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Monday, December 01, 2014

The story of the riff from "The Liquidator"

The Staple Singers made their best records between 1970 and 1972 for the Stax label.  They were produced by Stax President Al Bell, who was mainly about business; the additional spice was provided by the Muscle Shoals players, who were mainly about hooks.

In December 1971 Traffic were on hiatus because Steve Winwood was ill and so Jim Capaldi went to Muscle Shoals to make a solo record with the same musicians who had been playing on those brilliant records with the Staple Singers. Maybe he played them "The Liquidator" by The Harry J. All Stars, which had been a skinhead favourite in the UK in 1969-70. Maybe somebody else from the Island label passed it on. Maybe they heard it themselves. It goes like this:

It's a catchy tune, which started life on a Tony Scott record called "What Am I To Do", where it was played (and probably first invented) by the Barrett brothers and Alva Lewis, which went like this:

It was so catchy that it turns up, uncredited, on the Staple Singers "I'll Take You There", which is a huge hit and of course you know how that goes:

The following year Lee Perry, who works with the Barrett Brothers as The Upsetters, makes a satirical point at the beginning of "Cow Thief Skank" by The Upsetters by taking a whole section from The Staple Singers' "This Old Town" and putting it at the beginning of his own record. He didn't bother copying the song; he just pasted in their recording.

Both "The Liquidator" and "I'll Take You There" have turned out to have the pop music version of eternal life.

The Staples' record has the kind of inimitable catchiness that guarantees prefabricated sections of it will turn up in dance records from here until doomsday. Salt 'n' Pepa, Britney Spears, Dizzee Rascal and Kelly Price are just the most recent artists to have covered it. And "The Liquidator" plays every time Chelsea run out to play, even though football teams don't run out anymore.

As Joseph Shabalala used to say, "music is a thing you cannot hinder. It rises from here all the way to heaven." That's nice for us but not for people who either hold - or should hold - the copyright.