Various Artists
"Stax Does The Beatles "
BluesWax Rating: 5

The Beatles Get Soul, (05/14/08)

It is needless to say that the Beatles made history with their musical contributions, especially when you consider that during the 1960s and '70s everyone from Blues to Jazz to Rock covered their music, some of these covers were very imaginative, others were not very memorable. Stax Does The Beatles is a mixture of both of those elements, as some tracks are very strong and while others are not. All in all there are fifteen tracks, four previously unreleased (by non-Beatles) and one making its first appearance on CD.

Otis Redding's take on "Day Tripper" on a previously unreleased recording, starting this disc off in a very spirited fashion, as Redding makes this driving Fab Four track all of his own! But David Porter's cover of "Help!" sounds terribly dated, which is not aided by the poor recorded sound, which is extremely thin.

Booker T. & the MG's make four appearances, first with the unreleased "Got To Get You Into My Life," which is nothing special and probably should have been left in the vaults. "Eleanor Rigby" comes from Soul Limbo and it's very creative, featuring some very clever arrangements, a great solo by Booker and a driving bass line from Duck Dunn. "Michelle" derives from The Booker T. Set; it's nice and airy and short and sweet. The final contribution from the MG's is "Lady Madonna," also from The Booker T. Set, and is a cool groove with some tasty licks from Steve Cropper's guitar. It is interesting that Stax/Concord did not include one track from the MG's' McLemore Avenue, which was their Abbey Road tribute recording. Go figure? Remember the cover photo? Fun stuff!

The Bar-Kays appear three times. "Yesterday," which is given an appropriate soulful treatment, works quite well. The Bar-Kays return with another version of "With A Little Help From My Friends," which is very hip and extremely creative, as the intro provides no indication that it is this Beatles tune and this is one of the previously unreleased tracks that is truly a gem; check out how they rock out at the end, too! Finally, the Bar-Kays close out this recording with "Hey Jude," also from the same Volt Gotta Groove LP that gave us "Yesterday," but it doesn't groove well at all, plus the harpsichord is really odd, as is the ending vocal chorus.

Steve Cropper delivers a particularly strong (and Bluesy) instrumental version of "With A Little Help From My Friends," taken from his solo LP of the same name. The previously unreleased live track of "Yesterday," finds Carla Thomas far out of her element, making this another track that could have been left on the cutting room floor. The Mar-Keys take their best shot on "Let It Be," which they should have let be.

Depending on your age you might recall Isaac Hayes' gorgeous orchestrations on the lengthy "Something," taken from the Isaac Hayes Movement LP from the Enterprise division of Stax. It's noteworthy to mention that Hayes' "Something" peaked at #8 on the Pop charts and number one on the R&B charts. Reggie Miller's "And I Love Her," which makes it's first appearance on CD, includes a kitchen sink arsenal of horns, guitars, and background vocals; it's pretty funky and has a lot of sass, too. "My Sweet Lord," by John Gary Williams, is unfortunately kind of lame, especially with the improvised talking (not singing) voice tracking.

In summary, this is a pretty cool disc that offers an alternate view of the Beatles' body of work. For me, five or six of the tracks are very cool, the others are somewhat suspect, and offers nothing like what Wilson Pickett did when he covered "Hey Jude" for Atlantic. Note: "Hey Jude" was Pickett's only number one song and was also the brain-child of Duane Allman, who takes an amazing solo on this classic cover from the Beatles' songbook and given the full Muscle Shoals treatment!

One last thought: Where is Ed Sullivan when we need him most?

Bob Putignano: