To honor one of soul music’s most beloved and powerful albums, Stax Records and Craft Recordings are thrilled to announce a 50th-anniversary edition of The Staple Singers’ Be Altitude: Respect Yourself. Set for release on June 24 and available for pre-order today, the best-selling title includes such enduring hits as “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself,” and features instrumentation by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and the Memphis Horns. Providing listeners with the highest-quality audio experience, this special edition is pressed on 180-gram vinyl and boasts all-analog remastering from the original stereo tapes by Jeff Powell at Take Out Vinyl.
Originally released in 1972, Be Altitude: Respect Yourself found the Staple Singers at the apex of their extensive and remarkable career. The album, which marked their fourth with Stax, coalesced the Staples’ gospel roots and socially conscious lyricism with a pop-forward, R&B sensibility—thanks in large part to the keen ear of producer and label executive Al Bell, who signed the family group to the Memphis label in 1968. Yet, while Be Altitude catapulted the group to international stardom and featured some of their biggest crossover hits, the Staples had already spent more than two decades amassing a broad base of devoted fans.
The Staple Singers’ journey began in 1948, when patriarch Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his children—daughters Cleotha and Mavis and son Pervis (later replaced by sister Yvonne)— brought their tight-knit harmonies to churches across Chicago. Over the next decade, the Staple Singers became one of America’s top gospel groups, thanks to a tireless schedule of touring and a slew of releases. In the mid-60s, the group shifted their focus, writing powerful “message songs” that called for equality, amid the Civil Rights Movement. Before long, their politically charged songs caught the ears of the counterculture movement, as well as many of the day’s most popular folk and rock musicians.
After releasing two albums at Stax (Soul Folk in Action and We’ll Get Over), however, the Staple Singers were struggling to achieve significant commercial success. For their next record (1971’s The Staple Swingers), Bell took the reins as producer, bringing Pops, Mavis, Yvonne and Cleotha to Alabama’s storied Muscle Shoals studio and pairing them with some of the industry’s top talents. It was a winning recipe, resulting in the group’s first Top Ten album and single on the R&B charts. With that momentum, Bell and the Staples returned to Muscle Shoals for their follow-up. They were joined once again by the studio’s legendary house band, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, whose artistry can be heard on classic tracks by Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Bell also enlisted the celebrated Memphis Horns, whose credits include Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” and Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Months later, on Valentine’s Day 1972, Be Altitude: Respect Yourself was released.
With a title that cleverly paid tribute to the Beatitudes—eight blessings proclaimed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, as recounted in the Gospel of Matthew—Be Altitude: Respect Yourself delivered an inspirational message, encouraging listeners to rise above their troubles. The jacket, featuring an image of Pops, Mavis, Yvonne and Cleotha sitting in a massive jet engine, quite literally reflected that sentiment. Those uplifting themes rippled throughout Be Altitude—including in the album’s most popular hits.
Lead single “Respect Yourself,” penned by soul star Luther Ingram and singer-songwriter Mack Rice (who authored hits for Wilson Pickett, the Rascals and Johnnie Taylor, among others) delivered a message of empowerment and self-respect, aimed particularly at the African American community in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement. Released ahead of the album in October 1971, the song landed at No.2 on Billboard’s R&B chart and No.12 on the Hot 100.
The Al Bell-penned “I’ll Take You There,” released alongside the album, imagined an idyllic world in which all people are equal, no matter their race. The joyful song resonated with fans across the world. In the US, the Staple Singers scored their first pair of No.1 hits, as “I’ll Take You There” topped the Billboard Hot 100 as well as the R&B chart. Abroad, the song landed at No.21 on the Canadian pop charts and No.20 in the UK.
The funky “This World,” which broke the US Top 40, found the Staples putting a self-affirming twist on the traditional spiritual “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” “My mind holds this world in its hands / And when I think about this world / I can shape it just like clay / I can make myself a Garden of Eden / Or throw it all away,” sang the group. Similarly, the Homer Banks / Raymond Jackson original, “I’m Just Another Soldier,” spoke to fighting hatred with love. Other songs on the album preached the gospel more directly, including Pops Staples’ “Who Do You Think You Are (Jesus Christ the Superstar)?”
Thanks in part to its top-selling singles, Be Altitude: Respect Yourself became the group’s highest-charting album on the Billboard 200, peaking at No.19. On the R&B chart, Be Altitude landed at No.3 (the Staples would hit the top spot three years later, with Let’s Do It Again). Today, the album remains the Staple Singers’ crown jewel. Be Altitude’s most iconic hits, “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There,” can still frequently be heard in films, TV shows and political campaigns, while a variety of artists have covered or sampled them over the decades. Both songs were inducted into the GRAMMY® Hall of Fame (“I’ll Take You There” in 1999 and “Respect Yourself” in 2002) and included in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.
After the success of Be Altitude, the Staple Singers released two more albums with Stax (1973’s Be What You Are and 1974’s City in the Sky) before the label closed its doors in 1975. They continued to record through the mid-80s. Over the following years, the pioneering group would be recognized for their highly-influential body of work (more than two dozen albums) and their activism. Among their many honors, the Staple Singers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Gospel Hall of Fame in 2018. In 1992, they received the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s prestigious Pioneer Award, while in 2005, they were celebrated with a GRAMMY® Lifetime Achievement Award. Today, Mavis Staples continues the Staple Singers’ legacy as the group’s sole living member. A prolific solo artist and Kennedy Center honoree, Ms. Staples has been embraced by a new generation of fans and artists alike. In recent years, she has graced the stages of Coachella, Bonnaroo and Glastonbury and collaborated with a broad range of artists, including M. Ward, the Gorillaz, Run the Jewels, Jeff Tweedy and the late Levon Helm, with whom she recorded her forthcoming album, Carry Me Home.