In an earlier piece, I spoke about sharing with you, dear reader, a three-part homage to one of the biggest musical influences in my young life in Chicago—Booker T. & the M.G.’s. In Part 1, I touched on the first pair of tunes from the band that grabbed my attention and affected me for the rest of my life— “Green Onions” from their 45 single, and my favorite, on side B, “Behave Yourself”. Then, in Part II of my homage, “Booker T. & The M.G.’s: a Tribute to the Beatles”, I shared with you my experience of buying my very first Booker T. & the M.G.’s albums, which affected me to such a degree I memorized every lick on them. And now, I’d like to present you with this, the end of my homage, in which I invite you to join me as I return to those halcyon days when so many of the band’s songs were mainstays that would blast over the airwaves during those dog days of summer on Chicago’s South Side.
Indeed, it seemed like everyone in my neighborhood was blaring music from WVON radio—at the time the most popular urban AM frequency channel. As people let the hot breeze from outside blow in through their curtains, the hot music from inside flowed out the other way onto the city streets. And then there was the music coming from the open car windows that strained to drown out the honking horns of the traffic. This was my sonic landscape as I walked the city blocks in my neighborhood.
Over the years, the music of Booker T. & the M.G.’s has been my constant companion. The radio DJs of the day didn’t hesitate to play both sides of the 45 records the record promoters peddled to them. As early as 1966, they played Booker T. & the M.G.’s single “My Sweet Potato”, along with “Booker-Loo” on the flipside. In October, 1968, was “Slim Jenkin’s Place” on side A, with “Groovin’”on Side B.Then came the single “Over Easy”, coupled with an R&B instrumental version of the popular Clint Eastwood western cinema classic theme song, “Hang ‘Em High”, composed and conducted by Dominic Frontiere for the film of the same name.
Also released in 1968 was the single “Soul Limbo”, with “Heads or Tails” on the B-side. All four sides from 1968 were taken from the Soul Limbo album released that same year, which also contained a cover of the Beatles’s “Eleanor Rigby”, no surprise considering the band’s admiration for the Beatles and their all-Beatles cover-song album McLemore Avenue released in 1970, along with a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”. Interestingly, the album’s intended title seemed to have been Over Easy—check out the original LP label’s pressing. It was corrected immediately thereafter.
In 1969, Booker T. Jones and the M.G.’s wrote the soundtrack to Jules Dassin’s film Uptight, releasing “Time Is Tight” as a single, with “Johnny, I Love You,” on side B. Uptight charted at #7 on the Billboard R&B albums chart and was called by Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau a “superb score”.
As you can tell from my photos below, my well-traveled 45s exhibit the road-weary effects of time—the vinyl platters do indeed wear the scratches and pops of having been played many, many times. But just as I was preparing this article, something incredible occurred that couldn’t have been better timed. It was announced that all the Booker T. & the M.G.’s Stax sides were culled and being rereleased on two double-album collections by Real Gone Music, a company owned by Gordon Anderson. I immediately contacted one of my favorite outlets, Chad Kassem’s Acoustic Sounds, and pre-ordered both items, which were shipped the very day the records were released.
I can hardly express to you the immense joy I felt knowing that I would have fresh, 180-gram vinyl versions of not only the tracks that I grew up loving, but all the other singles that I never had the pleasure of hearing or owning as a kid in Chicago. Being the avid record collector and “completist” that I am, this was exactly the kind of thing—of having all this great music from a favorite band in one place—I dream about.
The packaging of both collections is slick and beautiful, as the albums arrived in what—at least to me—appeared to be Christmas colors—cherry red for Volume 1 (covering the years 1962-67) and electric blue for Volume 2 (covering the years 1968-74). As a bonus, both collections were pressed in a “Special Edition” red vinyl. The sturdy gatefold jackets included awesome photos on the inside panels, along with a detailed chronology written by Ed Osborne of the songs described in the liner notes.
The two discs that comprise Volume 1 hold twenty-nine songs, while the two for Volume 2 hold twenty. For Volume 1, the first fifteen songs of the set are recorded in mono, the last five in stereo. Between both volumes, all my favorite sides are included—Volume 1 has “Green Onions,” “Boot-Leg”, “Hip Hug-Her”, “My Sweet Potato”, and more; Volume 2 features “Time Is Tight”, “Soul Limbo”, “Melting Pot”, “Hang ‘Em High”, The Beatles’s “Something,” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.”
And there you have it—crisp, fresh cuts of all the best Booker T. & the M.G.s music you could ever want underneath the tree! Indeed, it did feel like Christmas arrived early for me, and I couldn’t be happier with these four discs. And so ends my three-part homage to the great Memphis soul band that gave me so much joy as a kid in Chicago way back when, and continues to renew and rekindle a love-and-happiness relationship with me to this day. Right now, life is so good, I’m having a hard time trying to behave myself.