Various Artists

Memphis Celebrates 50 Years of Rock 'n' Roll

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From the mid-'50s to the mid-'70s, Memphis was the creative cauldron and epicenter of American music. Positioned where the Delta meets the modern urban world, Memphis pushed country and blues together and gave the world rock & roll, then tossed in the fervor of deep gospel and gave it soul. The single that is credited as rock & roll's Big Bang is included on this delightful compilation, Elvis Presley's 1954 cover of Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right," but this wasn't a case of spontaneous combustion, and the disc opens with "Rocket '88," a particularly propulsive jump blues tune issued in 1951 (credited to Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats, it was actually Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm doing a little moonlighting) that carries the clear strands of rock DNA. One of the strengths of this anthology is that it is arranged chronologically, and Presley's hit is followed by famous tracks from his Sun Records labelmates Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and then by two of the greatest instrumental singles in the history of rock & roll, the Mar-Keys' "Last Night" from 1961 (and the first official Stax Records release) and 1962's "Green Onions" by Booker T. & the MG's. James Carr's bleak and cheerless masterpiece "The Dark End of the Street," written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn, is a highlight here, as are acknowledged soul classics from the Stax hit factory like Aretha Franklin's "Respect," Sam & Dave's "Soul Man," and Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." Al Green's 1971 Hi Records hit "Let's Stay Together," a soft, soulful croon over a slow shuffle beat done by Al Jackson of the MG's, shows how endlessly and effortlessly Memphis musicians could make magic happen. That "I'll Take You There" by the Staple Singers is the final track here is fitting, since the combustible and joyous music of Memphis has been taking listeners there for a very long time, and it is impossible to imagine modern pop music without it.

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