1969 was a hell of a year, something’s that quite obvious from all of the 50th anniversary celebrations going on right now. What you probably didn’t realize is that 2019 is also the 50th anniversary of Stax Records’ Soul Explosion, a landmark collection of songs that was released in an effort to re-brand Stax as the most important soul label of the day. Stax released 27 albums and 30 singles over just a few months in 1969, and Soul Explosion celebrated this feat in a compilation album that featured such iconic artists such as Booker T. & the MG’s, Johnnie Taylor, Carla Thomas, Albert King, The Staple Singers, Eddie Floyd and oh, the list just goes on and on. Soul Explosion wasn’t a greatest hits collection–it was a proclamation that soul had arrived in full force, and Stax was the new king.
Craft Recordings has just re-released Soul Explosion for the first time on vinyl since the album’s initial run. It’s the follow-up to a three-album Record Day celebration that included Albert King’s Born Under a Bad Sign, Boy Meets Girl: Classic Stax Duets and Stax Does the Beatles. This newly remastered 2-LP set features the original album, sounding pristine and sunny and invigorating, and a second LP that features rare tracks from artists such as The Bar-Kays, Ollie & the Nightingales and Judy Clay. Craft enlisted the help of Memphis-based recording engineer Jeff Powell to cut new lacquers at Take Out Vinyl and then have it all pressed at Memphis Record Pressing (MRP). It’s all part of a “Made in Memphis” marketing campaign that will keep Craft Recordings busy with LP releases for quite some time.
How does it sound? I’ve already used the word “invigorating” and that was precisely the feeling I had when I first listened to this incredible collection of music, that it was the first day of summer vacation and I had three months of joy ahead of me. The pressings are incredibly clean and quiet–if you found an old copy of Soul Explosion sounding this good in a record store, you’d be telling all your friends about it for weeks. The overall recording quality is typical of the day, with the mixes a bit isolated between the two channels with a noticeable lack of center fill. But that’s the recording itself–the remastering is able to increase the size of the soundstage and deliver stunning images like never before.
Of course, the real news here is the music. If you think 27 straight tracks of classic ’60s soul music can test your attention span, you’ll be surprised by the sheer variety on Soul Explosion. These artists were all doing their own things in the studio and sounded very different from each other. You probably already know about the groovy instrumental tracks from Booker T. & the MG’s, but how about the psychedelic, rock-based rhythms of Southwest F.O.B.’s “Smell of Incense”? Albert King dove deep into the blues with a fitting sense of regret, but the Bar-Kays’ “Copy Kat” sounds like it was delivered by a bunch of kids running wildly through the streets on a hot summer day.
Needless to say, Soul Explosion is a pure gift for the summer of 2019, one that will take your mind off the news of the day. The world was going through some serious issues back in 1969, too, but we had this music to comfort us. It’s time to do that again.