Friday, May 14, 2021

The Albums of 1971: The Staple Singers: The Staple Swingers

Release Date: June 15, 1971

Active Members: Cleotha Staples, Mavis Staples and Yvonne Staples (lead and backing vocals) Roebuck "Pops" Staples (vocals, guitar); Terry Manning (guitar)

Produced by Al Bell

Side One: This Is A Perfect World; What's Your Thing; You've Got to Earn It; You're Gonna Make Me Cry; Little Boy; How Do You Move a Mountain

Side Two: Almost; I'm A Lover; Love is Plentiful; Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na- Boom Boom); I Like the Things About You; Give a Hand, Take a Hand

The Staple Singers had been making records since the early 1950s, based in Chicago they established themselves as a masterful gospel recording artists and eventually transitioned into pop and soul. Their 1971 LP The Staple Swingers featured a few changes with a new producer in Al Bell who recorded the rhythm tracks at Muscle Shoals and Yvonne Staples replacing her brother Pervis who had enlisted in the army. The result is an upbeat record during a tumultuous era with the Civil Rights Movement splintering, the Vietnam War still raging, Nixon's divisive brand of politics, and the rise of Black Power.

"This Is A Perfect World' calls for unity, the gospel infused message the world is indeed perfect but people mess it up for petty reasons. An adventurous opening track with elements of pop, soul, and gospel. "America the Beautiful" is mixed into the bridges to comment on the sense of optimism and trepidation about going forward. "What's Your Thing" also builds into an anthem connecting social justice, love, and faith. The refrain goes:

My Thing is love
My thing is freedom, well
My thing is piece
What's Your Thing?

"You've Got To Earn It" was a Temptations song, the Staples version puts the horns up front with vocals providing an edge absent in the Temptations original. A gospel infused lament of loss "You're Gonna Make Me Cry" builds to a nice crescendo. "Little Boy" features Pops on lead vocals provides advice to the younger generation coming up. "How Do You Move a Mountain" juxtaposes having faith in the face of the insurmountable challenges presented by the world. 

"Almost" opens with a haunting intro of staccato horns and builds up to a meditation on loss. "I'm A Lover" and "Love Is Plentiful" are both in the same vein, upbeat and celebratory. "Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na boom boom)" continues with the positive vibes, "I Like the Things About You" is in more a swamp rock style to switch up the pace. The closing track, "Give a Hand, Take a Hand" was written by the Gibb brothers Maurice and Barry is gentle, reassuring, hopeful. 

While The Staple Swingers did not produce a hit single in 1971 ("Heavy Makes You Happy" peaked at #27), The Staple Singers would score a #1 the following year with "I'll Take You There." Despite not producing a hit, the album was well produced with inspired vocals throughout. The hopeful themes on the album never shy away from the realities facing America. The final result might be a safe record, but one full of great music. 

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