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Various Artists Can You Dig It? The ’70s Soul Experience (CD 1,2,3)

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Like other super-ambitious genre overviews on Rhino, this six-CD box set is documenting a style so large and diverse that the track selection is not going to completely satisfy everybody, even with 136 songs. There are many good things to say about this release, though. To start with the positive, most of the major soul stars of the ’70s are represented with at least one track, and sometimes with a couple cuts. In addition, there are lots of fine hits by dozens of artists who only had a few (or only one) big records, from the Winstons’ “Color Him Father” and Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff” to Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose’s “Too Late to Turn Back Now” and Sylvia’s “Pillow Talk.”

1.1 The Friends of Distinction – Grazing in the Grass 2:58
1.2 The Winstons – Color Him Father 3:07
1.3 Eddie Holman – Hey There Lonely Girl 3:33
1.4 The Glass House – Crumbs Off the Table 2:41
1.5 Brook Benton – Rainy Night in Georgia 3:59
1.6 Sly & The Family Stone – Everybody is a Star 3:00
1.7 Chairmen of the Board – Give Me Just a Little More Time 2:41
1.8 The Delfonics – Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) 3:20
1.9 The Originals – The Bells 3:07
1.10 Tyrone Davis – Turn Back the Hands of Time 2:59
1.11 The Moments – Love On a Two-Way Street 3:44
1.12 Freda Payne – Band of Gold 2:54
1.13 The Five Stairsteps – O-o-h Child 3:16
1.14 Flaming Ember – Westbound #9 2:52
1.15 The Three Degrees – Maybe 3:39
1.16 The Lost Generation – The Sly, Slick and the Wicked 2:58
1.17 Edwin Starr – War 3:23
1.18 100 Proof Aged in Soul – Somebody’s Been Sleeping 2:47
1.19 The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band – Express Yourself 3:53
1.20 Jackie Moore – Precious, Precious 3:28
1.21 The Beginning of the End – Funky Nassau (Pt. 1) 5:12
1.22 King Floyd – Groove Me 2:58
1.23 The Fuzz – I Love You For All Seasons 3:06
1.24 Honey Cone – Want Ads 2:45
1.25 Paul Humphrey – Cool Aid 2:43

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Rather than be strict about the chronological boundaries of the project, there are a half-dozen 1969 singles in the ’70s soul vein to lead off disc one, as well as a solitary cut from the early ’80s (Rose Royce’s “Golden Touch,” which could have been left off without any tears shed). Room is made for some non-African-American soul by whites and Latinos, and plenty of big-but-not-huge hits. Sensibly, the first half of the ’70s is heavily represented, all but one of the post-1975 cuts getting shunted onto disc six.On the other hand, there is no way to boil down, say, the output of Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Sly & the Family Stone, and other superstars to just one or two representative songs, and some might quibble with the ones selected, though generally the compilers wisely played it safe by targeting big hits. In addition, some superstars are not present at all — the Jackson 5, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder, for instance. 

2.1 Wilson Pickett – Don’t Knock My Love (Pt. 1) 2:23
2.2 The Friends of Distinction – Love or Let Me Be Lonely 3:21
2.3 Freda Payne – Deeper and Deeper 3:04
2.4 Chairmen of the Board – Pay to the Piper 3:08
2.5 Jean Knight – Mr. Big Stuff 2:45
2.6 Laura Lee – Women’s Love Rights 3:14
2.7 The Dramatics – Whatcha See is Whatcha Get 3:56
2.8 King Floyd – Baby Let Me Kiss You 2:52
2.9 Brenda and the Tabulations – Right On the Tip of My Tongue 3:19
2.10 The Persuaders – Thin Line Between Love and Hate 3:22
2.11 The Chi-Lites – Have You Seen Her? 4:49
2.12 Isaac Hayes – Theme From “Shaft” 3:17
2.13 The Staple Singers – Respect Yourself 4:54
2.14 Sly & The Family Stone – Family Affair 3:06
2.15 Al Green – Let’s Stay Together 3:18
2.16 Betty Wright – Clean Up Woman 2:48
2.17 Honey Cone – One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show 3:27
2.18 Joe Simon – Drowning in the Sea of Love 3:24
2.19 Jerry Butler – Ain’t Understanding Mellow 4:22
2.20 Frederick Knight – I’ve Been Lonely For So Long 3:13
2.21 Malo – Suavecito 3:27
2.22 The Soul Children – Hearsay 3:32
2.23 The 8th Day – She’s Not Just Another Woman 3:14

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There’s nothing that might be considered rare, with nearly every one of the tracks having been a substantial hit single, even if some of those — the Fuzz’s “I Love You for All Seasons“, the 8th Day’s “She’s Not Just Another Woman” and Brighter Side of Darkness’ “Love Jones“, for instance — aren’t exactly over-represented on compilations. The final disc might round out the chronology of the decade, but also is far inferior to the rest of the set, often illustrating soul’s decline into pop slickness. But you know what? It’s still a very good, intelligent overview of ’70s soul, guaranteed to please someone who doesn’t collect this stuff obsessively, but wants a lot of it around, sequenced in a manner that ensures variety and quality. The packaging is, as is always the case with major Rhino box sets, quite imaginative, with a 78-page information booklet and an outer cover that simulates a rack of eight-track tapes.

3.1 The Staple Singers – I’ll Take You There 3:17
3.2 The Dramatics – In the Rain 5:11
3.3 The Stylistics – Betcha By Golly, Wow 3:46
3.4 The Chi-Lites – Oh Girl 3:23
3.5 Bill Withers – Lean On Me 3:42
3.6 Joe Tex – I Gotcha 2:29
3.7 Isaac Hayes – Do Your Thing 3:19
3.8 The Spinners – I’ll Be Around 3:09
3.9 Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose – Too Late to Turn Back Now 3:16
3.10 Luther Ingram – (If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right 3:28
3.11 Mel & Tim – Starting All Over Again 3:35
3.12 The O’Jays – Back Stabbers 3:08
3.13 Tower of Power – You’re Still a Young Man 5:34
3.14 The Main Ingredient – Everybody Plays the Fool 3:39
3.15 Curtis Mayfield – Freddie’s Dead 5:25
3.16 Johnny Nash – I Can See Clearly Now 2:45
3.17 Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes – If You Don’t Know Me By Now 3:24
3.18 Brighter Side of Darkness – Love Jones 4:31
3.19 Billy Paul – Me and Mrs. Jones 4:48
3.20 The Temptations – Papa Was a Rolling Stone 6:57
3.21 Billy Preston – Outa-Space 4:11

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