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Respect Yourself


The Staple Singers

Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

The Staple Singers signed with the Memphis Soul label Stax Records in 1968, where they found success after languishing at Epic. "Respect Yourself" was written by the Stax songwriter Mack Rice and one of their artists, Luther Ingram, who is best known for his song "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right." They wrote the song after a discussion where Ingram said to Rice, "Black folk need to respect themselves." Rice decided to turn the idea into a song, and quickly cut a demo. He didn't think it was right for The Staple Singers, but Stax vice-president Al Bell did, stating, "I heard that lyric and I heard that melody and I said, 'that's it. This is the song I've been waiting on.'"
The first two Stax albums The Staple Singers recorded were with Steve Cropper of the Stax house band, but by August, 1971, when they recorded "Respect Yourself," they were working with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section at their studios in Alabama. They slowed down the tempo of Rice's demo and did a lot of experimenting in the studio. Terry Manning, who engineered the session, said: "It was kind of like all or nothing. We consciously put majors and minors together and rock and blues together. It was a lot of elements trying to fuse together, purposely putting little high tinklely sounds to catch kids' ears, and just seeing if it would work."
In the liner notes to the 2011 remaster of the Be Altitude: Respect Yourself album, Stax biographer Rob Bowman points out some of the things to listen for in this song:

Roger Hawkins using the rim of his snare and a wet-to-dry sound on the hi-hat.
A fuzzed electric guitar line that gets louder as the song fades out at the end. This was supposed to have a subliminal effect on the listener.
Mavis Staples blasting into the words "big ole man" at the end of the second verse.
The scat singing on two 4-bar sections, which was written as horn lines. On the demo, Mack Rice did the scatting to show where the horns would be, but The Staples sang it anyway, and the results were so good they decided to leave it in.
At this time, the Staple Singers were recording what they called "message music," and ads for the Be Altitude: Respect Yourself album billed it as "The message that rock music is still looking for."
A cover version was a #5 hit in the US for Bruce Willis in 1987. He was the first white male solo act to hit the Top 5 with a record on the Motown label, and only the second white male solo act - after R. Dean Taylor's "Indiana Wants Me" - to be so successful for the Motown Corportation.
The very first Soul Train dance line was to this song. The show went on the air in 1971, but the famous segment where dancers showed off their moves grooving down the line didn't start until five episodes in, when host/creator Don Cornelius realized the dancers were the big draw.
The Staple Singers
More The Staple Singers songs
More songs about commitment or respect
More songs The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section played on
More songs that were hits for more than one artist

Comments (2):

If memory serves, R. Dean Taylor's "Indiana Wants Me," peaked at #3 in the fall of 1970, making Bruce Willis' version of this song the second U.S. top 5 hit on the Motown label. Bruce Willis was the third white male to have a top ten hit on Motown; in the summer of 1971, the late Tom Clay's "What the World Needs Now is John, Martin and Bobby" peaked at #8 on the Billboard charts.

That said, the original Staple Singers version of this song is music to my ears. It's funky, and it has an important message about respecting the rights of others.
- ted, phoenix, AZ
Also a hit for The Kane Gang (cracked the Australian Top 20 in March 1985)
- Jo, Newcastle, Australia
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