Saturday, September 09, 2006

Boy Meets Girl: Love's Sweet Sensation

Summer lingers on, the sun is shining, boy meets girl, feel love's sweet sensation...

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1969: Following the revelation that Atlantic Records had conned them out of ownership of their entire body of work to date, and stunned by the death of Otis Redding, and the murder of Martin Luther King in Memphis, the Stax family gathered together under the new direction of Al Bell to consider the future. Even though there had been tragedy and trickery, and even though tensions lay simmering beneath the surface, everybody equally believed in the possibility to make one new team effort, in the Stax spirit, to push ahead. A big release of new material, in a fanfare of publicity, was planned for May 1969.

The recording push of late 1968 and early 1969 produced so much astonishing music, often from previously untapped talent at the company, that it was able to push Stax to new heights. Everybody was put to work writing songs, performing, producing, in new combinations. New acts such as the Soul Children, the Emotions and the Staples Singers joined the family, while Isaac Hayes got to work on Hot Buttered Soul. A grand total of 27 new albums and 30 singles were recorded and pressed for simultaneous release, with more in the pipeline.

Boy Meets Girl was one of those albums, and was in part a response to the perceived success of that other soul giant, Motown, with duet songs. The decision to record four sides worth of Stax duets may seem slightly over-enthusiastic. Not everyone, even at Stax, believed that it would be possible to release so much and promote every artist properly. Al Bell, who personally produced the album, explained the reasoning in an interview with Rob Bowman:

"It was an attempt to take the entire roster and come up with a unique catalogue album ... then I could expose every track on the album and ... get all of those artists out there..."

Almost every permutation of male and female vocalist gets an outing. Duets were recorded with William Bell, Mavis Staples, Cleotha Staples, Purvis Staples, Johnny Taylor, Carla Thomas and Eddie Floyd. The results are remarkable. Carla Thomas matches and outdoes Johnny Taylor with every plea to Keep On Loving Me. William Bell and Mavis Staples didn't have to love us but they did, yes they did, on I Thank You. Mavis's voice soars above Eddie Floyd to dare him, Take Another Little Piece of My Heart.

Al Bell, working with Don Davis and Isaac Hayes to produce the tracks, took the artists to Muscle Shoals Sound for half of the songs. This was the first time the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett, had played on a Stax record. Eddie Hinton, Marvell Thomas and Isaac Hayes also played.

The other half of the songs were recorded at Ardent Studios, with the new line-up of the Bar-Kays. Marvell Thomas and Isaac Hayes came to record parts too. They soon would return to Ardent to come up with Hot Buttered Soul...

Today's song is Love's Sweet Sensation, a duet between Mavis Staples and William Bell. You can't help but think about the warmth of a sunny day. I always cheer up listening to this track. When William calls out that love's "like a big hurricane", listen out for Mavis' response: "ooh, windy..." The string parts (recorded at Tera Shirma Studios in Detroit by Russ Terrana Jr) add a soaring element that matches the song's sentiment, while the song never gets syrupy thanks to the clever changes of tempo that wind up the song.

William Bell & Mavis Staples - Love's Sweet Sensation ("Boy Meets Girl" Stax STS 2-2024) 1969

The predictions that the release schedule was overdone were in part justified. Boy Meets Girl, and its six singles, did not chart, like some of the other albums. But the album push did make an impression on the music industry, and the record-buying public - Stax would continue - and gave us a wealth of great music.

All of the facts in this post come from Rob Bowman's Soulsville: USA. are selling the Boy Meets Girl CD at good price for 22 classic tracks.

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