Our Blog

The Staple Singers “Be Altitude: Respect Yourself” (Stax, 1972)

The consensus best Staple Singers album, Be Altitude: Respect Yourself is a paragon of gospel roots music blooming into R&B and funk songcraft with a sociopolitical message. Produced by Stax Records co-owner Al Bell and augmented by the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, Memphis Horns, and multi-instrumentalist Terry Manning, the album yielded three hits— “Respect Yourself,” “I’ll Take You There,” and “This World”—and only one dud. While music steeped in Christianity usually gives me hives, the Staple Singers were so soulful and righteous with it, they could even sway atheists to get behind their uplifting, Jesus-intensive songs.

“This World” opens Be Altitude with David Hood’s bass and Roger Hawkins’ drums locking in and funking hard from the get-go in this instant mood-elevator, which the Staples adapted from the musical production The Me Nobody Knows. The star of the show, Mavis Staples, asserts herself as a powerful, husky vocal presence. As a lad listening to the radio in the ’70s, I associated her voice as a source of comfort and strength. Same goes for her dad, Pops Staples. That feeling hasn’t faded at all in the ensuing 50-plus years.

Although you’ve probably heard “Respect Yourself” hundreds of times, take a moment to reflect on how odd it was for a radio staple (pun intended) to start in a low-slung, tense manner and then blossom into a rousing call-and-response gospel-funk self-empowerment anthem. Keeping with the hits, “I’ll Take You There” boasts one of the most attention-grabbing intros ever, with a bass line by Hood that should get him inducted into the R&R Hall Of Fame, although it was lifted from the 1969 reggae song “The Liquidator” by Harry J Allstars. This is the epitome of spare, Meters-like funk, and it somehow peaked at #1 in the singles chart.

“Name The Missing Word” is a deep cut that’s as sizzling as any of the hits, thanks to that down-South funkitude native to the Muscle Shoals studio band. On “This Old Town (People In This Town),” the musicians exude “Rip This Joint” energy, propelling the Staples into rare, hell-raising form. The spring-legged funk of “We The People” is a feel-good jam that’s as effusive as Sly & The Family Stone’s “Everyday People.” “Are You Sure” is a melodious and touching plea to watch out for your fellow human. The only low point is “I’m Just Another Soldier,” a Pollyanna paean to the power of love. Honestly, I’d rather hear the jubilant bonus track from subsequent reissues, “Heavy Makes You Happy.” -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *