The Best of the Staple Singers B

The Best of the Staple Singers B


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Pops was great at crafting succinct and catchy message songs. Even in a period

that included seminal work from Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye,

 Isaac Hayes and a host of others, The Staple Singers maintained their reputation



Staple Singers CDs

The Best of The Staple Singers  / Let’s Do It Again / Freedom Highway / Pray On, My Child  /  Be Altitude: Respect Yourself  / Soul Folk in Action

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The Best of the Staple Singers, as BAM Artists

Music Commentary by Mtume ya Salaam & Kalamu ya Salaam

–from Breath of Life


In 1968, the Staples signed with Memphis-based Stax Records and released two albums produced by Steve Cropper and backed by Booker T. & the MG’s. In 1970, Perivs was replaced by his sister, Yvonne and, more importantly, Al Bell became the group’s producer. Bell was responsible for their greatest commercial success. Bell funkified the Staples sound. Songs such “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There” feature iconic bass riffs that by themselves are enough to identify the songs.

The Staples sound, now featuring Mavis as the lead singer, became a funky mix of contemporary Seventies sounds, gospel harmonies, jazz elements, and upful messages. All the selections in this week’s jukebox are from the Stax-period release, The Best of The Staple Singers. Here is a wide range of the Staples’ sound. Bob Dylan’s “The Weight” is given the Stax southern soul treatment as Mavis’ smoky lead vocals carry the track. Motown’s Smokey Robinson-penned “You’ve Got To Earn It” prominently features a harmonica but also includes a jazz flute & trumpet duo interlude—amazingly, the song sounds both country and urban. Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay” is distinguished by distinctive harmony singing that is far more complex than it initially sounds. Pops Staples’ heavy guitar vibrato undergirds the song, which rocks peacefully on a bed of soft strings. It is completely different from Otis’ original, but at the same time, this version sounds just right. It’s quite an accomplishment. The pieces de resistance, however, are “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself.” Pops was great at crafting succinct and catchy message songs. Even in a period that included seminal work from Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes and a host of others, The Staple Singers maintained their reputation as one of the most popular purveyors of social commentary in song. Other artists may have been better known, but there certainly was no other group that rivaled The Staple Singers as messengers of pride and empowerment.—Kalamu ya Salaam

The Staple Singers are what I like to think of as “honest” music. Meaning, you get what you see. They’re not coming with tricks or angles or sleight of hand. They’re serving straight-up gritty soul grooves with gospel-soaked vocals and maybe a touch of pop flavoring to allow the whole confection to go down smoothly. One thing I didn’t realize was that Pops Staples is a songwriter. I’d assumed that all of the Staples’ hits were either covers or products of in-house songwriters. Of course, all of this music is unimpeachable. It’s classic soul music and honestly, you can’t say a bad word about any of it. If these records don’t make you feel good on this pre-Christmas Sunday morning, you might want to turn in your record collection and get a new hobby. This is the real deal.—Mtume ya Salaam

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The Best of the Staple Singers The Staple Singers

1. Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom)

2. You’ve Got To Earn It

3. Love Is Plentiful

4. This World

5. (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay

6. The Weight

7. Respect Yourself

8. We’ll Get Over

9. I’ll Take You There

10. Oh La De Da

11. Be What You Are

12. This Old Town (People In This Town

13. If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)

14. Touch A Hand (Make A Friend)

15. My Main Man

16. City In The Sky

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I’ve always been fond of Mavis. She not only had a wonderful sultry voice, but, my god, she was beautiful, too, and they all had those well-groomed ‘fros. They, this family group, took the Word to the people and they did it looking good and fresh. What in Hip Hop compares to “I’ll Take You There”–“There’s no smiling faces lying to the races,” a place that “nobody is crying, nobody worried.” The Staple Singers took us there. We were transported to a transposed place, a spiritual incomparable in today’s scratching and commodification of the worse aspects of our lives in the interest of the worse kinds of people. They were willing to carry our load. But what is today’s ethic: Are you ready to be gangbanged, sucker? Where’s the bling-bling, nigga?


Most kids these days hip-hop wise ain’t talking about “Respect Yourself.” And it seems little know that we can’t have ancestor veneration if one does not respect oneself. “Ain’t nobody gonna give a good gahoot.” The world owes us nothing. “Put your hand over your mouth that will help the solution.” And “you dumb enough to think” that cursing around women you don’t know, will make you a big old man. We ain’t got enough respect going on. And that’s a truth overlooked. “If you want love, you got to earn it.” Can we ever get enough of that lesson?


The Staple Singers were as much a part of the Movement as Trane, Shepp and other jazz artists that Baraka brought to our attention. Too little has been written to follow up on Askia Muhammad Toure’s essay “Keep on Pushing: Rhythm and Blues as a Weapon,” initially published in Liberator magazine in 1965 and later in Black Nationalism in America (1970) edited by John Bracey, Jr. and August Meier. In short, the Staple Singers too should be viewed as BAM artists, in the same way that we usually see Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin as part of the popular avant-garde. As Nikki Giovanni said on her record of the period, Truth Is On Its Way, such artists made Motown change their style as well as their tunes.  — Rudy

posted 24 December 2006

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Negro Digest / Black World

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update 30 April 2012




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