The Knight With The Big Stuff

Jean Knight hit it huge in 1971: the first song she ever released, “Mr. Big Stuff,” for the Stax label, went to number 1 on the R&B charts and number 2 on the pop charts, earning her a Grammy nomination and gaining double-platinum status.  “Mr. Big Stuff” is included on Stax compilations and still maintains a cultural presence.  However, Jean Knight also released an entire album in 1971 to accompany the single – entitled Mr. Big Stuff, of course – that receives far less attention.

Mr. Big Stuff works hard to milk the success of its signature hit.  The song “You City Slicker,” from the original album, and the single “You Think You’re Hot Stuff,” which was included on the 1991 extended reissue of the album, are both carbon copies of “Mr. Big Stuff,” with similar bass and guitar patterns and almost identical vocal delivery.  (This is not an unusual practice; for example, on Let’s Get It On, from two years later, Marvin Gaye included a track entitled, “Keep Gettin’ It On” — a direct continuation of the title track – on the end of the first side of the record, in case the listener was too lazy to reset the needle on his or her record player).

Though “Mr. Big Stuff” is wiry and hard hitting, Knight tries her hand at a few dramatic ballads on her album, even using a mournful string section for the almost five-minute long “Think It Over.”  But Knight’s heart doesn’t feel in it on the slower songs the way it does when she’s on the attack, usually angry at a male, or sexually frustrated by one.  She works with fat, simple grooves that are around the same speed as “Mr. Big Stuff” — not furious pounding funk, but calculated percolations.  On “Take Him (You Can Have My Man),” Knight dares another woman to satisfy her lover; for a bonus track, “Do Me,” Knight mixes confidence with desperation, “Do me baby, like you wanna/ do me baby, if you’re gonna/ love me boy, any way you can.”

Unfortunately, Knight wasn’t able to build on the success of her single and establish a career with Stax.  She left not long after her album was released, and she did not put out another record for 14 years.  While nothing on Mr. Big Stuff matches the bold put-down of its title track, Knight is more than a one-hit wonder.

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