Craft has also reissued, on vinyl, Stax's two-LP compilation from 1969, Soul Explosion, which compiled the label’s biggest hits of that time onto the first disc, coupled with rare, hard-to-find tracks on the second.
It’s part of a program to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the legendary Memphis record label’s banner year of 1969 as well as June being Black Music Month. In 1968, Stax had stepped out on its own following the dissolution of a crucial partnership with Atlantic Records. After defining Memphis (and Southern) soul for the preceding decade, Stax was essentially starting from scratch as an independent. Coming not long after the tragic demise of the label’s biggest star, Otis Redding, and with Atlantic whisking away the rights to everything they'd released so far, Stax was pretty down in the mouth in 1968.
But it bounced back in 1969, the start of an era Stax has since dubbed the “Soul Explosion.” Johnnie Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love” was a giant hit for the newly independent label, and Isaac Hayes’s album Hot Buttered Soul was a best-seller. Stax entered a silver-age renaissance and was able to enter the 1970s on good footing.
The Soul Explosion compilation is the ideal place to dive right in. The first 14 tracks are like a greatest hits of the 1968-69 era, including Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love,” Booker T. and the M.G.’s “Hang ’Em High,” and William Bell and Judy Clay’s shiveringly phenomenal duet “Private Number.” But the 14 rarities that follow are just as good, especially Carla Thomas’ hothouse soul track “Book of Love,” the Bar-Kays deep cut “Hot Hips,” and the gossamer “Heartache Mountain” from Ollie and the Nightingales.
The vinyl reissue keeps it local—it was pressed at Memphis Record Pressing, for better or worse. My copy was not too pretty to look at fresh out of the jacket, with visible scuff marks and a dished second disc. But once I cleaned and flattened the discs, they played spectacularly well, with full, clear mastering and silent backgrounds. Likely taken from a digital assembly rather than an analog master, the sound avoids the pitfalls of digitally sourced vinyl, sounding round, full, and “more-ish”—as in, you’ll want to listen to more, and will find you’ve plowed through all four sides in no time at all. It's a bare-bones package without liner notes, but with several of the tracks not available anywhere else, it's a crucial add to the soul lover's record collection.
From there, dive in to the insanely huge digital bounty of archival stuff. Here follows the list of the 30 rereleased albums that are available this June, many of which have not been available on streaming services until now. There are classics like Booker T. and the M.G.s’ Soul Limbo, the Wattstax soundtrack, and Ollie & the Nightgales’ only full-length album, alongside lesser-known works by acts like John KaSandra, Frederick Knight, Rance Allen, the Goodees, and David Porter. Eleven of the albums come from 1969, and the rest come from the years that immediately followed, following Stax's reinvention and revivification in the wake of that "Soul Explosion" of 1969. (Again, here's that link to the Spotify playlist that's been adding a track a day from each of these albums. Scroll down a bit to find the tracks that’ve been added this month.)
June might almost be over, but the Summer of Stax is just beginning.
June 1: Booker T. & The MGs, Soul Limbo
June 2: Various artists, Boy Meets Girl
June 3: Johnnie Taylor Rare Stamps
June 4: Soul Children, Soul Children
June 5: Carla Thomas, Memphis Queen
June 6: Ollie & The Nightingales, Ollie & The Nightingales
June 7: Johnnie Taylor, The Johnnie Taylor Philosophy Continues
June 8: The Mar-Keys, Damifiknow
June 9: JJ Barnes & Steve Mancha, Rare Stamps
June 10: The Mad Lads, The Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Lads
June 11: The Goodees, Candy Coated Goodees
June 12: The Knowbody Else, The Knowbody Else
June 13: Eddie Floyd, California Girl
June 14: Rufus Thomas, Crown Prince Of Dance
June 15: Mel & Tim, Starting All Over Again
June 16: William Bell, Phases Of Reality
June 17: The Sweet Inspirations, Estelle, Myrna & Sylvia
June 18: The Dramatics, A Dramatic Experience
June 19: John KaSandra, Color Me Human
June 20: The Bar-Kays, Do You See What I See?
June 21: David Porter, Victim Of The Joke? An Opera
June 22: The Rance Allen Group, A Soulful Experience
June 23: The Temprees, Love Maze
June 24: Frederick Knight, I’ve Been Lonely For So Long
June 25: Barbara Lewis, The Many Grooves Of
June 26: Little Milton, Waiting For Little Milton
June 27: Inez Foxx, At Memphis
June 28: Melvin Van Peebles, Don’t Play Us Cheap
June 29: Kim Weston, Kim Kim Kim
June 30: Various artists, Wattstax