The Fame Studios Story: 1961-1973
Certain studios and labels occupy almost mythical stature in American musical history and FAME Studios, home of the Muscle Shoals sound, is among the elite. During the '60s and into the early '70s, the rotating crew at FAME Studios cranked out single after single, building a legacy that rivals such '60s stalwarts as Motown, Stax/Volt, and Chess, yet despite being the point of origin for such timeless 45s as Wilson Pickett's "Land of 1000 Dances," Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On," Joe Tex's "Hold What You've Got," Etta James' "Tell Mama," Clarence Carter's "Patches," James & Bobby Purify's "I'm Your Puppet," and Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," the label and studio aren't as well known as their peers. Ace's peerless three-disc box The FAME Studios Story: 1961-1973 should go a long way in firming up the label and studio's reputation in the eyes of the mass public. Anchored on those big hits, the compilation tells the story of FAME in exhaustive yet exciting detail, digging up a wealth of rarities (ranging from an unedited acoustic version of "You Left the Water Running" by Otis Redding and a version of "Another Man's Woman, Another Woman's Man" whose singer is unknown to a bunch of singles that rarely pop up on reissues), but this is hardly something for crate-diggers. This is a big, bold set filled with surprises for even seasoned record collectors and much of that has to do with context. Expertly compiled by Alec Palao, Tony Rounce, and Dean Rudland, The FAME Studios Story doesn't shy away from the moments when the Muscle Shoals sound seeped into the mainstream: very early in the set, teen idol Tommy Roe pops up with "Everybody" and toward the end the Osmonds come in with their Jackson 5 knockoff "One Bad Apple" and the revelation is how the FAME musicians gave these teenybopper stars some real swing and funk. That turns out to be the key to the FAME sound -- while Stax/Volt always had grit on the soles of their shoes, FAME was a little lighter, able to ease into slicker crossover material, something that served them well whenever they cranked out some bubblegum or backed Bobbie Gentry or, especially, when they cut effervescent pop-soul/Northern soul singles by Spooner & the Spoons ("Wish You Didn't Have to Go") and David & the Giants ("Ten Miles High"). Which isn't to say FAME didn't get down and dirty (of course they did -- witness Wicked Wilson Pickett's "Hey Jude," complete with guitar from Duane Allman), but they were versatile, adapting to the needs of either the performer or the song. And that very versatility may be part of the reason why FAME isn't as immediately recognizable a name as Motown or Stax -- the Muscle Shoals crew could cop both of those sounds, after all -- but it's also the reason why this set is such a wildly entertaining listen, in addition to being a historically necessary document housed in a very handsome hardcover book.