Otis Redding – Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul
Released September, 1965
This week’s guest reviewer is friend of afyccim Todd, all round good guy and mate to young Megan. Say hi to him on twitter here.
The first time I heard Otis Redding was not actually on one of his tracks. It was on the track ‘Otis’ by Kanye West and Jay Z, where I later learnt that they had sampled the Otis Redding song ‘Try a Little Tenderness’. If you are a Kanye fan, I strongly recommend you lookup ‘Try a Little Tenderness,’ it’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. My curiosity as to who could make what is essentially a grunt sound so damn cool that it gets sampled in a rap song got the better of me and therefore sparked my exploration of the legend that is Otis Redding. Coincidently, a short time later my good friend Megan asked if I’d like to do a guest review. After seeing Otis on the list I was honoured to jump at the chance.
Otis Redding was destined to work in music, his father was a gospel singer and through this, he was therefore involved in music at a young age. He was then denied to continue to compete in talent shows after winning 15 times straight. After leaving school early he did some work with Little Richard as well as learning multiple instruments and even became a professional Disc Jockey for some time. Sadly, Otis died in a plane crash at the very young age of 26, but had accomplished so much in his short lifetime. Along with having a family with four children, which he lived with on a 300 acre property which was affectionately called “The Big O Ranch”, he also recorded 6 studio albums and earning the title “King of Soul,” and started his own record label “Jotis Records”. Since his death he has been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and has had 4 posthumous albums released.
“Otis Blue” is Otis Redding’s third studio album and is essentially a cover album. Upon first listen, there are several songs that are quite familiar. Don’t let that take anything away from this record though, Otis truly does make each song his own. For example, he covered the Rolling Stone’s ‘Satisfaction’ without hearing it first. Otis swapped out quite a few lyrics and substituted horns for the guitar riff, making this one of the first British songs covered by a black artist rather than the norm at the time, which was the other way around.
Funnily enough, probably the most recognised songs on the album is one of only two songs that is not a cover. “‘Respect’ took only a day to write, 20 minutes to arrange and a day to record,” Otis had been previously quoted. While this original version sounds very similar to the very successful Aretha Franklin cover, the messages differ greatly between the two. Aretha’s version not only helped me learn how to spell the word, but became iconic to the 70’s feminist movement, where Redding’s original intention couldn’t have been further from this. The original portrays a man begging his lady for some attention.
For me, this album sparked an interest in soul music and as such, since this album, I have listened to each of Redding’s studio albums. Each have their own flavour and style, however one thing remains constant throughout – Redding’s pure coolness in his voice that resinates emotion through each track. You can really feel the intent of each song. In many ways, Otis was a catalyst of swag and paved the way for many modern artists to emphasise their raw emotion in their music. Something that is perfectly emulated in the sampled ‘Otis’ by Kanye many years later. Otis Redding has definitely been included on my playlists and I truly hope his legacy lives on.
It has been said that with Redding began the birth of ‘Southern Soul’, which to me is a little more closer to the gospel and blues of the south than the polished sounds of Motown. Out of its eleven tracks “Otis Blue” has eight cover songs. One thing that really struck me with Redding’s covers is that whilst he doesn’t mess too much with sound of the original they definitely embody his spirit. The backing band here is none other than Booker T & the MGs. Thrown into the mix is Isaac Hayes. Hearing a fine band behind a fine voice is always an aural delight and this album is no exception. Musically it’s right on the money and vocally Redding just takes it to another level. I loved the way that as a whole it sounds really tight but there is still room for the looseness that a voice like Redding’s demands. Together they recorded the whole album, with the exception of ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’, in a 24 hour period. For such a polished and defining album that almost defies logic. I ended up listening to this album about 7 or 8 times. It was only after 3 listens that I actually put headphones on and had a proper listen to what was going on. “Otis Blue” is very much a headphones album for me. Every time I listened to it that way I would hear so many little things I missed previously. Favourite track was definitely ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’. I recently saw the following quote by George Washington Carver used in relation to Otis Redding: “When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” I reckon that’s pretty bang on.
I really love listening to Otis Redding. His voice is like a smooth bourbon; easy to drink, but still with a wee kick to it. “Otis Blue” is one of my favourite chill out albums. ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ is a rarity for me. It’s a song I hear daily on the work iPod, but I never get tired of listening to it, and I’ll always tap my feet. It still spins me out that all through the 60s, artists were covering other’s songs that were relatively recent. This album was released in 65, but Sam Cooke’s version of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ only came out a year earlier! Otis Blue has a version of ‘Satisfaction’ that was released only three months after The Rolling Stones! It’s still a great version though, with Redding using horns for the main riff, which apparently was how Keith Richards originally intended it. Now we come to the unusual situation of hearing the same song twice in one decade… And for me it’s a toss up as to whose I like better, Aretha’s or Otis’, though I find it weird Otis says he won’t care if she does him wrong, and he’s gonna give her all his money. All for respect? Unless by respect he means… Ohhhhhhh. This is another one of those star studded albums, with Otis on vocals, Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass (his name has popped up a bit this year!), Steve Cropper on guitar and Al “The Human Timekeeper” Jackson Jnr on drums. It also features the keyboard stylings of Chef from South Park, or Isaac Hayes as his parents called him. “Otis Blue” was an ace album that I could happily listen to over and over. Which is good, because I did. Four trumpets out of five.
It is my firm belief that no one, but no one sings the blues like Otis Redding. “Otis Blue: Otis Sings the Blues” certainly takes the cake for the level of soul and feeling that goes into the tracks. This was my favourite blues album of the crash course to date, and listening to it was virtually effortless. There’s something for everyone on this record, from tender ballads to toe-tapping party starters. There’s so much goodness going on that I don’t even know where to start, so I’ll summarise. Firstly, the highlights: his cover of the Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’ just blew me away. It’s a bold, fun, cover of the classic and almost passes as a Redding original, due to his ad lib lyricism and the brass sections that completely Otis-ify the song. His cover of ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’ is a beautiful soul-meets-country blues song drenched in angst – his emotive delivery makes the story so believable. I didn’t really enjoy his take on The Temptations’ ‘My Girl’ as much as the original, he didn’t seem to ‘own’ it so it seemed meaningless. I actually prefer Aretha Franklin’s cover of ‘Respect’, purely because she seemed to sing it with more conviction, probably because she was coming from the feminist angle. Negatives aside, they are really a drop in the ocean on the scale of afyccim. Overall, the album goes from strength to strength and musically, I don’t have anything bad to say. Otis left a timeless legacy and pioneered a throaty singing style that would continue to influence artists for many decades after his tragic death. It’s crazy to think that if Otis Redding was still alive he’d be 71. Makes you wonder if he’d be in the studio working on collaborations with Kanye and Jay-Z for real!
I can’t believe I’m going to write this, but I was a bit disappointed with this album. Although there are some fine moments, I found at least half of the tracks here underwhelming. The death of Redding’s mentor, Sam Cooke, in late 1964 was a massive blow to the music industry and he pays tribute by cutting three Cooke tracks. He does a great job of ‘Shake’, but his takes on ‘Wonderful World’ and ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ (simply titled ‘Change Gonna Come’ here) are average, at best. Redding’s vocal phrasing on ‘Wonderful World’ is awful and his overuse of the words ‘good’ and ‘now’ irritate me. The way he messes with the lyrics and the chorus melody of ‘Change Gonna Come’ is a crime against music. I love that song, and the more I listened to Redding’s version the more I longed for Sam Cooke. ‘My Girl’ sounds rushed and tacked on, which is quite possible seeing as this album was recorded in such a short time. He goes off key and flubs the words (the line is “I’ve got so much HONEY, the bees envy me”), which is a real shame, because a rendition without the Temptation’s trademark harmonies was a nice idea. His cover of ‘Satisfaction’ is questionable as well, but when Redding gets it right, he knocks it out of the park. ‘Ole Man Trouble’, ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ and ‘Down in the Valley’ are classic performances. Aretha Franklin’s revamp may be miles better, but it’s nice to hear where ‘Respect’ came from too. The real stars of this album are the Stax Records house band who shine on every track, with an absolutely kick-ass brass section. Guitarist Steve Cropper and keyboardist Isaac Hayes also serve as the album’s producers. Why is the bass playing so good? Because it’s Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, that’s why.