Respect Yourself

Album: Be Altitude: Respect Yourself (1971)
Charted: 12


  • 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.

Comments: 5

  • Jules from OregonOriginal is a fantastic that never gets old. Bruce Willis butchered it.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn May 25, 1973 the Staple Singers performed "Respect Yourself" on the NBC-TV network late-night musical program 'The Midnight Special'....
    Nineteen months earlier on October 10th, 1971 "Respect Yourself" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at #82; ten weeks later it would peak at #12 {for 1 week}, and it spent 14 weeks on the Top 100...
    And on December 5th, 1971 it reached #2 {for 2 weeks} on Billboard's Hot R&B Singles chart; the two weeks it was at #2, the #1 record for both those weeks was "Family Affair" by Sly and the Family Stone...
    Between 1970 and 1985 the group had twenty-five records on the Hot R&B Singles chart; ten made the Top 10 with three* reaching #1, "I'll Take You There" for 4 weeks in 1972, "If You're Ready (Come Go with Me)" for 3 weeks in 1973, and "Let's Do It Again" for 1 week in 1975...
    Roebuck 'Pops' Staples passed away at the age of 85 on December 19th, 2000...
    May he R.I.P.
    * They almost had a fourth #1 when the above "Respect Yourself" peaked at #2.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn January 11th 1987, Bruce Willis' covered version of "Respect Yourself" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #55; and seven weeks later on March 1st, 1987 it peaked at #5 for one week...
    Was track two on his debut album; 'The Return of Bruno', and the album reached #14 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart...
    Two other covered tracks from the album also made the Top 100 chart; the Coasters' "Young Blood" {#68} and the Drifters' "Under the Boardwalk"* {#59}...
    Walter Bruce Willis will celebrate his 60th birthday in two months on March 19th {2015}...
    * His covered version of "Under the Boardwalk" peaked at #2 on the United Kingdom's Singles chart.
  • Ted from Phoenix, AzIf 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.
  • Jo from Newcastle, AustraliaAlso a hit for The Kane Gang (cracked the Australian Top 20 in March 1985)
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Graduation SongsFact or Fiction

Have you got the smarts to know which of these graduation song stories are real?

Amy GrantSongwriter Interviews

The top Contemporary Christian artist of all time on song inspirations and what she learned from Johnny Carson.

John Lee HookerSongwriter Interviews

Into the vaults for Bruce Pollock's 1984 conversation with the esteemed bluesman. Hooker talks about transforming a Tony Bennett classic and why you don't have to be sad and lonely to write the blues.

How "A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss" Became Rock's Top ProverbSong Writing

How a country weeper and a blues number made "rolling stone" the most popular phrase in rock.

Al Jourgensen of MinistrySongwriter Interviews

In the name of song explanation, Al talks about scoring heroin for William Burroughs, and that's not even the most shocking story in this one.

Francis Rossi of Status QuoSongwriter Interviews

Doubt led to drive for Francis, who still isn't sure why one of Status Quo's biggest hits is so beloved.