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Otis Redding “Pain In My Heart” (1964)
Pain In My Heart/The Dog/Stand By Me/Hey Hey Baby/You Send Me/I Need Your Lovin’//These Arms Of Mine/Louie Louie/Something Is Worrying Me/Security/That’s What My Heart Needs/Lucille
There he stands, proudly on the album cover, looking more like a politician than a musician – the only time a picture of Otis will be used on the front of one of his records during his short lifetime. It’s a wonder Otis is on the front of even this record – here we are, on January 1st 1964, at a time when civil rights were perhaps the biggest talking point in America just two months after Dr King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech (along with who shot JFK and excitement about who’s going to be on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ a month before the Beatles make asking that question seem forever anti-climatical in the years to come) and no one black in America, not Marvin Gaye, not Stevie Wonder, is appearing on the front of record covers yet, nervous record company executives fearing that the sight of these singers might put off their white audience (Little Richard’s first LP and Chuck Berry’s second being the ‘other’ exceptions to this rule). Almost certainly coincidentally, but very fittingly, an unusual pose and a trick of the light make the clean-shaven, largely apolitical Redding look not unlike Martin Luther King at one of his rallies, standing at a microphone with his left arm held out to the audience and a circular ring of shadow giving Otis the look of a moustache he’ll never choose to grow. Now, this first Otis Redding record isn’t a political record by any means – it doesn’t have any political or social comment and, unlike most future Redding albums to come, doesn’t even feature a ‘black’ take on a contemporary ‘white’ song (‘Day Tripper’ and ‘Satisfaction’ being the two AAA examples), a half-genuine, half tongue-in-cheek recycling of the hundreds of white r and b bands who’ve suddenly started doing black music in the past few years. But just by being here, as early as 1964, with a mixed-race band already backing him on every song, ‘Pain In My Heart’ makes a strong statement even visionary Luther King would have been proud of. In the future it will be a case of one step forward and two steps back as Otis and his group Booker T and the MGs becomes worshipped, reviled and ignored in turn, but for now this mere 21-year-old is breaking new ground and isn’t keeping quiet about the ‘dream’ he wants to share with us.
Despite his tender years, Otis had already been through more ups and (mainly) downs in his career than most struggling young artists. Stints in other bands (including The Pinetoppers, where Otis only got the gig because he agreed to be the ‘driver’ too, for a band too young to have their own licenses) and a series of flop singles across 1962 and the first half of 1963 had meant that even the small faith some of his early followers and supporters had in him was failing. On the back of this sleeve-note there are some very comprehensive sleeve-notes by Bob Altshuler which (rightly) rave about this fresh new singer with the great new sound and (wrongly) make out that his path to stardom was both speedy and certain. It really wasn’t. The sleevenotes state of Otis that ‘his very first single was also his first hit!’ The first thing they don’t tell you is that ‘These Arms Of Mine’ – the earliest recording on this album – took five months and word-of-mouth support before it became a hit, not a costly flop, being released in October 1962 and finally charting in March 1963. The sleevenotes also hint that Otis went straight from this single to ‘Pain In My Heart’ and even greater success, but no: singles two and three were actually ‘That’s What My Heart Needs’ and ‘Mary’s Little Lamb’, little heard of flops that as far as I know are still unavailable on CD and feature an unusual, guttural vocal from Otis who is clearly still playing round with styles. The third mistake is saying that due to the success of single number four (title song ‘Pain In My Heart’, the one recording from this album casual fans might know) meant that Otis was ‘musically established’. It didn’t at all. Arguably the earliest of many an AAA plagiarism suit was brought against this record by the publishers of Irma Thomas’ ‘Ruler Of My Heart’ and as Otis was the composer the music industry began to distrust and dislike this young soulful giant with the giant voice. Had ‘Pain In My Heart’ flopped, or the court case been bigger than it was, then Otis’ career could have been over here and now, despite being all of 21 and arguably unlucky (there are some similarities between the two songs, but then you could argue that about any song and the only identical section is the way the word ‘heart’ is sung; surely a very common word to be used in soul songs!). It must have been with a mighty large sigh of relief from Redding that instead the song became a big hit.
Emotionally, though, Otis was already a man old before his time. He’d quit school at 15 despite being a promising pupil because his family badly needed some money; his father Otis Senior had been dying of tuberculosis for some years and only worked irregularly and with difficulty. Otis was never an autobiographical writer in the sense that so many of our AAA stars were – Ray Davies and John Lennon to name but two – but the lyrics of ‘Security’ from this record must surely be about the ‘security’ that Otis’ early success gave him, taking the threat and responsibility for escaping poverty off his shoulders. What’s more, Otis had a ‘second’ family to look after, meeting wife Zelma when he was 19 and she still a schoolgirl of 15; their first child Dexter was born in 1960 when money was still very tight (Otis only singing as a hobby at that stage and taking any odd job going to survive) and the fact that the parents didn’t get married till the year after, in 1961, was still a career-ending scandal by early 1960s standards. To put it bluntly, Otis might have been ridiculously young to score his breakthrough hit, but he probably needed it more than most and few singers – even this talented – would have been up to the pressure on Otis’ shoulders to ‘give it all up and get a real job’ (that awful soul-crushing cry that’s destroyed far more careers than it should). Otis clearly had a gift, and reviews of the bands Otis played in nearly always singled out his voice, but even that wasn’t always praised in these early days (many reviewers feeling that Otis was merely copying his idol Little Richard in the days before he discovered his ‘Mr Pitiful’ persona) and a spell of tonsillitis shortly before that first recording was a real jolt, briefly making it look as if Otis would never sing again. In fact, Otis wasn’t even the ‘lead singer’ the day that Stax Records heard him – he was merely part of the ‘Pinetoppers’ band, featuring lead singer Johnnie Jenkins, which Stax was grooming for stardom. With time to fill, though, Otis was giving his usual slot for a couple of solo vocals and brought the house down, a just lucky break for someone who’d had so much bad luck.
All that said, the combination of these flop singles and the fact that Otis was singing in such a revolutionary style meant it took many soul fans a while to get used to his voice and intensity meant that Otis was recording this album at the end of 1963, a full 18 months after he got his big break. In that time Otis’ style has come on leaps and bounds, despite the cul-de-sacs of singles two and three, and arguably this debut album is a lot more accomplished than it might have been. Otis is still clearly in awe of trailblazers Little Richard and Sam Cooke (and there’s more nods to Otis’ close friend Rufus Thomas than the single song of Rufus’ that he covers here) but already Redding sounds like no other soul singer around. When BBC4 (finally!) got round to making a programme about Otis one comment that came up often was that Otis ‘knew how to ‘worry’ a note’. There have, arguably, been technically better soul singers around than Otis over the years, but nobody sounds as sincere or as emotionally connected with what they are singing – to my ears anyway – and that’s all because of this curious ‘wobble’ with which Otis sings many of these lyrics, right from the first. Take ‘Pain In My Heart’ – on paper it’s a so-so song about heartbreak that’s not particularly original or developed; add in Otis’ tear-dripped vocal, though, and the song comes alive, especially the song ‘heart’ which is turned into a five-syllable word. We fully believe that this is a narrator who ‘can’t sleep’ because of the ‘pain in my heart’ and the sudden drop out of the song (which leaves Otis a capella, screaming out the remedy that ‘you can love me! Love me! Love me!’ with all his power) is electrifying. Not every vocal here is up to his best – this is a debut record after all, and Otis doesn’t yet have his template in place – but you can already hear the sound of things shifting into place as Otis tests out what to keep and what to drop from his act.
One thing he thankfully does continue is his songwriting. Otis ends up writing or co-writing six of the dozen songs that make up this album, which already puts him on a par with Lennon-McCartney and Brian Wilson and ahead of everyone else when it comes to a singer recording his own material for early 1964. Not all of these songs are gems yet – there’s no easily recognisable standards-to-be like ‘Respect’ or ‘Dock Of The Bay’ just now – but all half-dozen do far more than merely fill up the numbers and add up the royalty cheques. ‘Security’ ‘Something Is Worrying Me’ and ‘These Arms Of Mine’, especially, are already the equal of the ‘cover’ material here (except perhaps the standby ‘Stand By Me’, some ten years before John Lennon had a big hit with his cover of the song). Not many soul singers write their own material and those that do tend to prefer writing music to words (Stevie Wonder being the obvious exception), so it’s quite something that already, from the first, Otis is writing so much of his own material. Otis is less sure of himself on the cover versions, not quite possessing a character strong enough to compete with Sam Cooke and Little Richard at their game and Otis is too busy doing the ‘obvious’ cover songs for now (he’ll become quite famous for looking out unknown B-sides, flop singles and album tracks as his career goes on). In fact three of the songs on this album are ‘tied’ in first place of having the most AAA cover versions of all at three each including Otis’ (‘Lucille’ covered by The Beatles and The Hollies’, ‘Louie Louie’ covered by The Kinks and Beach Boys and ‘Stand By Me’ covered by The Searchers and John Lennon – in fact this last song is said to be ‘the 4th most covered song of all time’ – according to Broadcast Music Inc anyway!) That said, the crowning moment on the album might well be the title track, a purr of a song that might not have been the first version of this Allen Toussaint standard but is arguably the best, the ‘breakthrough’ moment of the record that you can’t imagine being sung by anyone else ever again.
You also can’t imagine Otis being backed by another band. Unlike some soul singers who take a while to find their backing buddies, Otis played with Booker T and the M Gs and horn section the Mar-Kays from the very first. It’s a match made in heaven from the first, the mixed race band who’d already made quite a name for themselves with the perennial single ‘Green Onions’ giving Otis the space to work but the same level of energy and commitment as their singer. I’m surprised, actually, that their name isn’t bigger on the album cover (they’re merely ‘mentioned’ in the sleevenotes, which most fans in 1964 probably never got round to reading anyway) because they were a much bigger box office smash than Otis in 1963 – or that as established songwriters already the band didn’t get one of ‘their’ songs onto the record (Otis won’t start his songwriting partnership with Steve Cropper until the next album). If I was cynical I’d assume that Booker T and co assumed the album wouldn’t sell (one hit, one eventual semi-hit and two flops are not what most careers are borne from) but no – every single source I’ve ever read reckons that the band had more belief in Otis than even Otis did. Certainly there’s no doubting their commitment here - especially Al Jackson’s inventive drumming, which is actually nearer rock and roll than ‘true’ soul, and the horn section, which follows Otis around this record like a tiny storm cloud, suddenly erupting into showers or ‘dampening’ the song with their minor key phrases.
In fact, the many ballads aside, ‘Pain In My Heart’ is arguably Otis’ most rock and roll record out of the five he released, back at a time when he could easily have gone in either direction. You can’t ask for a rockier song than ‘Louie Louie’ or ‘Lucille’ in 1964, both of which are covered on this album, especially if you view this as a ‘1950s’ version of rock and roll complete with horns. Otis was a huge fan of Little Richard and his vocal take on ‘Lucille’ is pretty close to the original, even if he refrains from doing the ‘wooh!’s and the horn parts are firmly in the soul genre. Almost every AAA band we cover have ‘rock’ somewhere in their description (even if its ‘folk rock’ country rock’ or – in Pentangle’s case – ‘anything and everything including rock’), which makes this debut album one of the more accessible albums for curious AAA fans who, like me, still consider ‘soul’ to be the thing that the Coalition don’t have rather than a musical genre they know and love. Otis won’t reach the majority of his ‘own’ audience of Americans until the Monterey Pop Festival of mid 1967 (only six short months before his death in a plane-crash) where his fast-paced energetic music really stood out amongst the exploratory jams and slow-burning epics of hippiedom and curiously was always much bigger in the UK where fans could perhaps trace his influence on the Merseybeat scene more readily than most Americans. Otis would never have gotten away with singing this set at Monterey, but this catalogue is perfect for the 1964/65 equivalent of ‘Monterey’, the ‘Ready Steady Go’ TV special broadcast in black-and-white where Otis was the main star, along with guests like Eric Burdon and Chris Farlowe. Alternating burning ballads with up-tempo songs, you can really see a direct line between Otis’ music and the influence on British groups like The Beatles and The Stones obvious (the year before Otis repays the compliment by making ‘Day Tripper’ and ‘Satisfaction’, respectively, his own). American groups, traditionally, were more into folk than soul or Motown, but it’s easy to see why British fans loved this record in particular, featuring interpretations of many key songs of the early 1960s that every other young rock and roll band had in their setlists too.
However, there’s no getting away from it: this album is no ‘Otis Blue’. Otis hasn’t yet hit upon the ‘winning formula’ of writing songs that all stand out from the crowd and all go somewhere different, from empty ‘pop’ soul ballads to deep reflections over civil rights, gender rights and, err, mini-skirts. Great as most of his vocals are on this album – and fantastic as Booker T and co are on the backing – Otis hasn’t yet learnt to be himself on every track. The original songs are promising, but only ‘These Arms Of Mine’ are truly up to the standard Otis will reach later on, whilst the cover songs are often no replacements for the originals. However, like many debut records, the fascination is with hearing how much of the artist’s ‘future’ sound is here from the start and, at his best on parts scattered across this record, Otis is already a truly giant personality of soul, a talented interpreter and writer making the most he can out of his sudden big break and pulling on all the pent-up emotion of the past 21 years. He hasn’t quite learned how to harness that powerfully yet, or how to put his stamp onto every little thing he sings, but you can hear that talent and personality growing before your very ears and, like the best debut albums, the curious listener who heard this album the first time round before the peak of Redding’s fame must have known that a new talent was on the way. Given the problems of his young life, his lack the turbulence of his career to date and the fact that it was still deeply unusual for a black American to be the ‘star’ of his own record – never mind have a mixed-race band playing back-up behind him – the odd mistake on Otis’ first record is more than understandable and excusable and the occasional masterpiece here is all the more unexpected and exciting.
‘Pain In My Heart’ might not be the traditional album opener - it’s a slow, gradually-burning epic rather than a rocker or toe-tapper – but it does set out Otis’ personality from the first. Redding’s fourth single and second hit, it’s so perfectly tailored to his ‘Mr Pitiful’ image (the ‘nickname’ DJs gave Otis in 1965 after noticing how many of his hit songs were ballads) that it’s a surprise that Otis didn’t write it. The song was actually written by Allen Toussaint using his mother’ maiden name of ‘Naomi Neville’ (because, due to another song publishing mix-up, he wasn’t ‘allowed’ to use his own name for a few years) and is deeply unusual for his style (traditionally he’s more jazzy and lighter with his words than the clumsy-but-entirely-in-keeping-with-the-emotion lyric of this song). Otis ‘worries’ each line with real emotion – not shouting or screaming but wracked with worry, so that we really get into the head of this narrator looking for his loved one and wondering where she is. The Mar-Kays barely play a note in the song, but their guttural, asthmatic drawl on one note really sets the tone for the song, especially set in contrast with Booker T and Steve Cropper who are playing fun, optimistic flourishes on the piano and guitar. The song cleverly doubles back on itself every time Otis hits the middle eight of ‘Come back! Come back! Come back!’, the song all but going into reverse before hitting the opening 12 bar blues again. Ending the song with a last guttural ‘mmm-hmmmm!’ and a full 30 seconds of pleading over the fadeout of the track, Otis has marked his own personality song like few others on this album and this song is deservedly the best known song from the LP and one of Otis’ biggest hits right up ubntil his death almost four years later.
‘Do The Dog’ is an unusual choice for Otis to cover. Admittedly he was great friends with songwriter and DJ Rufus Thomas, an early supporter of Otis’ who no doubt wanted to pay him back for his belief, but all of Thomas’ ‘dog’ songs sound the same and are tailormade for a loud, exuberant personality, not for a singer with Otis’ subtlety. To be fair, Otis has a good go and the energy in this song is well up his street, but compared to ‘Pain In My Heart’ you can tell that Otis’ heart really isn’t in this song. I’m surprised, too, that Otis didn’t simply plump for the ‘obvious’ and do ‘Walking The Dog’ (a standard that everyone back in the day did including the Rolling Stones – Roger Daltrey will cover it too on his first solo album) seeing as the two songs are more or less identical (only this song wasn’t quite as big a hit). The horn section has fun recording an up-tempo song and growling, barking and snapping at Otis’ heels as he tries to steer them to the end of the song, and Al Jackson is having a great time on the drum-fills that puncture every verse and chorus. Really, though, it’s a waste of Otis’ talents to hear him give his full vocal force to such banal lines as ‘do the bird dog, yeah...everybody’s doin’ it’ and it makes for a curious choice for this first album and even more for the key ‘second track’ on the album (see many past ‘News, Views and Music’s where we discuss the importance of the second song on an LP) because it sums up almost the complete opposite of Otis’ character: quiet, subtle and emotionally involved.
‘Stand By Me’ is closer to Otis’ heart – he’s said to have been obsessed by the song – and he does put in a very strong performance that beats almost all of the many other cover versions of this song to shame (if not quite Lennon’s or Ben E King’s original). However, the backing musicians – who have clearly played this song before – are for perhaps the only time during their years with Otis playing against him, not with him, turning in a rather ramshackle accompaniment that’s faithful to the original but not to the new nuances Otis is dragging out of the original. A sweet ballad with a bit of a kick, it’s perfect for family man Otis who admitted in interviews he identified with this song and his young family and the troubles they’d already overcome together. The song was written by King with the famous partnership of Leiber and Stoller around the spiritual ‘Lord Stand By Me’, adjusting the lyrics to reflect a romance rather than a hymn to God and – shockingly – King is said never to have liked the song much at all, only recording it at the last minute when he was playing on a session with the Drifters and had a bit of time spare to mess around with it. Otis version is deeply faithful musically to the original – a little too much so, not giving the singer a chance to stamp his own identity onto the song – and Booker T and co never seem to vary their tempo or dynamics, whereas Otis varies pretty much from a whisper to a scream here. There’s an unusual stumble, too, near the end of the song when Otis kicks in again to soon singing ‘when.....whenever you’re in trouble’ which should, really, have been corrected (nobody’s quite sure on recording dates for this album anymore but chances are it was done very quickly given how unknown Otis was at the time and what a gamble getting a full LP was for him at the time). Ironic then – the one time Booker T and the MGs don’t ‘stand by Otis’ is on this song, so dear to his heart. I’m surprised the song didn’t last longer in the live set, though, as the arrangement only needs a couple of tweaks to be where it should be and it was already a guaranteed crowd pleaser after several hundred cover versions down the years.
‘Hey Hey Baby’ (not the more famous Bruce Channel song, but an Otis original) is arguably o n e of the better songs on the album, perhaps because Otis and the band had known it for longer than the others (this is one of the two songs Otis sang the day he got his big break in Johnnie Jenkins’ band). Only a smidgeon away from rock and roll, Al Jackson’s big heavy drumbeat and a twin guitar attack from Steve Cropper makes for an infectious backing track that really has a ‘swing’ about it. Otis absolutely soars over the top of it, enjoying the chance to let his hair down on a simple song and arguably sounding even more like hero Little Richard here than on ‘Lucille’ (just check out his squeal on ‘when I look at yoo-wooah’). There’s not much going on in the lyrics which take repetitiveness to new heights (the first verse is basically ‘Hey pretty baby, you sure is fine’ repeated over and over, while verse two adds that ‘she got big blue eyes’ and verse three ‘she got ruby lips’), but this is a song that’s more about having fun than saying any real detail and the band and singer are cooking up such a storm on the song’s very Chuck Berryish groove that you don’t really care. I’m glad Otis didn’t fill up all his albums with simple ‘groove’ songs like this one, but it’s a real shame that he never really tackled this style again, preferring to go for softer songs or one with ‘messages’ like ‘Respect’ (which is probably the closest original to this song in the Redding canon).
‘You Send Me’, a slow bluesy version of a Sam Cooke song, is another cul-de-sac on the way to greatness. Sam Cooke is best as a confessional, conversational singer who draws the listener aside as if to tell them a story. That’s not really Otis’ style and although again he gives a good go he’s not a natural at making this sort of intimate style work. One of the more faithful cover arrangement son the album, it gives Booker T the space to trill away on the chords like a bar-room pianist, but the rest of the band sound a little lost: Steve Cropper is simply filling in guitar parts to make up the sound, while Al Jackson seems to have gone to sleep on the drums. Only the Mar-Key horn parts really embellish the track, tugging at the heart strings whilst Otis is never quite sure whether to soar or talk to us instead. In the end he settles for both, only really coming alive on the ‘wo-a-oh-a-oh!’ chorus that seems to come out of nowhere the first time he sings it. Released in 1957, this is one of the older songs on the record and one of Cooke’s earliest hits. It’s not one of the better ideas on the record, though, although pleasingly whoever mixed this record has at last worked out what to do with Otis, putting him straight in the centre and merging the musicians around his central frame. At 3:15 this is also the longest song on the album, although it rather outstays it’s welcome by the last 90 seconds or so.
‘I Need Your Lovin’ is the least known cover song on the album and not much about it is known – my research tells me that it was written by no less than four composers (Don Gardner, Clarence Lewis, James McDougal and Bobby Robinson) but not much else. That’s a shame because this song is another step closer to the Otis Redding we come to know and love, contrasting a nonsense ‘a-wo-wo-woh!’ chorus with a verse that’s closer to Solomon Burke’s ‘Everybody Needs Somebody To Love’. Otis is at his cheerleading best on this song, actually interacting with his band for the first time on record (‘let’s just hear that a little bit louder...now hear what I have to say!)’ and they support him well, especially Jackson’s Keith Moon-style drumming. There’s a false ending at 1:50 that’s especially effective, Otis wo-wo-wohhing things to a close, Jackson hitting a drum rattle and the band coming to a full stop, only for Otis to be so overpowered with emotion that he hits right back into the song for a further minute or so – a trick that will serve singer and band very well by the time of their ‘Monterey’ performance. This isn’t the deepest or longest-lasting song on the record, but like most of the up-tempo numbers on this record it’s a lot of fun and deserves to be better known.
‘These Arms Of Mine’ is Otis’ first hit and for it’s time is quite a revolutionary little song with an emotional honesty missing from most of the rest of the album. Otis is quite clearly writing from the heart here on how much wife Zelma means to him (its not for nothing that Otis’ children call their father’s work an ‘ongoing love song to their mother’) and to the best of my knowledge no soul singer had ever risked being quite this vulnerable on record before, on a genre when its customary to shout and huff and puff instead. Otis’ vocal is noticeably different to normal (perhaps because he’s a couple of years younger and still sounds a bit too much in awe of Sam Cooke, with a ‘conversational’ element to this song which will be unusual for his own style as the decade progresses), closer to crooning than the singing we’re used to, but it’s awfully good – you can easily see why this and ‘Hey Hey Baby’ brought the house down on that first Stax recording and why this record was chosen as Redding’s first single. If there’s a problem with this song that prevents it from being a true 100% classic, though, it’s the lack of variety – the best Otis Redding songs play cat-and-mouse with the listener, taunting cajoling and urging in bursts of emotional fire; this song simply stays the same throughout, which means the last verse in particular seems very flat. The MGs don’t have all that much to do here either, Booker T especially keeping to a rigid cyclical piano part that’s among his simplest on record, although they already seem to have a ‘sixth sense’ about the direction Otis is about to head in. Good but not great then, although the promise in both song and singer is undeniable.
‘Louie Louie’ is one of the most famous of all pre-Beatles rock and rol songs, originally recorded by the Kingsmen and actually written by Richard Berry, not Chuck (understandably, given the funky beat, most fans see the ‘Berry’ songwriting credit and assume its Chuck’s work). Indeed, it’s the only ‘white’ song on this first Otis album, a sign of what’s to come and Otis’ setlists and track listings become ever more varied, with several genres up for grabs. This song was banned from radio playlists for years because of a ‘rumour’ that the song was ‘dirty’ – actually it isn’t (all the narrator is doing is urging his girlfriend ‘Louie’ to go out on the town with him) but the majestically slurred vocals of the original, the ungrammatical verses, the muddy mix and the (for the times) sinister and very suggestive beat scared an awful lot of people. Some bands (even the Beach Boys!) have chosen to go down the suggestive path, others (like The Kinks) make this song all about the rhythm and turn it into almost a Bo Diddley number, but Otis’ is the only version I’ve heard that actually makes the song sound happy (rather than sarcastic). Perhaps Otis identified with the song’s final verse, where a sea-faring man finally comes home to the arms of his wife after a long time apart (unlike some rock and roll wives Zelma refused to have anything to do with life on the road). Reclaiming the ‘spoof patois’ of the original and singing it straight, Otis turns this white interpretation of early reggae into a show-stopping soul number, with the horns rather than the guitar parting out the famous jagged riff and singing the song solo throughout, instead of the more usual ‘harmony’ versions. It’s not quite up to the very different versions of ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘Day Tripper’ (of which the former, especially, comes close to matching the original), but it’s evidence of Otis’ good idea and his courage at trying all styles. The MGs show again that, sans horns, they could have been a great little rock and roll band, especially the synchronised strut that Jackson’s drums and Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn’s bass have going for them. Perhaps the best of the cover songs on the record.
‘Something Is Worrying Me’ might well be the best of the non-single originals on this album too. Picking up on the sleevenotes perhaps (that talk about how Otis could ‘worry’ a note like no other singer), Otis comes up with arguably his deepest early-period song. This isn’t a song about surface at all like most soul; songs – the narrator knows that his ‘girl’ has fallen out of love with him because of subtle things, little actions and responses that no one else would ever understand. Most soul singers writing their own material would simply come straight out with it and ask her what the hell she’s playing at – but Otis is a wiser, subtler man than that and keeps his worries to himself, getting increasingly concerned as the song progresses. Compared to Otis’ other songs on the record, this is by far the most original (it’s actually constructed more like a ‘Merseybeat’ song in terms of having the horns play at the end of most lines, instead of in bursts throughout) and Otis has rarely been better, on the verge of tears throughout. The song’s likeable tune is in the minor key, but it’s not knee-deep in self-pity; it’s kind of at the borders of major and minor, happiness and misery, forever trying to right itself throughout the song but somehow never quite escaping the gaping hole of the primary key. With the possible exception of ‘Stand By Me’ this is by far the most accomplished song on the album, with a memorable hook and three verses that go in similar but not identical directions and is staggering good for a songwriter on his first half-a-dozen or so songs at the tender age of 21. A key song in the building of Otis’ character, this song is arguably even more of a theme tune for Otis than the self-knowing ‘Mr Pitiful’, the narrator trapped in a hopeless situation he feels he can never bring up and yet plays on his mind the whole time. It’s such a shame that Otis never really writes a song like this again, preferring to write more in the line of ‘These Arms Of Mine’ and ‘Security’ instead. Perhaps the greatest highlight of the album, even with the worthy title track.
‘Security’ is up next, in fact, another Otis original that’s a cut above average and is clearly at least partly autobiographical. Far from the boozing, drug-taking women-seducing young tearaway that most singers in their early 20s are painted to be, for Otis a life on the road was an unfortunate necessity rather than an opportunity for a party. I can’t think of any other songs from this period (perhaps only ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ that look upon ‘security’ as being the main ambition of the singer, rather than love, power, riches or freedom. Of course, for Otis; narrator security represents all that and more anyway, Otis’ unstable childhood and teenage years meaning that security (enough money to live off comfortably, rather than well) is the ultimate dream: to go through life without having to look over his shoulder at either his wife or his taxman. Fittingly, the main riff for this song is less of the storm that runs at different speeds across this album than a relaxed breeze, the accompaniment to relaxing on desert island rather than the emotional turbulence of most early Redding originals. This song’s good natured trot will be recycled many a time in Redding’s career, often more developed than the sound we have here, but there’s something likeable about this song which isn’t after ‘money’ or ‘fame’, but simply after a break from the hard times of the past. The MGs aren’t quite as sure of this song as Otis – it’s a sound they haven’t really used together before although they’ll get to grips with it soon enough – and of the band only Al Jackson’s sudden bursts of fire are really on the money. Perhaps they were a bit taken aback by this song’s message, the ultimate contradiction to the usual all-or-nothing ‘soulful’ way of life.
‘Lucille’ is a real curio – our only chance to hear Otis pay homage to his favourite singer on one of his most famous songs. It’s a brave choice for a singer who has already carved out a name for himself doing quite a different style of song and Otis doesn’t really have the joi de vivre that makes the original so affecting. In fact, a very traditional soul-style horn lick means that Otis ends up doing a far more unconventional stab at this song than either The Beatles (onm a BBC session) or The Hollies do on their cover versions. Arguabvly, though, Otis; rather downbeat take on the song is probably closer to the lyrics of Richard’s original: Lucille has, after all, gone – she’s ‘not in sight’ and all her friends aren’t talking, ‘their lips sealed tight’. The Hollies probably got it best by turning ‘Lucille’s name into a cry of pain, sung as if sobbing – in Otis version, though, he’s too busy barking orders at the poor girl and doing a Little Richard impression to get his point across. To be honest, Otis might have been better off tackling ‘Tutti Frutti’ or ‘Long Tall Sally’, songs that don’t rely so much on the ‘singer’ sounding happy even whilst sounding sad. Even so, you can see why Otis was compared so much to Little Richard Penniman: the two share a similar gruff growl that’s quite infectious, even if Otis’ is a good octave deeper!
Overall, then, ‘Pain In My Heart’ is a real mixed bag of Otis’ future-famous ‘Mr Pitiful’ style and a few experiments that got discarded along the way – some of them dropped for good reasons, others that sadly might have been every bit as interesting as the style Otis chose to adopt. Considering that, his singles aside, Otis has never been in a studio before (and indeed ‘These Arms Of Mine’ is his very first recording) Redding is a commanding vocal presence even when trying to tackle a style that patently doesn’t suit him and when things work across this album you can really hear him come alive. His life-long backing band The MGs work against him just as often as with him on these early recordings, but you can already hear the strong empathy band and singer have for one another and Otis is just beginning to be comfortable enough with the band to begin his trademark ‘calls’ to them. A little bit of that a lot sooner might have spared us from the worst moments on this record, but then this is a band more or less making this up as they go along, probably rather surprised after such an up-and-down start to their career to be making a whole album at all (and this back in the days, remember, when live shows were traditionally shorter than the running times for albums, especially in ‘soul’ circles). Perhaps the greatest achievement on this album is Otis’ songwriting – not every song is a classic but a good half of his six earliest songs are real gems that deserve to be better regarded and loved by fans, ones that are already dealing with deeper themes than the average records of the day and the choice of song material bravely tackling ‘white’ standards alongside the ‘black’ ones. Otis wasn’t really one for commenting on social, political or racial problems during his short four year career but often ended up being a talking point for all of these things by simply standing up there and doing his job, taking all the flack that came his way because of it. He probably wouldn’t have seen the connection but it’s fitting that its gentle giant Otis, who barely had a cross word about anyone, that ends up looking like the peace movement’s saintly Martin Luther King on the front cover. It might not be a topic mentioned anywhere on any of the songs but in the words of a song from the next Otis album, simply by being out there being what it was meant that, after this album, ‘a change is gonna come’. The world is still changing because of the ripples made by this album and the four after it and a whole host of similar albums of the same time and hopefully will for many decades to come.