Like most people I came across the Staple Singers through their fabulous run of Stax and Curtom sides in the Seventies (although their career stretched back to Gospel roots in the early Fifties). This truly impressive double CD by Ace Records of the UK (using their Kent Soul logo) is a thorough and deeply satisfying retro for one of the most underrated Soul acts of all time. It even includes four properly storming Previously Unreleased cuts and a chunky 28-page fact-filled booklet (pretty much typical of Ace's quality).
UK released September 2004 - "The Ultimate Staple Singers: A Family Affair 1955-1984" by THE STAPLE SINGERS on Ace/Kent Soul CDKEN2 240 (Barcode 029667224024) offers up 44 tracks across 2 CDs covering their record label stays with Riverside, Vanguard, Epic, Stax, Curtom and Warner Brothers - with 4 previously unreleased thrown in. Disc 1 roughly deals with 1955 up to 1971 while Disc 2 covers everything after that. Here's a breakdown...
DISC 1: (76:07 minutes)
1. Hammer And Nails
2. Nobody's Fault But Mine
3. Too Close
4. Uncloudy Day
5. Won't You Sit Down (Sit Down Servant)
6. I Wish I Had Answered
7. A Hard Rain's Gonna Fail
8. Swing Low
9. This May Be The Last Time
10. For What It's Worth
11. Be Careful Of The Stones You Throw
12. Why (Am I Treated So Bad)
13. It's Been A Change
14. Will The Circle Be Unbroken
Tracks 1 to 14 feature their Gospel years with the Riverside, Vanguard and Epic labels.
15. The Ghetto
16. Long Walk To DC
17. God Bless The Children
18. (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay
19. The Gardener
20. When Will We Be Paid For The Work We Did
21. Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas
22. John Henry [Pops Staples]
23. You're Gonna Make Me Cry
24. Solon Bushi
Tracks 15 to 24 touch on the Stax issues from 1968 to 1971
DISC 2: (78:14 minutes)
1. I Have Learned To Do Without [Mavis Staples]
2. Respect Yourself
3. Tryin' Times [Pops Staples]
4. Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha Na Boom Boom)
5. I'll Take You There
6. You've Got To Earn It
7. The Only Time You Ever Say You Love me [Mavis Staples]
8. Oh La De Da
9. If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)
10. City In The Sky
11. I Got To Be Myself
12. Touch A Hand, Make A Friend
13. Trippin' On Your Love
14. Let's Do It Again
15. New Orleans
16. Love Me, Love Me, Love Me
17. I Honestly Love You
18. Slippery People
19. H-A-T-E (Don't Love Here Any More)
Of the 20 singles they charted between 1971 and 1985 on the US Billboard R&B charts (group and solo) - an impressive 14 are here (on Disc 2) - they are "Heavy Make You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom)" (1971), "You've Got To Earn It" (1971), "Respect Yourself" (1971), "I'll Take You There" (1972), "This World" (1972), "Oh La De Da" (1972), "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" (1973), "Touch A Hand, Make A Friend" (1973), "City In The Sky" (1974), "Let's Do It Again" (1975), "New Orleans" (1976), "Love Me, Love Me, Love Me" (1976) and "Slippery People" (1984). There's also the solo Mavis Staples torch ballad single "I Have Learned To Do Without You" from 1970.
What is even more shocking than the classiness of the released material (which still manages to raise a smile to this day) is the quality of the unreleased stuff - how have these gems remained in the can until now? First up on Disc 1 is the Traditional song "John Henry" given a harmonica/guitar driven John Lee Hooker boogie - it's nearest approximation is "Keep On Chooglin' by Creedence Clearwater Revival - fabulous stuff. Then there's "Tryin' Times" on Disc 2 - also by POPS STAPLES (an unreleased alternate version of Stax 0064). It was co-written by Donny Hathaway and Leroy Hutson and first recorded by Roberta Flack in 1969 on her "First Take" album (Donny did is own version of "Everything Is Everything in 1971). Pops goes with the slower Flack interpretation and it's a socially-aware bluesy winner. I've played both tracks many times on the shuffle play in the record shop and they've always elicited a customer response. Then on Disc 2 are "The Only Time You Ever Say You Love Me" by MAVIS STAPLES (a gorgeous slow ballad) and a version of "Oh La De Da" without the fake audience participation that appeared on the Stax 0156 single. Both of these are superb too. Not a lot of unreleased stuff I know, but man the quality is good...
The mastering has been handled by DUNCAN COWELL at Sound Mastering (it's uniformly excellent throughout - especially on the Fifties and Sixties material), while the chunky 28-page colour booklet is jammed with pictured 45's and adverts and has detailed and informative liner notes by noted Soul writer and aficionado TONY ROUNCE. Between them - they've handled large numbers of Ace and Edsel soul reissues throughout the 2000's - see a TAG above for each giving pictorial displays of their work...
I love The Staples Singers - "I'll Take You There" (lyrics above), "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" and the wonderful number one R'n'B hit "Let's Do It Again" - every song imbibed with their lifelong creed of positive action, love and racial harmony - and music as a healer. Quite possibly one of the best Kent-Soul reissues for me - a hugely impressive listen from start to finish and it has great audio quality too...
"The Ultimate Staples Singers - A Family Affair 1955-1984" is a fantastic overview of their extraordinary career - buy it and thoroughly enjoy...
PS: see also reviews for the following - "Be Altitude: Respect Yourself" (1972 album on Stax) reissued and remastered in 2011 with bonus tracks as part of the "Stax Remasters" series, the "We'll Get Over" Stax album reissue on CD, the compilation "This Time Around" from 1981 with the fabulous "Trippin' On Your Love" Northern Soul song fave - and finally the 2015 Stax Box Set "Faith & Grace" (4CDs) which boasts awesome audio but awkward packaging...
“The Ultimate Staple Singers: A Family Affair 1953 – 1984”, released by reputable reissue label Ace Records from UK in 2004, is a 2-CD set with 44 songs, covering the period from 1953 – 1984. I have compiled a detailed song listing (including album & singles and label, chart position, debut date, plus personal comments)(BB200=Billboard Album Chart; BB Pop=Billboard Hot 100; BB R&B=Billboard Rhythm & Blues Chart; BB AC=Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart; CB Pop=Cash Box Singles Chart; RW Pop=Record World Singles Chart; UK=UK Singles Chart):
01 HAMMER AND NAILS (Riverside R-4518)(uncharted a-side, June 1962)
02 NOBODY’S FAULT BUT MINE*from album “Use What You Got” (Fantasy 9423)(1973)
03 TOO CLOSE (Vee-Jay VJ-893)(b-side, November 1960)*rare gem; CD debut.
04 UNCLOUDY DAY (Vee-Jay VJ-224)(uncharted a-side, December 1956)
05 WON’T YOU SIT DOWN (SIT DOWN SERVANT)(United U-165)(b-side, December 1953)*rare gem; CD debut; a-side “It Rained Children” – their first single, not included here.
06 WISH I HAD ANSWERED (Riverside RF-4568)(b-side, November 1963)*title on song listing was “I Wish I Had Answered”; I checked the 45 and there was no “I”
07 A HARD RAIN’S GONNA FALL*from album “This Little Light” (Riverside RLP-3527)(1964)*album label number wrongly listed as RLP-5327.
08 SWING LOW (Vee-Jay VJ-912)(uncharted a-side, August 1962)
09 THIS MAY BE THE LAST TIME (Sharp 45-603)(uncharted a-side, 1960)
10 FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH (Epic 5-10220)(a-side)(BB Pop 66/1967; CB Pop 74/1967; RW Pop 56/1967)(August 1967)
11 BE CAREFUL OF THE STONES YOU THROW (Epic 5-9748)(uncharted a-side, December 1964)*from album “Amen” (Epic BN-26132)(1965)
12 WHY (AM I TREATED SO BAD)(Epic 5-9880)(a-side)(CB Pop 131/1966)(December 1965) and re-released as (Epic 5-10158)(a-side)(BB Pop 95/1967)(May 1967)
13 IT’S BEEN A CHANGE (Epic 5-10104)(a-side)(CB Pop 143/1966)(November 1966)*from album “Pray On” (Epic BN-26237)(1968)
14 WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN (Vee-Jay VJ-885)(uncharted a-side, April 1960)*from album “Will the Circle be Unbroken” (Vee-Jay LP-5008)(1960)
15 THE GHETTO (Stax STA-0019)(uncharted a-side, December 1968)*from album “Soul Folk in Action” (Stax 2004)(1968)
16 LONG WALK TO D.C. (Stax STA-0007)(uncharted a-side, August 1968)*first single on Stax; from album “Soul Folk in Action” (Stax 2004)(1968)
17 GOD BLESS THE CHILDREN (Stax STA-0074)(b-side, June 1970)*from album “We’ll Get Over” (Stax 2016)(1970)
18 (SITTIN' ON THE) DOCK OF THE BAY (Stax STA-0031)(uncharted a-side, May 1969)*rare gem; CD debut.
19 THE GARDNER (Stax STA-0039)(b-side, June 1969)*rare gem; CD debut; misspelled in the CD song listing as “Gardener”
20 WHEN WILL WE BE PAID (Stax STA-0052)(uncharted a-side, October 1969)*from album “We’ll Get Over” (Stax 2016)(1970)
21 WHO TOOK THE MERRY OUT OF CHRISTMAS (Stax STA-0084)(uncharted a-side, November 1970)*rare gem; CD debut.
22 JOHN HENRY – Pops Staples*previously unreleased.
23 YOU’RE GONNA MAKE ME CRY (Stax STA-0104)(b-side, September 1971)
24 SOLON BUSHI (Stateside TSS-4058)(b-side, 1970)*rare gem; CD debut; a-side “Games People Play” not included here.
01 THIS WORLD (Stax STA-0137)(a-side)(BB Pop 38/1972; BB R&B 6/1972; CB Pop 36/1972; RW Pop 28/1972)(July 1972)
02 I HAVE LEARNED TO DO WITHOUT YOU – Mavis Staples (Volt VOA-4044)(a-side)(BB Pop 87/1970)*rare gem; CD debut.
03 RESPECT YOURSELF (Stax STA-0104)(a-side)(BB Pop 12/1971; BB R&B 2(2)/1971; CB Pop 10/1971; RW Pop 9/1971)(September 1971)*from album “Be Altitude: Respect Yourself” (Stax STS-3002)(BB200 19/1972)
04 TRYIN’ TIME – Pops Staples (Stax 0064)(uncharted a-side, 2004)*previously unreleased.
05 HEAVY MAKES YOU HAPPY (SHA-NA-BOOM BOOM)(Stax STA-0083)(a-side)(BB Pop 27/1971; BB R&B 6/1971; CB Pop 24/1971; RW Pop 26/1971)(November 1970)*from album “The Staple Swingers” (Stax STS-2034)(BB200 117/1971)
06 I’LL TAKE YOU THERE (Stax STA-0125)(a-side)(BB Pop 1(1)/1972; BB R&B 1(4)/1972; CB Pop 1(2)/1972; RW Pop 1(1)/1972; UK 30/1972)(March 1972)*their biggest hit; from album “Be Altitude: Respect Yourself” (Stax STS-3002)(BB200 19/1972)
07 YOU'VE GOT TO EARN IT (Stax STA-0093)(a-side)(BB Pop 97/1971; BB R&B 11/1971; CB Pop 85/1971; RW Pop 82/1971)(June 1971)*rare gem; CD debut.
08 THE ONLY TIME YOU EVER SAY YOU LOVE ME – Mavis Staples*previously unreleased.
09 OH LA DE LA (Stax STA-0104)(a-side)(BB Pop 33/1973; BB R&B 4/1973; CB Pop 35/1973; RW Pop 48/1973)(February 1973)*rare gem; CD debut; previously unreleased, without the fake audience
10 IF YOU’RE READY (COME GOWITH ME)(Stax STA-0179)(a-side)(BB Pop 9/1973; BB R&B 1(3)/1973; CB Pop 9/1973; RW Pop 8/1973; UK 34/1974)(September 1973)*from album “Be What You Are” (Stax STS-3015)(BB200 102/1973)
11 CITY IN THE SKY (Stax STA-0215)(a-side)(BB Pop 79/1974; BB R&B 4/1974; CB Pop 58/1974; RW Pop 65/1974)(June 1974)*rare gem; CD debut.
12 I GOT TO BE MYSELF (Stax STA-0255)(uncharted a-side, 1975)*rare gem; CD debut.
13 TOUCH A HAND, MAKE A FRIEND (Stax STA-0196)(a-side)(BB Pop 23/1974; BB R&B 3(1)/1974; BB AC 27/1974; CB Pop 23/1974; RW Pop 18/1974)(January 1974)*from album “Be What You Are” (Stax STS-3015)(BB200 102/1973)
14 TRIPPIN’ ON YOUR LOVE – Mavis Staples*from album “This Time Around” (Staple Singers)(Stax MPS 8511)(1981); rare gem; CD debut.
15 LET’S DO IT AGAIN (Curtom CMS-0109)(a-side)(BB Pop 1(1)/1975; BB R&B 1(2)/1975; CB Pop 1(1)/1975; RW Pop 3(2)/1975)(October 1975)*from movie "Let's Do It Again" starring Sidney Poitier and Bill Crosby
16 NEW ORLEANS (Curtom CMS-0113)(a-side)(BB Pop 70/1976; BB R&B 4/1976; CB Pop 57/1976; RW Pop 91/1976)(January 1976)*rare gem; CD debut; from movie "Let's Do It Again" starring Sidney Poitier and Bill Crosby
17 LOVE ME, LOVE ME, LOVE ME (The Staples) (Warner Bros WBS-8279)(a-side)(BB R&B 11/1976; RW Pop 119/1976)(October 1976)*rare gem; CD debut.
18 I HONESTLY LOVE YOU (The Staples)(Warner Bros WBS-8510)(a-side)(BB R&B 68/1978)(January 1978)*rare gem; CD debut.
19 SLIPPERY PEOPLE (Private I ZS4-04583)(a-side)(BB Pop 109/1984; BB R&B 22/1984)(September 1984)*rare gem; CD debut.
20 H-A-T-E (DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE)(Private I ZS4-04384)(a-side)(BB R&B 46/1984)(April 1984)*rare gem; CD debut.
1 This set is indeed the Ultimate Staple Singers, with 44 wonderful songs, many of which are still rare gems and making their CD debut even in 2016. There are many songs still not present in the 2015 release “Faith & Grace” (Stax, 4CDs, 80 songs, 53-76).
2 Beside Staple Singers, rare gems by Pop Staples and Mavis Staples are included.
3 Tony Rounce did an excellent job compiling the song listing, including songs from Curtom, Warner Bros. and Private I. labels.
4 The sound is wonderfully remastered, as per usual high standards at Ace Records.
5 As per usual, the 28-page booklet is first class, with an detailed and informative essay by Rob Bowman. Labels and numbers are included. Of course, there are many beautiful coloured pictures of 45 rpm single labels, picture sleeves, posters and rare pictures. Good job!
6 Time: disc 1: 76 minutes; disc 2: 78 minutes. Good value.
1 While I appreciate the rare album or previously unreleased tracks, there are still many singles that are still not available on CDs, especially those on Warner Bros and Private I labels (1976 – 1985). Inclusion of those rare gems will make this set even more valuable.
2 The songs are not sequenced chronologically.
3 Chart positions are not included. Details about source and remastering should be included.
4 Sloppy editing: No “I” in the title of “Wish I Had Answered” and “Gardner” instead of “Gardener”
COMPLETE SINGLES DISCOGRAPHY:
The singles career of the Staple Singers can be divided into three phases: (1) Staple Singers (1953 – 1976), (2) the Staples (1976 – 1980) and (3) Staple Singers (1981 – 1985). I have painstaking compiled a detailed Complete Singles Discography, and found that they have 73 singles from 1953 to 1985 (but only 141 songs not 146 songs because 5 songs were repeated releases). Their singles labels are (1) United (1953), (2) Vee-Jay (1956 – 1962), (3) Gospel (1958), (4) Sharp (1960), (5) Riverside (1962 – 1963), (6) Epic (1965 – 1968), (7) D-Town (1966), (8) Bishop (1966), (9) Stax (1968 – 1975), (10) Curtom (1975 – 1976), (11) Warner Bros (1976 – 1980), (12) 20th Century-Fox (1981), and (13) Private I. (1984 – 1985).
The Staple Singers is a family vocal group formed by “Pops” Staples (tenor), with his daughters: Mavis (lead vocal with a thunderous voice), Cleotha (soprano), and son Pervis (high tenor). During a career that spanned four decades, the Staple Singers moved from performing purely religious materials to protest songs in sync with the Civil Rights Movement to chart-topping pop and R&B hits. The switch from “Soul-folk” style associated with their protest period to the more secular sounds of such smashes as “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There” during their tenure at Stax Records. They also have numerous awards. Pops died in December 2000, while Cleotha died in 2013. They will be sorely missed.
If you really want to collect the Staple Singers, I would also highly recommend “Faith & Grace” (Stax, 4CDs, 2015, 80 songs, 53-76). This current set, however, was the first-ever career-spanning collection of one of America’s foremost musical treasures, and will be treasured.