BOOKER T and the MGs: McLemore Avenue (Stax/Concord)

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When the Beatles began their career in the damp cellar clubs and parish halls of Liverpool their stage set comprised chiefly of brash covers of pop hits, country and western favourites, R&B and R&R ravers and embryonic soul tunes. Once established though, those catchy Lennon/McCartney tunes took pre-eminence and soon popsters, country singers, bluesmen, rockers and soul artists started copying and covering the Beatles’ song book. By the end of the 60s the Beatles had become an institution and each of their new recordings was devoured and analysed by fans, critics and other recording artists who marvelled at their ability to create new ideas and musical forms with consummate ease. One such musician was Booker T Jones and when he heard the Fabs’ ‘Abbey Road’ he was overwhelmed by the LP’s sheer musicality. By then, of course, Beatle lyrics had become important too. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison had graduated from simple love songs to complex ideas that embraced everything from metaphysics to politics, but for Booker T it was the music on ‘Abbey Road’ that was the attraction, chiefly, he says, because it was unpredictable. He therefore resolved to record his own version of the album (in the way that George Benson had just done). His three fellow MGs were at the time working on different projects in different places but despite the logistics he pressed ahead and the set – named after the location of the Stax studios, McLemore Avenue – was released in January 1970 to an indifferent reception.

Jones wasn’t bothered though; he’d done what he’d set out to do – salute the musicianship of the Beatles and with this new remastered reissue we can also marvel at the musicianship of Jones, Dunn, Jackson and Cropper. Jones chose not to cover ‘Abbey Road’ track by track; rather he created three long medleys of key sections of the original and recorded ‘Something’ just on its own. He omitted four Beatle tracks – the novelties ‘Octopus’s Garden’, ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, ‘Her Majesty’ and the stark ‘Oh Darling’, but they were never too significant on the original anyway; what he thus achieves is a new, much simpler twist on familiar material and with just four musicians – who were focused on the basics – the music speak for itself.

This reissue comes with a six bonus tracks- earlier MGs’ recording of Beatle songs (like ‘Day Tripper’) and extensive liner notes from Ashley Khan, Adjunct Professor of Music History at New York university.

(BB) 4/5