The Staple Singers - The Challenge
The Staple Singers' hit period at Stax began, according to label honcho Al Bell, with Bell's visit to a hospitalized Jesse Jackson. Jackson and Bell had known the Staples family from their gospel days and Bell had signed them to the label in 1968 with little commercial success. Jackson admonished Bell to stop focusing so much on "that bald-headed rascal" (Isaac Hayes, whose mega-hit albums were pouring lots of money into Stax's coffers) and to pay more attention to "Mavis 'n 'em." Bell began producing the Staple Singers himself, started recording them in Muscle Shoals and, from 1970 to 1974 the Staple Singers and their "message music" racked up an impressive string of pop and R&B hits, including two #1 R&B hits, "I'll Take You There" and "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)," the former hitting #1 on the pop charts as well.
The Staples' success during that period unfairly overshadows their 1968 to 1970 Stax recordings. Steve Cropper produced them at the time, and the selection of songs they recorded maintained the "protest song" vein the group had been in since their mid-'60s recordings. The Randy Stewart-composed "The Challenge" finds the group throwing down the gauntlet to a technology-obsessed world: if you are so good at fixing things and healing people, why not heal the hatred? The message still rings true today.