Stax Records went bankrupt in 1976, and its assets and back catalog were purchased by Fantasy. In 2004, Fantasy was purchased by Concord Records, which has been reissuing Stax product under the revived Stax imprint. Recent re-releases include Stax Does the Beatles, which features artists such as Otis Redding, Booker T and the MGs, and Isaac Hayes covering Beatles tunes. (Soulsville Sings Hitsville, an album of Motown covers, features a similar lineup of Stax stars.) Of course Stax “did” the Beatles; at one time or another in those days, almost everybody did. But one of the less-well-told tales in the history of rock is how the Beatles nearly did Stax.
Rob Bowman tells the story in Soulsville U.S.A.: In March 1966, Brian Epstein traveled to Memphis to investigate the possibility of the Beatles recording their next album at Stax. The visit was supposed to be secret, but it took only one day to leak out. Several Stax songwriters were told to get material together in case the Beatles wanted to cover some contemporary R&B, although Bowman notes that the Beatles had stopped doing covers by this point. (At least one song, “Out of Control,” was written for the Beatles and later recorded by the minor Stax group L.H. and the Memphis Sounds.) When the Beatles played Memphis in August 1966, a reporter asked them about their plans to record at Stax. Either George or Paul said that they certainly admired the music coming out of Stax and yes, they had been discussing the possibility of recording there. But Epstein concluded that there was insufficient security in Memphis, and the sessions never happened. The album that might have been recorded at Stax: Revolver. (Steve Cropper had hoped that the Beatles might use some of the Stax musicians, or invite him to engineer. He would eventually play on the sessions for John Lennon’s Rock and Roll album, although it’s unclear to me whether any of the tracks featuring Cropper have ever been released.)
Songs found on Stax Does the Beatles were sprinkled throughout various Stax releases. Otis Redding covered “Day Tripper” on The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul in 1966; Isaac Hayes gave “Something” his then-typical 12-minute workout in 1970; Cropper covered “With a Little Help from My Friends” on a 1971 solo album; Booker T and the MGs did “Eleanor Rigby” in 1968 and “Lady Madonna” in 1969, and then covered almost all of Abbey Road on the extraordinary McLemore Avenue in 1970. (There’s nothing from McLemore Avenue on Stax Does the Beatles, but the Booker T. version of “Something” should probably have made the cut.)