The Innovators: Stax Artist Spotlights
The Complete Stax-Volt Soul Singles, Volume 3: 1972–1975

Stax Compilations
The Complete Stax-Volt Soul Singles, Volume 3: 1972–1975

With the sun beginning to set on the label’s fortunes in the music industry, Stax Records offered an impressive variety in its final period. The Complete Stax-Volt Soul Singles, Volume 3: 1972–1975 lays out the comprehensive buffet of singles, from the mighty Memphis company that punched well beyond its weight class in its waning days. And, though the label would eventually be unable to muster the energy to withstand another blow, they thankfully did go out swinging—and singing!

Early in the collection, we find Isaac Hayes at the apex of his powers, delivering his aspirational cool and covert inspiration on “Do Your Thing,” a standout leftover from his exhilarating Shaft film soundtrack. Here, the song is pared down to its single length, shortened from the album version’s nearly 20-minute vamp. Equally audacious, Hayes’ instrumental interpretation of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” nods in appreciation to the ascending profile of nearby Hi Records and its Royal Studios, led by Memphis soul patriarch Willie Mitchell. In a rare strike of synergy between the two homegrown soul outfits, headquartered only a handful of blocks away from each other in the neighborhood now retroactively dubbed as Soulsville, Isaac takes an unlikely reprieve from vocal work, allowing instead for an emotive saxophone solo to do the heavy lifting. Elsewhere in the collection, he soothes listeners across the mid-tempo groove of “Joy,” a funky and seductive trip that continues to forecast the disco dance floor trend later to come in the decade, of which Hayes would adapt his orchestral soul to accommodate as an elder statesman of streetwise and sensual musical romps.

And, while he does appear in tandem with one-time songwriting partner David Porter, on “Ain’t That Loving You (For More Reasons Than One)” on this compilation, the two men shine brighter separately. In Porter’s case, his “I’m Afraid the Masquerade Is Over” lives a renewed life. Not particularly noteworthy as a single in the days following its original release, it rises to the top in a modern soul collector context, revered for its utility in hip-hop production and closely connected with the gangstafied funk of the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya.” At the hands of the elder Brooklyn-bred rap pioneer Big Daddy Kane, blues guitar impresario Albert King and his “I’ll Play the Blues for You (Part 1)” met a similar fate, found here in its original glory for crate diggers to delightfully partake.

Of course, even without the hindsight of the hip-hop generation’s lens, a great number of head-knocking, rhythm-forward tracks exist in pristine quality on this collection, as the final era of Stax Records’ original run became informed by a wave of funk. Naturally, the prevailing innovator in the space, Rufus Thomas, continues his impressive reign over the perpetually peppy and spirited soul subgenre, offering the likes of “Itch and Scratch (Part 1).” The revamped Bar-Kays keep it up with “Dance, Dance, Dance (Part 1)” alongside one of their most popular and storied singles, “Holy Ghost,” a side that coincidentally only saw the light of day after the group had moved on to a new label. Unmatched in their musicianship and high energy, Roy Lee Johnson & the Villagers appear with their cheeky party anthem “The Dryer (Part 1).” Black Nasty presents the self-explanatory manifesto of “Gettin’ Funky Round Here.” Pervis Staples’ Sons of Slum offer an age-old warning on their infectious “What Goes Around (Must Come Around),” and Randy Brown’s overtly sexy “Did You Hear Yourself” literally begs for body-bumping action.

Aside from his solo efforts, Randy Brown also joins his group the Newcomers for “(Too Little in Common to Be Lovers) Too Much Going to Say Goodbye,” a chilling ballad that later would lend its tune to Aaliyah’s posthumously released single “I Care 4 U.” The group, along with a crop of promising talents new to the label in its final days, experienced an unfortunate failure to launch, leaving questions of what could have been had operations continued. In this class of performers, soloists such as John Gary Williams and Veda Brown are in lockstep with their forebearers, like William Bell and Carla Thomas.

Naturally, here we also find the majority of the defining artists of Stax’s two previous eras building upon their established legacies. Still contributing is Eddie Floyd, who dips his feet into the reggae feel with “Baby Lay Your Head Down (Gently on My Bed).” Johnnie Taylor provides all-star performances on multiple tracks which would remain undeniable entries into his long-lasting and highly influential career, “I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)” and “Cheaper to Keep Her.”

Representing a wave of expansion in Stax Records’ dismount from the 1960s, Detroit vocal group the Dramatics live up to their name with the moody and thematic “In the Rain” and the grandiose “Hey You! Get Off My Mountain.” And the Staple Singers prove there’s no need in fixing what’s not broken with twin singles “I’ll Take You There” and “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me),” the latter a redux of the former.

With a fall from grace eminent, the bittersweet success of the Stax Record Company’s final soul hit, 1974’s “Woman to Woman” by Shirley Brown, was the company’s last on the chart. But it would be far from the final impression the company would leave on listeners, as this collection encompasses. In the obscure corners of this 10-CD set, audiences can still find the echoes of innovation and inspiration from soul music’s arguably most brazen organizations, unafraid to push the bounds of the genre.

By Jared Boyd