as the decades marched on.
This melding of lo-fi garage-rock and gothic blues came with a bit o’ spectacle to boot—Meg, the often underrated drummer of the duo (leave her name out cha damn mouf), was at one time married to Jack, yet they played public roles as brother and sister. Next to The Strokes, The White Stripes helped to revive a newfound love for the guitar in the ‘00s.
Grab their epic limited edition release on colored wax here.
RAY BARRETTO, QUE VIVA LA MÚSICA (CRAFT RECORDINGS/FANIA)
I think sometimes the rest of America does not have a clear understanding of the cultural significance of Fania Records, the New York-based record label that was the center of salsa and other Latin genres during the ’70s and ’80s. It was as important to Latin music as Matador was to indie rock in the ’90s. Fania Records could be heard blasting from every corner of the streets, just as much as hip hop, boogie, disco, electro, and freestyle music. Even on the noisy, dangerous, and graffiti-covered train platforms, Fania Records could be heard, horns twisting in that cold or hot wind underground, from radios and cassette decks. As a youngster, I didn’t exactly know what it was, but was able to witness how it moved people.
That was enough.
The 50th anniversary edition of Ray Barretto’s brilliant Fania salsa jewel Que Viva La Musica deserves all the praise, flowers, accolades, and recognition that anyone wants to heap upon it. Barretto, an influential bandleader and one of the foremost names in Latin jazz, boogaloo, and Afro-Cuban rhythms, established a form and presentation on this record that would be used for the next decade by everybody: Converting the genre’s root music of the ’60s into the hard-edged salsa sound of the ’70s involved expanding the depth of the rhythmic texture and increasing the degree of swing within compositions. Essentially, he gave salsa a Miles Davis fusion update to align it with the cultural characteristics of the moment.
Although his band would depart after this recording, Barretto remained busy as the musical director of the legendary Fania All Stars and an in-demand studio musician, appearing on albums by the Bee Gees, the Rolling Stones, and Crosby, Stills & Nash. This recording’s standout moment is “Cocinando,” a hypnotic, 10-minute-long psychedelic jam that was later used to open Leon Gast’s 1972 documentary Our Latin Thing, which showcases New York City’s exploding salsa scene. Those who lived in Brooklyn could hear this master’s works flowing throughout everyday life.