The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1: 1962-1967

Booker T. & the MG's

(LP - Real Gone Music #1309)

Review by Mark Deming

In the event one ever needs an example of the value of collaboration in music, they would do well to look to the history of Booker T. & the MG's, four players who were individually gifted but as a unit were little short of unstoppable. Keyboard man Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, and drummer Al Jackson, Jr. were a supremely tight and hard-grooving rhythm section who played on many of Stax Records' biggest hits of the 1960s. When they weren't doing that, they were cutting instrumental sides on their own, the first of which, 1962's "Green Onions," was one of the early hits that put the Memphis label on the map and became an enduring R&B classic. On their singles, Booker T. & the MG's didn't display a tremendous stylistic range, but what they did was uniformly excellent; like your Mom's birthday cake, it may have tasted the same each time, but do you want it to be any different? Of course not. The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1: 1962-1967 is the first in a series of compilations that gathers together the tracks the mighty quartet issued as singles during their tenure with Stax, and it boasts 29 songs that showcase the skills of a band that knew how to cut the funk with soul, style, and peak efficiency. There are other compilations that cherrypick the best songs from this era, and in some respects, that makes for more streamlined listening, as not every track here is top shelf. However, there are no real duds, either, and taken together, this set demonstrates how strong the group's legacy was; they were not always excellent, but they very rarely slipped below the line of Very Good, and there are few bands of the era with as large of a body of work who can make that claim. The Complete Stax Singles, Vol. 1: 1962-1967 may not be the absolute best single-disc collection from this vitally important group, but it's hard to imagine anyone who cares about vintage soul and R&B not enjoying this immensely.