The Complete Stax/Volt Singles Page 2

Richard had sent the latest issue of Stereophile along with the box set, and I paged through it with distaste; they'd gotten themselves a new hotshot, some kid named Dan Pussey. Real funny guy; the readers ate him up. Well, young Dan Pussey would learn what it's really all about sooner or later...I opened up the Stax box and looked inside. Jesus, nine CDs?! I couldn't remember any of the names...Otis? Carla Thomas? Eddie Floyd? Who were these people?! And what kind of a name for a label was Stax/Volt? It reminded me of the voltage I'd turned loose on the boy earlier, and I laughed out loud for the first time in months; it felt strange, and the echoes down the unlit, empty halls sounded sinister, like I'd never heard myself sound before. I liked it.

"Soothe me baby, soothe me..."

What was this crap?! This Sam and Dave group was horrible; imagine miking an actual drumkit for the rhythm tracks! Why hadn't they just used a digital drum machine? This Al Jackson guy kept switching the accents, and his snare drum was always a few milliseconds behind the beat; what was he trying to do, create a groove?! When you summarily shut yourself off from all human contact and emotional involvement, the last thing you want is a groove. In the past year, I'd gotten heavily into Kraftwerk, Eno, Jean-Michel Jarre...Eurocentric droning synthesized robotic OOZE was where it was at! I'd put on Jarre's Equinox in the morning and just let it waft through the corridors like some medieval death march. The music meshed perfectly with the gothic lay of the house, and it didn't actively interfere with any of my thoughts or movements. That was the beauty of Eurosynth: it didn't mean anything and it didn't make you want to move. It left you alone, which is as it should be.

But the Stax discs were unlistenable; song after song, I became agitated, irritable, involved. "DAMN YOU!!" I shouted at the hi-fi, "STOP MAKING ME FEEL LIKE THIS!!" Of all the artists on there, the one called Otis Redding was the most unbearable. His songs typified the worst characteristics of the Stax/Volt sound: a hip-shakin' groove heavy on the backbeat, bright'n'punchy horn charts, and minimal, supremely funky Southern soul electric guitar, bass, and organ backing. But the most salient and unnervingly wretched component of this doggerel was Otis's voice. I checked it out on the FFT analyzer, and half the time he didn't even sing in perfect pitch! The other half of the time, he was singing out of time with the rest of the musicians!! No wonder they developed Harmonizers and samplers to correct this shit; this Redding fellow seemed to be proud of his organic limitations! I guess nobody ever told him about the importance of proper intonation, and I'm sure he never owned a metronome; it was just this kind of gleeful trashing of the established European order-driven aesthetic that drove me around the bend the first time around.

Through the smoke from the shrieking motor he could see the image of Richard on the big screen, screaming "NO NO NO!!," but there was nothing he could do; the stainless-steel band was cutting into his forehead now and the pain was nearly hallucinatory. He could feel the plates of his skull scraping against each other as they began the inevitable collapse inward, and the image of the frantic man on the screen seemed a billion miles away.

The other "artists" were no better: Booker T. & the MG's and the Mar-Keys played instrumentals that were thankfully devoid of those involving vocals, but still drove me up the wall with their relentless rhythmic invention and downright funkiness. Why couldn't these guys just play the changes straight?! The songs were simple enough in structure; why did they have to make them so unique? It was hard enough that I had to suffer through tube-amplified guitar and bass. In fact, I think the entire Stax studio in Memphis had been tubed, from the mikes to the Ampex tape machines; how they ever got around the sonic shortcomings of tubes was beyond me, but the entire set did have a complete absence of the hard, brittle quality I loved so much on my Eurosynth CDs, and gave the Stax discs a warm, lovely tone that set my teeth on edge. If I'd wanted golden butter, I'd have gone to Virtual Wisconsin.

The more I listened to the Stax discs, the more confused and disoriented I became. I'd be in the VR suit going through my various simulations when I'd notice my foot tapping along to "Green Onions" and suddenly have to reset the whole scenario in anger. Or I'd be playing computer golf and hit one into the drink because the music was stirring up long-forgotten feelings inside me; emotional responses I'd spent years trying to eliminate, with damned good reason.

It just didn't pay to feel anything anymore, but these Stax/Volt singles were nothing less than celebrations of feeling, of triumphant human redemption, of the sensual pleasures of the flesh. Looking through the 65-page full-size book included with the set, I saw a record label that had all at once reinvented Southern soul music and provided the down-home funky flipside to Motown's urban pop dance empire. And through it all, the presence of Otis loomed large; both tragic and heroic, Mr. Pitiful, all the way country in every sense of the word and fiercely proud of it---Fa, fa fa fa fa, fa fa, fa fa---the man who built Stax and the greatest soul singer this world has ever known. I hated every minute of it.

The stainless-steel band broke through the skin like a sausage casing, Corey's eyes bulging out like a startled frog's as the twirling pinwheels crashed inside his head and the gears of the helmet whined in anger.

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