Friday, 4 July 2008

Otis Redding "Otis Blue" (1965) (Revised Review 2015)




Otis Redding "Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul" (1965)



Track Listing: Ole Man Trouble/ Respect/ A Change Is Gonna Come/ Down In The Valley/ I’ve Been Loving You Too Long// Shake/ My Girl/ Wonderful World/ Rock Me Baby/ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction/ You Don’t Miss Your Water 



"I sit in wonder thinking how could this be, I never thought you'd leave me..."

Time to give this website a bit of ‘soul’ and who better to do that than the late great Otis Redding? Ever since Otis died in a 1967 plane crash at the height of his career people have been assessing and re-assessing the great man’s career. Was he big only because he died, after several years of relative obscurity until his great breakthrough at the Monterey Pop Festival only some six months before his death? Or was he a huge talent that would have been a household name, respected and loved by everyone and not just those with an interest in soul music, had he not died so young? Seeing as this album has made the website list, no prizes for guessing where my interests lie. I’ll be honest with you, I hate most soul music. All of it sounds depressingly similar and usually has some twit warbling on about nothing in particular over the same flipping brassy horn 'n' keyboard  lick for half an hour. But when that twit is replaced by Otis’ oh so authentic voice and when the organ comes from Booker T and the horns from the Mar-Keys at their very best then I defy anyone not to love the gentle giant of soul. More emotional than James Brown, deeper than his idol Sam Cooke, more thoughtful than Sam and Dave and more in control than Wilson Pickett, there's no sense of acting involved when Otis sings or his brilliant band plays and though his own style took a little while to find, by the time of third album 'Otis Blue' all the pieces have fallen into place for easily the most realised of the singer's albums. Put a great Otis record on and the room lights up, with your speakers all but waltzing round the room with you as you go. Not all his albums are great - they were recorded so fast at a time when Otis was still learning his own style that practically they could never have been - but 'Otis Blue' is the one studio album so cleverly made that every track takes you to an extreme.

One of the reasons I love Otis' work is the variety. If you listen to most period soul then an album tends to sound like the hit single - thirty minutes of howls and grunts and 'yeah nows' if you're a James Brown fan and even Otis' backing band Booker T weren't immune with about an hour's worth of 'Green Onions' in different keys down the years. Otis, too, got pegged early on as an open and dramatic balladeer, at his best pleading with a loved one for love/forgiveness/her hand in marriage over some intense improvised fade-outs. Later, though, Otis found some new areas to practice his groove: the up-tempo dance songs like 'Shake', the joyous songs like 'Wonderful World',  the faintly political songs like 'Respect' and the worried, claustrophobic songs like 'Ole Man Trouble'. Otis could do them all and does on this album, chucking in 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' as the definitive slow song in his career too. Though soul often seems like a closed world, with bands and fans alike looking down their noses at other genres, Otis' gift was that he never stopped learning or wanting to learn and though soul was his main home he always had fun exploring new areas. Again it's no co-incidence that 'Otis Blue' is the singer's most eclectic album too, re-making The Rolling Stones' rock protest 'Satisfaction' into a Redding purr so convincing a rumour soon spread that Otis had written the song and sold it to the band for a pittance (Jagger-Richards having only just started their songwriting partnership), while 'A Change Is Gonna Come' is folk protest with horns. No wonder Otis chose four of the five songs for his Monterey Pop festival set list a year or so later - this is the most accessible soul album to 'outsiders' touching on many of the issues of equality, love and hope that were already bread and butter for the rock scene, simultaneously touching on the mirroring between the more improvised acts of the day who were only doing instrumentally what soul singers had been doing for decades - extending tracks past their natural length. However this no soul-lite album either: every song rings true, every track is intense in a variety of different ways and horns are still the perfect vehicle to mirror the sadness in Otis' voice.

Though 'Otis Blue' has since become generally regarded as Otis' classic, though, it wasn't until the Monterey pop show that many people in Otis' American homeland noticed him at all. The singer had always sold better in Europe, where as a very wide generalisation music fans had always been more willing to cross over in terms of both genres and race and this album duly became Otis' best selling album in Britain, his only top ten album until he died (by contrast the record stalled at #75 on the US Billboard charts). A lengthy tour across Europe (with two shows in London and Paris later released as a posthumous live album) reveals how much the crowds have got Otis fever, long before the Monterey 'breakthrough' (they're sick y'all!)  Though Otis actually toured with the Bar-Keys, with the MGs too in demand to tour much outside their studio work, the tour was one of the best things he could have done - as well as boosting record sales it allowed the singer to introduce and discard potential new material, while repeated performances allowed him to really get to grips with the songs and to have them come as naturally to Otis as breathing. That might explain why his performances are even sharper than normal across this album, why he feels as if he's been living these songs for a lot longer than just the takes. Amazingly this entire record - made with Booker T's band who were famous for learning quick - was recorded in a single weekend, across 24 long hours (with a break in the middle to allow the MGs to play a gig!) No mean feat given what a range the band cover across the LP: the night of July 9th/the day of July 10th 1965 must stand as one of the most productive in modern music.

Though the album clicked nicely with European audiences, becoming one of the famous soul label Stax's biggest sellers of the 1960s, Redding seemed doomed to remain forever in the second-tier of talented soul singers who never quite attained 'classic' status. However a change was sadly gonna come and it arrived shortly after the release of Otis' second album 'Soul Ballads' when there became a vacancy in that top tier following the death of Otis' idol Sam Cooke. Redding was devastated:  along with Little Richard, Cooke had been Otis' biggest influence and Cooke's death at just 36 was an unnecessary and cruel one, the singer apparently murdered by the manageress of the motel where he usually stayed (she later alleged it was self-defence when he attacked her and she was acquitted, though the incident seems out of keeping with the closest figure the soul world had to a peacemaker after Otis himself). Redding had recorded two Cooke songs already, one apiece on both of his first two albums, and while 'You Send Me' and 'Nothing Can Change This Love' are respectable, Otis is clearly too in awe of his hero to go messing with his songs, temporarily becoming tribute singer rather than interpreter. Naturally Otis wanted to pay tribute to his hero again in death as much as life and selected three Cooke songs to sing - but what a difference! 'Shake' rocks with all the power of a full rock band, 'A Change Is Gonna Come' gets a whole new big fat dose of melancholy and an almost colliery band feel about the usually upbeat horns, while the overlooked cover of 'Wonderful World' is gorgeous, one of the few unreservedly joyous moments in Otis' canon as if Otis is no longer merely hopeful but determined to make the world a better place in Cooke's stead. All three tracks though sound pure Otis, as if the death of someone Redding so admired has given him the confidence to fill his shoes, to spread his word the best way he can whilst being more true to himself than ever. Though 'Shake' rightly appears on several Redding compilations, the whole Cooke trilogy on this album remain a vital and over-looked part of Redding's legacy. This seemed to be a fact recognised even at the time, as this album's own sleevenotes by Bob Rolontz (at the time the editor of Hillboard magazine) make clear: after pontificating about the many definitions of the genre he concludes 'Anyone who listens to Otis Redding understand his message - and that is the real meaning of soul'.

Perhaps the biggest development in Otis, though, is as a songwriter. There are many of Otis' most famous songs on this album, many of them better known thanks to cover versions ('Respect' by Aretha Franklin, 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' by just about everybody). Until this third album Redding's songs have tended to be the most ignored and among the more generic choices on his albums. Not that any of Otis' songs are bad - given that the singer was all of 23 when his first tracks were published and is a mere 25 here it's staggering just how powerful and fully realised even the lesser ones are. But this latest crop, again perhaps inspired by Cooke's death and a feeling of having to live up to his reputation, brings out the more thoughtful side of Otis' writing. 'Respect' is nothing less than one of the most important songs of the 1960s, one of the candidates for the era's theme songs. Otis asks not for something impossible, like peace on earth or international freedom, but for all genders and races and classes to simply treat each other with respect. Though it's sung as a message from a husband to his wife, it's clearly pointed as a much bigger message than that, the same way that 'Satisfaction' isn't really 'just' about being irritated by an advert. The bigger message is that we're a world divided and we shouldn't be - none of our differences matter as long as we 'respect' the other. The song became a feminist anthem the minute Aretha Franklin recorded it, her version in the shops nicely in time for Monterey in mid-1967, while other soul artists have re-recorded it as a race issue. But Otis, as always, had bigger things on his mind than that: this is about respect in all situations to everyone, the only means to a fairer society across the board. As a composition 'I've Been Loving You Too Long', co-written with The Impressions' Jerry Butler, is even more extraordinary, a song that seems to bear no similarities with any other soul song ever written. Three minutes of cooing sweetness, it's more than just a teenage lament but a tough and brittle love song, full of peaks and troughs as a love affair becomes more and more one-sided. Otis tries hard to do what he always does - plead about how his feelings have become so overpowering - but the response is a track that plays cat and mouse, the horns actually leaping out and scratching him in the face (or perhaps the heart?) By the end of the song Redding is gone, giving it everything he's got but he's still trying to move a brick wall. usually soul singers tend to paint themselves as romantic lotharios, able to charm the birds from the trees or occasionally twisting the formula by showing how stupid a girl was for dumping him and not realising all these great qualities. Redding's narrator though is a 'loser', unusual in soul, throwing everything he can at a brick wall that's clearly stopped loving him back. Finally, the less well known opener 'Ole Man Trouble' might well be the most extraordinary song on this album: soul is usually intense but I don't know if it ever quote got this intense, with Redding deep in the pits of despair, his sanity tethered only by a single simple organ part as the whole world collapses underneath his feet, Steve Cropper's snarling animal of a guitar part digging the hole and the melancholy horns throwing the soil on top. One of Otis' great abilities as a singer is that he always sounds in control but here, across 2:39 of full-on grief, he sounds desperate like never before. Any soul album with any of those greats on it would be a classic - having all three seems like being greedy. Though I've yet to hear a version of 'Ole Man Trouble' (good luck covering that!) even at the time the other two Redding originals were up for grabs, better known at the time from outside versions. Remember that Otis did them first. And probably best.

A quick word too about Booker T and the MGs. By this time they're so in demand as the backing band to the stars that they've temporarily given up their own career of making soulful instrumentals, pausing on the Merseybeat of 'Soul Dressing'. Like Otis they, too, have found a way of playing soul with the door open to other genres and for my money are at their peak here too. Donald 'Duck' Dunn' has just joined the band - this is his first album backing Otis - and he's brought a new drive to the band (just listen to the opening to 'My Girl'!) Al Jackson Junior is playing out of his skin, the hardest and heaviest of all the soul drivers, but only when the songs call for it - every drum roll is perfectly in place ('Respect' being perhaps his definitive performance). The crunch of Steve Cropper's guitar on 'Ole Man Trouble' is as out-there and psychedelic as any guitarist across 1965, throwing a whole new dimension of barely concealed frustration at these arrangements more in common with what Pete Townshend was adding to The Who, while on 'Satisfaction' he's far more adventurous and less rock-restricted than Keith Richard's typical homage to Chuck Berry and on 'Rock Me Baby' he plays one of the definitive soul lead guitar breaks ('Play the blues Steve, but have mercy!') Only Booker T sounds subdued across this record, already having creative rows with Stax over the direction of his own band, although he's also the glue this album couldn't work without, the tether to Earth that simply refuses to act as moved as the rest of the band: on 'Ole Man Trouble' and 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' he's sometimes the only way back to Earth Otis has.  Isaac Hayes, long before he was a star in his own right, also plays some excellent piano across this album, notably on 'Respect'. The Mar-Keys too add their own squeals of delight/anguish.joy frustration across the album, adding some real layers to the songs that work well expressing everything unsaid between the lines of Otis' own words. All the players on this album are coming from the same place, something which isn't always true about the other Otis records, and it's a truly haunting, beautiful sound.

Though 'Otis Blue' has a few slightly lesser moments on it - 'Down In The Valley' feels like a throwback to Otis' 1964 James Brown impressions and 'You Don't Miss Your Water' doesn't quite have the power to close out an album (well, not an album like this one anyway!)  - what strikes you most is the consistency of quality. Other Otis albums only tend to get it on for half an album - or barely at all in the case of 'King and Queen', a misguided album of duets released in 1967. But 'Otis Blue' barely pauses for breath, the lesser songs almost kind of necessary as a chance to catch your breath after the extremes of the other songs. Many soul books rate it as the best soul record ever made. I don't know enough of the genre to debate this, but I certainly won't argue; I don't think there's any question though that this is Otis' best work: earlier albums are slightly hesitant, with Otis slowly finding his style - later ones have him trying to work out how to take this album's eclectic nature to a new level and end up becoming more of a collection of mixed tracks than a knock-out album. The only thing about this great record that doesn't work is the cover: the blonde white girl shot in a dark room so she could more easily appeal to both races. It's a tacky short cut and the only one the record takes, but then Stax never were the best at making album covers: so far we've had a very rum bunch indeed, with Otis looking like Martin Luther King and the size of a postage stamp, so believe it or not this is still a marginal improvement!

As ever when thoughts turn to Otis we have to wonder whether what the singer would have gone on to do next. Surely Otis would have gone on and topped this work during what would surely have been a long and productive career had the awful plane crash of December 1967, just a few miles short of its destination, not occurred (for what it's worth I reckon Redding was too hard a worker and too much of a perfectionist to have ever willingly quit when he still thought he had important things to say). 'Dock Of The Bay' signals that an even better album might have been in the air at the end , although we might not have necessarily got it as soon as early 1968: it would have been in keeping for Otis to have stumbled across his new direction and only realised it's worth a year or two down the line. However it's notable that even Otis doesn't seem quite sure what he captured on this album, trying his hardest to set up the same ingredients but without the same levels of confidence and genre-crossing that makes this album so special. The next two Redding albums will suffer because of this one, trying too hard to re-create individual tracks without capturing the same flavour and spirit of the album as a whole, where everything seemed to fit together so well. Here every song sounds as if it belongs even though they are all so wildly different - the next two albums will resemble compilations more than albums sometimes. Well, no matter, few artists ever get to make an album as powerful as 'Otis Blue' in their lifetime anyway I suppose, a record every music fan of every genre should own. You can, like me, debate whether there was anywhere higher left to go while turning this record round and starting again...
The Songs:

[33] Ole Man Trouble is the perfect place to start - for us if not for the poor narrator whose never had the blues so bad or sunk so low. A glorious slab of melancholy matched by one of the prettiest horn riffs you’ll ever hear playing in fifths harmony, Otis just drains this song dry, wringing out all the passion he can muster. Otis also sounds as if he is shadow boxing the MG’s horns during the later parts of this song, trying to punch the weight of old man trouble away with his deep, desperate vocals. He fails, inevitably, but not without putting up one hell of a fight on what is an incredibly brave opening song for the times. A lesser compiler, indeed many future compilations, would have started off with 'Shake', the high octane energy spurt, but that song wouldn't have summed up the depth of feeling across this album quite as well. Just listen to that sinking feeling as in the space of the opening thirty seconds the narrator sinks deeper and deeper into a pit of despair, the floor giving way from a mean and angry Cropper guitar link and the horns kicking Redding down even further as a candidate for the best horn part of Otis' career half-mourns and half-mocks him.

[34] Respect is known to the world at large as an Aretha Franklin song, but it was actually Otis’ own, one of his earlier compositions and still one of his best known. Despite the fact that this song in either version sounds like its running out of steam towards the end (Otis’ inspiration badly left him when he repeats the ‘honey’ and ‘money’ couplet twice in succession for instance), this song is a glorious little soul-rocker hybrid, bopping along on a tight riff with a glorious hey-hey-hey chorus. In Aretha’s hands this song became symbolic of the feminist movement, with the singer demanding respect from her spouse, but in Otis’ hands the song works equally well as a plea for racial or social tolerance, as well as a plea to the singer’s female partner. Back in 1965 there weren’t too many songs that could be read on as many separate levels as this one, certainly not married to such a commercial and irresistible riff anyway, and whether its Aretha’s or Otis’ version you know best, both recordings are a landmark in 60s soul. I'm not quite so sure about the oft-repeated chorus rhyme of 'money' and 'honey', but even this works in context, driven by the mother of all drum parts. Otis said later that this song took 'one day to write, twenty minutes to arrange and one take to record' - time well spent given that this song has rightly become one of his most celebrated. As big or as small in scope as you want it to be, Otis was said to have been inspired to write this song during the actual album sessions during talks between takes with drummer Al Jackson. Worried about an argument with wife Zelda over working too hard, Jackson sided with him, saying that after all he did he deserved a little 'respect when he came home'. Otis took the idea and ran with it, writing perhaps his only snide and sniping lyric at his wife, which ironically of course got turned into a feminist anthem when turned on it's head by Aretha Franklin. Actually the feminist slant was probably more in keeping with Otis' usual feelings judging by his other lyrics, but it's somehow very Redding to turn a song of frustration and annoyance into an upbeat celebration, tinged with a touch of guilt. Written early on during the sessions and recorded in a hurry at the end, 'Respect' shows no sign of haste, being instead as deep and important a song in the Redding canon as any other of his originals.

[35] A Change Is Gonna Come returns us to the same mood as the first track, but this time the singer is quietly resigned to his troubles, slowly finding a way forward through the maze of problems that awaits him. The song starts off well, with a yawning, yearning brass lick that really builds up the tension until Otis opens his mouth. Thereafter this track gets a bit more ordinary, as Otis drags his weary way through the song which seems to be as static and unmoving as the lyrics are gently hopeful about changes in the future. The first of the album's three Sam Cooke originals, the song had been released a mere week before Otis' debut album 'Pain In My Soul' and is perhaps a little too far out Otis' normal style, though that doesn't stop him trying and giving his all. It's also a rare comment on race - rare for both writer/singers - inspired by an ugly incident in the early 60s when Cooke, already a star, was turned away from a motel for the colour of his skin despite being the most 'famous' person there. Written in a deep depression in a prison cell the same night after being arrested for disturbing the peace, Cooke expresses frustration that despite his personal success he still lacks power and pleads that in the future a change will be possible. Given that Otis was all about 'change' (the switch between his 1964 and 1967 work is remarkable) and injustice he ought to be all over this song, but for once the Mar-Keys horn parts out-shine him, the lyric lines not quite suiting his usual soar and finesse.

[36] Down In The Valley is also one of the album’s lesser moments, this time a more upbeat song about needing someone who doesn’t seem to need you. Most singers doing this type of material tend to strut along to the backing as if to say ‘well, yeah, more fool you’ (Mick Jagger for instance), but Otis sticks to his usual conversational style here, letting the backing musicians do all the strutting for him. This track was written by Solomon Burke whose style was naturally a bit tougher and harder-edged than Otis' own, though this is perhaps Burke's most 'Redding'; song, calling for a vocal line that gets more and more intense as the song keeps growing in size. Burke first released his original in April 1962, but only as a flipside to his song 'I'm Hanging Up My Heart For You', a track that's arguably even more Redding in approach. Otis must have heard something in this song to choose it though, perhaps feeling (rightly as it happened) that a new arrangements would bring out much more of the pretty horn lick over the fade and enjoying the lyrics about love as a long conquest with the extended metaphor of a girl as a 'valley'.

[37] I’ve Been Loving You Too Long is a gorgeous dreamy ballad that ranks among Otis’ best. The Monterey performance of this track – with Otis playing cat and mouse with his audience as he gets the band to repeat the sudden kick of speed over and over – is Redding’s definitive performance of the song, but this recording is pretty special too. A quietly obsessive circling piano riff is the perfect launching pad for some of the biggest vocal stretches of Otis’ career, keeping the emotion taught whilst still letting it shine through the song. The long drawn out ending, with Otis pleading over and over that he can’t cope without his love in his life, sounds strangely subdued here but is downright mind-boggling in concert, with Otis pulling the notes seemingly out of the depths of his soul. The lyric is pretty special too, Otis admitting that a relationship has become one-sided, that though she's grown colder and more distant his love is getting deeper all the time. Otis' parts are intense indeed, sung in the same key and even the same chord until Otis suddenly launches into space, while the piano and guitar mirror his obsessed state of mind. The rest of the band, though, aren't listening, throwing him back with sudden ugly violent jabs, ignorant of just how much passion he has. By the end, when the horns have joined in with soggy sympathy and Otis is on his knees pleading, it should be enough to melt any heart, but we listeners know the stone heart won't budge. An incredible performance, nailed in a breathless take that leaves nothing spare. This is actually a re-make three months on from a first tentative arrangement by the band and the only song on the album first recorded outside the 24 hour session. The Rolling Stones, already Redding fans, repaid the compliment of the 'Satisfaction' cover by recording this song themselves, but though Mick Jagger tries hard he lacks the gravitas and sincerity of Redding' original (to be fair it is a live recording - well, a studio recording passed off as a live recording; don't ask, it's the 1960s, long story for our next book...) Ike and Tina Turner also had a hit with the song, although their romantic duet version (actually pretty racy for the era) perhaps misses the point, portraying the lovers as 'equals'.

[38] Shake kicks off side two and its more impressive than the other album Cooke covers though much lighter, with Otis revving up the tempo a little from the original. Taking all of the wild abandon those crazy Merseybeat groups were singing about on the other side of the channel, Otis puts his own twist on the Twist and Shout formula with this song. In truth, there’s not that much going on in this track’s simple swinging tune or its repetitive half-sketched lyrics, but like its Beatles’ equivalents the performance is so spot-on and committed that it only adds to the fun. Slower than the Monterey version, which is just a pure burst of adrenalin, this song has enough space for Otis and Jackson to stretch out on some lengthy duets in the chorus and they make a fab pairing. At the time this song was only just being digested by the soul community anyway, celebrated as one of Cooke's last songs and an instant classic in the same way, eerily, that Otis' own 'Dock Of The Bay' will be in two-and-a-bit year's time. Uncharacteristic for Cooke, who was generally wordier and more thoughtful, it's equally uncharacteristic for Otis too but he sounds right at home on a song that sounds a lot more important than just being about a 'dance' step.

[39] My Girl has been covered by just about everybody around in the early 60s, so simple and sweet is this song with its images of how life brightens when a certain someone is nearby. We’ve grown so used to hearing this song over the years – usually with female singers talking about ‘my guy’ - that it is easy to forget what an impressive little piece this is. Otis’ version is bigger on emotion and improvised scat vocals than most, but treads just as great a line between power and romantic emotion. It's clearly a song he identifies with a lot and is closer in style to the sort of happy soppily romantic songs heard on his previous albums - there's actually fewer love songs on this third album than most. The Mar-Keys are again the stars of the record, mimicking 'the birds on the trees' with a pretty riff, while Dunn and Jackson keep the song grooving along nicely while Redding himself is away with the fairies, lost in his own little world about how great life and love is. I'm not sure if this version quite matches the Temptations' 1964 original, but it certainly comes closer than any other cover around. A big hit in Britain, where it nearly matched the runaway success of the original, the American market passed over it simply because the charts were so saturated with this song - which everyone seemed to have a go at, well into 1966 and occasionally beyond.

[41] Wonderful World is another 50s song that’s well known from several covers (no less a trio than Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel and James Taylor tackle it on Art’s Watermark album) and even if Otis’ isn’t the best I’ve heard, the narrator’s admittance of his faults and the song’s pummelling unrelenting riff make this recording sound so close to Otis’ style you could easily believe he wrote it. Redding is in fact a better fit for Cooke's humbled but not down narrator than Cooke's own version, admitting to happy ignorance in every field except being in love. A slightly more obvious choice than the other two Cooke covers on this album, it was actually written for him by Lou Adler and Herb Alpert as a jokey B-side. Cooke, though, rated the song as higher than that and loved the rather throwaway sentiment that love was more important to the world than brains. Redding, too, clearly picked up on that idea and - perhaps remembering his own halted schooling - nails this song's lyric, joined on backing vocals by songwriter William Bell and Earl Sims. Mischievously, Redding kept this song in his set lists at the same time he became one of the ambassadors for the 'stay in school' movement encouraging high schoolers to stay on for further education...

 [40] Rock Me Baby also plays to Otis’ strengths, with a basic blues chug offering a great platform for the maestro to start getting emotive about all the great things his girl can offer him. Unfortunately, the song doesn’t really develop off this one chord but Otis does his best to distract us from this fact, hollering out his phrases and sounding as if he’s having a wail of a time. So are the band, with Cropper's blues guitar central to the song and never sluggish the way that most blues soon become, especially on the rare killer solo in the middle that by 1965 standards is dangerously unhinged. The song improves immensely when the horns come in to chip away at the song's riff and chirp their own slow contented smile. B B King had his first hit with the song back in 1964, although it seems likely he had recorded the song years earlier and  it was one of many his first record label Paramount released against his wishes after he'd moved to the bigger home of ABC. The song clearly clicked with the public in a way his earlier songs never did, perhaps because of the simplicity of the song or perhaps it's very clever variations on some old well known chords. Otis makes the song his own, though, even more than BB King did.

Talking of making songs your own, Otis’ recording of the Rolling Stones’ then-current single [42] Satisfaction dispenses with everything that made the original so impressive – fuzz guitar, tightly controlled drama and rock and roll beat playing – for an Otis sound that is every bit as impressive as the more famous original. What both songs have in common is a singer who can get to the root of the song’s desperate wail of wanting to get more out of life, something Otis and Jagger are equally suited to in their entirely different ways. Interestingly, Richards’ famous chords have been transferred to the bass this time around, with the horns adding a whole new call-and-response riff of their own. So much does this song sound like an Otis Redding composition that a rumour went around at the time that the soul star had written it and sold it for a vast fortune in return for letting it be credited solely to the songwriting Stones. Err, no - Satisfaction is far too in-keeping with the ’65 era Stones’ stream of new songs to make it seem anything else - although you can see why the rumour got started given that the only substantial Jagger-Richards song of note before this was 'The Last Time'. What was true, though, was that Redding fans the Stones had half intended this song to be in the soul style: the finished Stones version was actually the demo, with Keith's guitar lines 'hinting' at where the horn overdubs were meant to go later. Redding, who perhaps recognised the slightly hot-footed riff so different to the traditionally steadier rock grooves, has his cake and eating it by giving half the riff over to the horns as first intended and saving the rest for Cropper's take on Keith's fuzz guitar part. What’s impressive here is how quick off the mark Otis was in identifying the talent and depth in a then-completely new pop song, still played in front of swooning tweenyboppers who were everything the Stones despised in this period and capitalising on its strengths for his own ends. It's the first of Otis' four rock-soul crossovers (the next three are all Beatles songs) and in many ways the best, adding large dollops of all the usual soul trademarks without taking anything away from the sheer oomph of the original. Certainly Otis does a rather better job than Jagger does on Otis songs 'That's How Strong My Love Is' 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' and 'Pain In My Heart'...Sadly Otis never did record another Stones songs - '19th Nervous Breakdown' and 'Paint It Black'  in particular would have been right down his street...

After Satisfaction, closer [43] You Don’t Miss Your Water seems like a bit of an anti-climax. Stuck on one note where it should be soaring and flying about all over the place and when it desperately calls for a one-two punch, this song isn’t one of Redding’s better moments and yet even at his worst the big fella still has such a vocal charisma that you can’t keep your ears off him. The song’s reflective riff and theme – why didn’t I take more notice of my girl when she was around because now she’s gone I’m thirsty for her – ought to be more in line with Otis' way of thinking than most on the album and yet the two sadly don't quite connect. A wistful horn part makes the recipe sweeter though and it's one of the most memorable hooks on the album. The author, William Bell, himself guests on this track and was a good friend of Otis'. He too was signed to Stax records and had his biggest and the companies' biggest solo hit with the song in 1961, so Redding would surely have known it well. Bell admitted later that he was singing about his parents rather than a girl, actually missing the comforts of home after leaving town to seek his fortune, which might be what Redding - a keen family man himself - picks up on here, especially across a beautifully judged extended fade where he improvises a few extra seconds of agony over the original. Overall, though, this song feels as if it lacks the directness and emotional power of most of the album.


No matter, for the most part Otis Blue is full of impressive material, expertly sung and backed by one of the most expressive and supportive backing groups around. No wonder that Otis chose so many of these songs for his breakthrough appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June ’67 – playing to his strengths and modifying the weaknesses that haunt his (even) earlier work, this is the album where Otis found his true style that was unique to him. One last thought though – why is this album called ‘Blue’? Aching and longing some of the tracks may be, but once you get past the songs that bookend the album most of these pieces are joyous expressions of faith and independence and the mood is mainly upbeat, especially compared to Otis Blue’s immediate predecessors. Even so, this album is a classic that can be appreciated even by crossover fans like me and more than deserves a place on your CD shelf and on this list.


Other Otis Redding-related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

'The Soul Album' (1966) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015_04_12_archive.html




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