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Listening Report: The Staple Singers 50th Anniversary 180-gram Reissue Of BeAltitude Respect Yourself Features #1 Hits, Great Grooves, Classic Sound

Mark Smotroff appreciates a soul classic with fresh ears…

In 1972, The Staple Singers seemingly jumped on the pop charts with their smash hit album Be Altitude: Respect Yourself  which featured two hit singles making it into the Billboard Hot 100. “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There” were all over the radio around that time — I even remember hearing them on the mainstream AM radio stations I listened to back in the day when I was a little kid. According to the wiki, “I’ll Take You There” reached number one on Billboard and is ranked the 19th biggest hit in America that year, spending 15 weeks on the charts!

For many people, the sound of The Staple Singers was a new thing but the group had a rich legacy dating back to the 1950s where they established a prominent position in the Gospel music universe. Their ascension to mass consciousness could not have been more perfectly timed in the post Woodstock era, a time when many artists were putting psychedelia behind them, “going up the country” and getting back to newfound roots. 

Groups like The Band were incorporating rich acoustic vocal and Gospel-inspired and Southern-tinged, Americana-drenched instrumental elements (church-like Hammond Organ, Harp guitar, Mandolin, etc.). Melanie broke out in 1970 with her Gospel-infused smash hit “Candles In The Rain” backed by Oakland’s Edwin Hawkins Singers — and that latter group had its own smash crossover hit with “Oh Happy Day” a year earlier. Add to that the explosion of spirituality through songs such as George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and the mass success of Broadway shows such as Jesus Christ Superstar, war-and-civil-rights-torn America was ready for the healing joy of The Staple Singers.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Gospel Hall of Fame inductees, The Staple Singers have been honored with the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s prestigious Pioneer Award a GRAMMY® Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Their 1972 smash hit album called Be Altitude: Respect Yourself has just been re-issued in a lovely 50th Anniversary, all-analog restoration from Craft Recordings. Mastered from the original tapes by Jeff Powell at Take Out Vinyl and pressed on high-quality 180 gram black vinyl, this new edition is really excellent. It sounds very much like my original pressing on Stax Records with a wee bit more clarity on the high end and a rounder bottom giving it some extra hip-shaking punch.

Period-accurate reissue label design

Even though my original was a good sounding album, I have to point out that it took me quite a while to find a clean copy. The challenge for audiophiles in search of a perfect sound is that it is not particularly easy finding really nice condition copies of most any vintage soul album. As with vintage Jazz, one often has to accept certain anomalies from years of loving use (ie. periodic pops ’n crackles, at minimum) to obtain that warm vintage vibe. Taking a peek at Discogs, there are only 10 original copies of Be Altitude: Respect Yourself available at the time of this writing and none are listed in any better than VG-plus condition. 

Original label design

Putting this reissue into that sort of perspective might help you grok the reality of just how difficult it might be to find a clean original. Particularly, you want to find one that is not distorted on the center tracks, a problem with a lot of old records that were played — typically — on poorly aligned automatic changes of the period.

Suddenly, a well crafted and reasonably priced reissue sounds mighty appealing! 

The album art and cover design— even the record labels — on this new 50th Anniversary edition of Be Altitude: Respect Yourself  are what I would call “period accurate.”  Everything feels like an original pressing (actually, it is better in many ways).

So why do you need to own this? Well, Be Altitude: Respect Yourself is a classic soul album and it remains a timeless and inspiring listen. The album features some classic funky grooves courtesy of The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section — who have supported everyone from Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. The Memphis Horns are also on call here, the same players you hear on Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” and Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” At the end of the day, it’s all about the songs and these are pretty fantastic! 

I’m not 100-percent sure but if what I’m seeing on line is accurate, this may be one of the first (or at least first significant) reissues of Be Altitude: Respect Yourself  on vinyl in 50 years. And for just $25 on Amazon it’s still cheaper than most copies you’ll find out in the used and collector’s marketplace. 

All that said, if you don’t need an “original” pressing of Be Altitude: Respect Yourself and you want a copy that is quite sure to sound really good, this reissue from Craft Recordings might just be your jam.

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