Monday, 13 April 2015
Just One More Day/It's Growing/Cigarettes and Coffee/Chain Gang/Nobody Knows You (When You're Down and Out)//Good To Me/Scratch My Back/Treat Her Right/Everybody Makes A Mistake/Any Ole' Way/634-5789
Otis Redding should have been in a real good place in early 1966. While not quite the global superstar he'll become after the Monterey Pop Festival a year later, 'Otis Blue' had been a popular and commercially successful record, propelling the singer ever closer to his goal. A legendary set at the Whisky-A-Go-Go the same year, since thankfully released as a record in its own right, is still talked about in hushed tones and was performed in front of a highly prestigious audience (including Bob Dylan, who tried in vain to get Otis to cover one of his songs). Otis was closer than ever to backing band, Booker T and the MGs, who are now fully integrated into the Redding masterplan with more co-writes with guitarist Steve Cropper than ever before. For once record company Volt are really interested in what he's going to do with the next LP, after years of treating him as merely a junior yet larger version of 'Sam and Dave' standing on top of one another. Married life to Zelda was as rosy before, with four years on the clock by now and almost the full quota of four children. Life was still hard work, full of unwarranted prejudice at many concerts and in social life and a home American audience still less enthralled than perhaps they should have been compared to European fans, but even this was fading away a little as Otis began to be seen as a 'star' and Martin Luther King's peace rallies take on more and more momentum and receive wider coverage . So what does Otis Redding make of this?
Well even for a singer who played on the name 'Mr Pitiful' and spent a lot of time in song worrying about the future, 'The Soul Album' is a very melancholic album, which is a surprise. The record begins with a Redding original (one of three on this album) that finds the singer nostalgic for happier, rosier days, pleading for another day of happiness before the inevitable darkness comes in. The rest of the album include covers of songs about working in chain gangs, poverty ('Nobody Loves You...') and the sighing regret of 'Everybody Makes A Mistake'. Even a late surge of happiness at the album's finale (singalong original 'Any Ole Way' and a Steve Cropper song that chants out a telephone number like it's the answer to life's problems) can't disguise this album's oppressive heavy feel. Until now most of Otis' songs can be taken at face value - the 'happy' songs sound jolly, the 'sad' songs sound depressed . Of course you could say that for anyone but one reason that I love Otis' records despite hating the work of so many other soul giants is that his songs 'feel' as if there' more going on in them somehow - a combination of cover choice, original material and interpretation. Some of the material can sometimes be one-dimensional - but it doesn't sound that way when interpreted by Otis. While 'The Soul Album' is far from Otis' greatest moment that statement is more true for this album than perhaps any of the other original records that came out before Otis' death at the end of the following year. We've already seen that this album has its fair share of unhappy songs, but on this record even the 'up' songs sound sad the way they're interpreted here, with Otis growing ever more brave and knowledgeable in his means to re-casting and re-moulding other people's songs to fit his style. If you read the lyric sheet there isn't particularly more going on here than in 'Otis Blue' (a comparatively 'up' record) but this record has a weight and oppressive feel to it that isn't always there in the words.
Take opening song 'Just One More Day' which promises the world and sounds as if the narrator has no reason to think there won't be another just like it - but the sighing aching agonising horn part , the sudden slides towards a bottomless pit of a minor key and one of the best 'pleading' Otis vocals suggest otherwise. That song is matched in the Redding catalogue only by a second version of the same trick at the opening of side two with 'Good To Me', a song that reads as if it's the happiest song in the world about how much good a wife has done for her husband - and yet sounds as if Otis is crying is heart out, all cat-and-mouse tension, hard hitting horns and pulsating gospel confessional organ. Otis then promises that he's going to stay around twenty years 'and after that another forty', but the way its sung it seems more like a threat than a devotion of love. I thought for years too that 'Cigarettes and Coffee' was a naturally 'sad song' before I properly studied the lyrics (sadly not provided on the original album) and discovered that actually its meant to be a sweet chat-up line, as Otis meets his soulmate on a blind date and finds it so 'natural'. Only the way Otis sings it here you'd believe that he accidentally insulted her big nose, the food arrived two hours late and cold, he lost his credit card so she had to pay and the candle set alight to the tablecloth. We sometimes talk about the album covers on this site and how they might 'hint' at some hidden inner secret: in truth there isn't much lee-way from using yet another pretty model on the cover. But look again when you know this record really well and see how expression seems to have 'changed' since the first time you brought that record home: the model gazes out at you not with the twinkling sexy eyes of the model on 'Otis Blue' but with a far more intense and thoughtful stare to go along with the half smile, as if trying to put something over that can't quite be expressed in words. There's....something Otis is trying to convey on this album, from the cat-and-mouse tension of 'Good To Me' and I'd love to know what it is. Was he feeling guilty about fame, about being away from home, about alleged groupies on the road? Was he feeling guilty about running out of steam at this point in his career? (the next two records will be all downhill from this last great release, the sudden unexpected success at Monterey and 'Dock Of The Bay' the next year notwithstanding) Was Otis just eager to indulge his newly minted 'Mr Pitiful' persona?
That's particularly interesting because, on the face of it, 'The Soul Album' doesn't try to do anything the previous three albums haven't done already and yet it's only from this point on that the self-coined nickname seems to be around to stay (you couldn't really call the 'hits' from the last album 'Shake' and 'Respect' self-pitying songs). Formula-wise this is the same batch of ingredients as usual, but it's as if the cooker's been set to a slow speed this time around and everything is coming out sad. Personally I rather like sad and rate this album if not quite the best then certainly as among the best in Otis' career, his last truly great album in fact. Sad can be a winning move for a writer - especially the way that Otis sings it - and having recently divided up my mp3s between 'uptempo songs that keep me going while out doing something I need stamina for' and 'slow songs I can go to sleep to' I was surprised at just how uneven my musical tastes seem to be (interestingly my Otis Redding favourites seem to be pretty evenly matched). However it seems a strange career move for someone whose just become one of the surprise hits of the year with an album that's generally happy, considerably catchy and faintly political to turn around and release an album's that's almost completely miserable, largely slow and almost entirely ignores the outer world for tales of love in all its many forms.
It's also a surprise that Otis twists his sound so far. Well, not too much just yet - this is still oh so obviously an Otis album from first note to last and only at the end of his career, with 'Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay', did Otis chop and change styles to any great extent, with the usual mixture of sure and true soul classics, more obscure covers by artists Otis admires, a handful of originals and a mixture of uptempo numbers and blistering ballads. There's less of a 'rock' feel about this album though, with Otis growing ever further from the Little Richard influences of his early days (and no rock cover songs this time around). There is however much more of an emphasis on horns, the Mar Kays performing on every song rather than just the half of the album where they're most suitable and fascinatingly they even perform slightly different function: instead of parroting Otis' lead or performing in an entirely 'separate' world (though they do that a bit too) they now 'answer back'. Several times in the album Otis uses the trick of telling us something that seems on the surface to be 'true' - only to have the horns blast in his face, causing Otis to change his story, only for them to keep blaring, only for him to end up on his knees pleading, only for them to shoot an ice-cold blast during an extended solo before the whole dance starts again. It's the musical equivalent of the soap opera wife, with curlers in her hair, saying 'oh ho - yes? Say that again why don't you?' while the husband digs himself a bigger and deeper hole.
Ironically, for a record entitled 'The Soul Album' and despite the increasing presence of the horns, this release also moves Otis further away from the soul sound and towards a gospel one. There's always been a little of the 'church' about Otis' records and never has he looked more like a traditional preacher than on this record's back cover, with hand out stretched or finger waggling in the air. However this album is definitely more keyboard-based than guitar-based (despite Steve Cropper's greater input), with an organ Booker T's choice for most of the record. While some songs use the same template as before, much of the rest feature simple sweeping organ chords rather than ivory tickling or individual note-stabs. Otis isn't singing these songs so much as cooing, cajoling and pleading his way through them and while there are no happy clappy gospel singers around anywhere this is a long way away from the traditional view of soul (James Brown snarling into a microphone or Sam Cooke tearing into a song).
One theory is that Otis always intended his music to sound this way: what with the growing interest in 'Otis Blue' record label Volt finally had enough 'respect' for Otis to give him the time he needed to make this album. The band spent far longer in the studio than they had for the previous efforts, which tended to be recorded in hurried snatches in between tours, with Otis spending much longer on the horn sound in particular. As a result, 'The Soul Album' is perhaps the best-sounding of all of Otis' albums, with Al Jackson's drums particularly piercing throughout this record. The Mar Keys horn section too sounds wonderfully full and you can really hear each and every nuance on songs like 'Good To Me' that show them off without many other distractions. Throughout the album there's a feeling that the adrenalin rush of old has gone now that Otis can sink back into the ballads he always seemed to love the best, without the rush of trying to get things done in a short space of time (it's easier to play hard and loud where mistakes can't be heard or don't matter quite so much when you have a deadline looming than something slow which reveals everything to the world). Note too the sheer range of producer credits on this album - always a sign that a record is either taking a long time or hitting problems: as well as the Booker Ts there are separate credits for legendary Stax producer Jim Stewart, soul legend Isaac Hayes and Sam and Dave's regular producer/writer David Porter. To date only Stewart and Booker T have been involved before now - so was Stax, keen on following up a hit album, simply taking more interest? If so then it's even more interesting still that this record should have turned out the way that it did.
Otis certainly seems to have spent longer crafting his songs, working closely alongside Steve Cropper. Until now Otis has tended to write alone, but the success of the pair's 'Mr Pitiful' and a growing closeness between the pair resulted in an unprecedented three songs by the pair, plus 'Soulsville', written by Cropper with another regular Redding contributor Eddie Floyd. Though Otis Redding's band was his main job, Cropper had become increasingly in demand across the sixties, writing or co-writing Sam and Dave's 'Soul Man' and Wilson Pickett's 'In The Midnight Hour'. Cropper's hard work as a guitarist on previous albums had not gone un-noticed either: The Beatles commented often in 1966 that the 'harsher sound' they were trying to get circa 'Day Tripper' and 'Paperback Writer' was partly influences by his heavier slashing style (there was even loose plans to record with Cropper in Motown this same year, axed by Brian Epstein over security fears of a million screaming Beatlemaniacs following them everywhere, or so the story goes). Otis, who preferred working as something of a lone wolf when it came to writing, had clearly overlooked Cropper's obvious talents and wasn't prepared to do so again and the pair struck up a nicely profitable partnership (with Otis generally putting words to Cropper's riffs, with the melody falling into place somewhere between the two) which includes the singles 'Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)' and 'Dock Of The Bay' in addition to the three songs here. How odd, then, that with his sound so in fashion there's so comparatively little of Cropper's work on this album.
So, then, we've seen that 'The Soul Album' isn't really soul as Otis used to sing it even though in many ways its more 'soulful' than ever before, with deeper more emotional and generally slower songs than normal. By album four, Otis' 'breakthrough' years are now behind him and his household name years are yet to come - but this record is fascinating as it doesn't exist on a straight line from A to B, with some twists to the usual formulas and a new gospel sound added to the usual layers of Otis style. However fascinating isn't always the same as good, and it has to be said that this in many ways the most uneven of Otis' records. While the songs that work well are as truly great as ever and deserve to be known every bit as much as the hummable tunes on 'Otis Blue' (interestingly the ones that go furthest into this new style: all three originals 'Just One More Day' 'Good To Me' and 'Any Ole Way', plus the superb cover of 'Cigarettes and Coffee' and the mournful standard 'Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out') the other six songs are largely bland and forgettable - a real shame given the sheer consistency of the last two records. Heard one track or another this album often becomes repetitive in a way that the previous albums never did, new sound or not. That said, though, there's nothing truly off-putting on this album, the way that the Carla Thomas duets to come especially will be and while at the end of it Otis is still very much in his great momentum swing that sees him record some of the definitive soul recordings of his era. Certainly Otis himself is on top form throughout, with none of the Little Richard or Smokey Robinson style phrasings in his mannerisms - he now has the confidence to take Sam Cooke on at his own game for instance, re-working 'Chain Gang' so heavily that it barely sounds like the same song and 'Soulsville' too reveals a new, more playful side to Otis that we haven't really heard before (and which is welcome after ten intense ballads). The fact that a relatively newcomer to writing (this is only Otis' third year making albums after all) can match and surpass the work of most of his contemporaries is an extraordinary fact that shouldn't be overlooked: all three Redding-Cropper compositions are the best here: it's just a shame that there aren't more of them (although for all our praise for it it's worth remembering too that 'Otis Blue' also has just three original songs). All this album needs to reach the near-perfection of 'Otis Blue' are a couple more classic covers and an inspired original or three - the performances, the nuances and a lot of the writing are already first class. 'The Soul Album' isn't 'Otis Blue', its perhaps not quite up to the similarly titled second record 'The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads' even (a record with less highs than this one but enjoyable pretty much all the way through), but it is another very good Otis Redding record that broke far more ground than it was given credit for at the time without sacrificing any of the depth or musicality of the predecessors and like them it deserves to be much better known. The only problem is that, from here, it's a case of downhill all the way as first 'The Dictionary Of Soul' and then 'King and Queen' return to the 'old' template which is rapidly running out of new approaches, a downward trend that will only be revived at the absolute eleventh hour with the last batch of 1967 recordings released posthumously...
The album starts with my favourite song on the album, 'Just One More Day', the first of the Otis-Cropper originals. The opening peal of horns is one of the most memorable moments of any Otis record and opens a deliciously sour and melancholy album as it means to go on. Throughout the song the horns then sit waiting to pounce the minute that Otis' near-rapping soul vocal slows down momentum for even a second, finally dragging the song down to the depths of hell during a sudden twist to the minor key at the end, Otis' struggling against the current as he tries to conjure up some hope out of the darkness. Otherwise this song is beautifully sparse, with just Steve Cropper's drifting guitar and the very occasional drum lick from Al Jackson, each one so many miles apart you really notice it whenever another whallop drums the song back to its senses. Fascinatingly the lyrics doesn't 'read' like any of this: Otis has been 'missing' his girl for days and wishes he could have another day by her side. The way it's written is nice and ambiguous she could be on holiday, or visiting her mothers. You could easily imagine a cover version of this song minus horns that could be jaunty, looking forward to the moment when she gets home. It's only Otis' pained coo as he reminisces about 'the sweet thing you used to do to me' and the horn part that suddenly make this seem much bigger and the well of sadness much deeper, hinting that she's either left him for good or died. Other lesser vocalists would have locked themselves into a prison of sadness too early but Otis knows just how to play his own lyric, pushing it just that bit further than we're expecting in the build up verse by verse. Alongside 'Try A Little Tenderness' and of course 'Dock Of The Bay' it may well be his definitive vocal, so it's a shame that this song never got the kudos it deserved, a fabulous start to any LP.
Smokey Robinson's 'It's Growing' was back then a brand new song and an interesting choice to cover - thought it went top 20 in America it was hardly the biggest hit Robinson ever had nor the most obviously 'Otis' like of Smokey's songs. For a start it's an uptempo track, unusual for this album and especially the first side, held together by a lovely sweet riff that's played by Booker T and Steve Cropper in tandem before being pummelled by a 'Thwack!....Thwackwthwackthwack!' by the horns that's really ear-catching. However Otis struggles to know what to do with this song, which is more of a novelty number than anything, the narrator comparing his suddenly growing love to an increasingly odd list of objects such as a 'snowball rollin' 'the size of a fish that's broken it's reel' and a 'rose bud'. Listen out for yet another mournful reference here to how the love that's 'growing' can so easily be replaced by the growing gnawing pain 'like the sadness in his little heart when she knows that she's gone to stay' (is everything alright at home Otis?!) Of all the songs on the album this is the most contemporary to what the pop and rock world was doing, with the same folk overtones common to early 1966 and its a good sound for Otis - its just a shame that the vocal line gives him less room for manoeuvre and is less suited to his voice so that the vocal comes over as so much huffing and puffing.
Lefty Frizell's 'Cigarettes and Coffee' (originally 'Cigarettes and Coffee Blues') is another album highlight, the only song from this album that's a regular on Otis' best-ofs. Otis has finally found his soulmate, they've been talking over cigarettes and coffee until, looking at his watch, he's shocked to find its 2:45am. here did all that time go?! Despote being jokinglty titled a 'blues' the original keeps the song at that - it's not fast exactly, with the same sleepy overtones as this song, but it's the sleepiness of barely contained joy and delight, rolling off into asides because despite the narrator's promises he's gonna go he really really doesn't want this moment to end. Otis just sounds weary, as if he knows that this meeting can never happen again and that even if the pair meet up again it won't be the same. Throughout this version the horns and Booker T's saloon bar piano drag the tempo, all but refusing to go to bed - and in contrast Al Jackson's drums hammer away like an alarm clock, nagging the narrator away from his newfound love. What probably drew Otis to this song in the first place is the hint - understated in the original - that the narrator has been looking for a long time: comparing this new girl to 'all the others' he declares 'All the good looking girls I've met don't seem to fit in[to my life] knowing this man's particularly sad, yeah!' This is Otis' Mr Pitiful character again but this time finding love and hope, his life 'now complete'. So why does this song still sound so blooming sad? Otis sings as if his heart is breaking through sadness not happiness, his vocal getting muted on the lines like 'now I've got nothing but good ol' joy' and emphasising the lines like 'I've really got to go now'. Otis is being a master interpreter here, teasing out nuances you probably didn't even notice on the original.
Sam Cooke's 'Chain Gang' sounds even more different in Otis' hands. Cooke's second ever hit, released as long ago as 1959, the original is a sad and slow ballad about the men who 'work so hard' toiling all day and night for the good of the community and 'moanin' their lives away' without anybody there to love them (inspired by a chance meeting when on tour - Cooke was so moved by one convict's story he passed over all the cigarettes in his entourages' possession)! Otis' nagging, teasing, singalong spirited version seems to point more towards the release that work can offer: the 'wham wham wham' of the drums and horns makes this sound less likely tireless work and more like a chance to be outside the prison walls experiencing real life. With an added horn riff 'stolen' from 'Louie Louie' (a song Otis had already recorded) this is unbelievably the breeziest, happiest song on the album till the closing pair - and it's a song about incarceration and loneliness! Otis is clearly having fun subverting our ideas (though less known today, the song would have been popular enough for most soul fans to have recognised it in 1966 and got the 'joke') and is on top form on the vocal again, alternating between the part of a gospel style 'convert' to living life properly and one of the chain gang members himself complete with 'hoohs' and 'hahs'. Perhaps the most telling part of Otis' interpretation comes during his improvised vocal on the fade: 'We've all got to keep working' the workaholic Otis tells us, 'Everyday we work to become a little bit stronger, all day and night, we've got to be working men...' One of the first things that people mention when talking about Otis was his strong work ethic, as if he sensed that he didn't have long on this planet and needed to make his mark as quickly as possible. Forget James Brown: Otis was the real hardest working soul singer in show business - this song hints at why.
The first side ends with the first song that does what we expect it to: James Cox' 'Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out' would have probably been the most well known song on the album on first release, a blues standard dating back to 1923 and clearly inspired by the great depression, covered by everyone from Bessie Smith to Eric Clapton. John Lennon will later re-work the song to become 'Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out' for his 'Walls and Bridges' album of 1974. Otis' narrator used to be a millionaire - but that was a long time ago and when he lost his fortune he lost his family and friends with it, finding out that they weren't really interested in him but his money. Tailor made for Otis' peals of pitifulness (the fadeout is prime Otis, even hinting at life being better this way with nowhere to be and no one left to please: 'Nobody wants you! Nobody needs you! Nobody ever say a good thing about you! But nobody can tell you when to go! Gotta get back on your feet again!' still wailing away at full strength as the song quickly fades to nothingness). The horns again point their scrawny heads downwards throughout the song as if dragging Otis down with them, although the slight lift upwards at the end of each verse (usually when the narrator is remembering better times) is a clever twist on the original. Not the best Otis cover perhaps, but far from the worst with an arrangement that makes a much-covered oft-heard song shimmer with a slightly different light.
'Good To Me' starts side two much like the first with another Redding original (co-written with Julius Green this time) which is best described as 'sleepy'. Booker T's slow quiet organ riff screams of 'church' and Otis is in confessional mood, subverting his better known 'I've Been Lovin' You Too Long' by declaring that he hasn't had time to love enough. Clearly a love song for Zelda, Otis promises to love her for 'twenty years' until all the love is used up - 'and if it takes another forty I'm willing to try!' Otis sounds deliciously contented and loved up and the stark arrangement and the upfront production but more emphasis on his vocal than any other song on the album, as if for the first time on this record he isn't playing games and means every word he sings. And yet...there's something slightly 'off' about this song, deliberately I mean. If you listen to this song without 'hearing' the words it comes over quite differently: its designed to sound like a musical confessional, the horn parts slide in with their usual sting of bitter tears and seem to arrive at all the most unexpected moments, the song keeps sliding into unexpected minor keys that sounds like a subtle twist of the knife and Jackson's uneasy rat-a-tat drumming doesn't sound that contented to me. Even that lyric, that's apparently sung at face value, is at times odd for a love song: most narrators speak about 'loving you forever'; they don't try to put years and dates on it. The narrator doesn't speak of their love being 'perfect' either or vow to mend his ways or all those old hoary clichés: instead he promises 'I'm never gonna dissatisfy you in way', complete with double negative which Otis must have known was actually pointing to 'failure' on the narrator's part. Is this song also playing with us, telling us one thing while hinting at another with the narrator not quite the romantic gent we think he is? Another clever and highly under-rated song.
'Scratch My Back' is arguably the weakest song on the album. Slim Harpo's blues song isn't a natural for Otis or soul in general, though Cropper has fun cycling through the scratchy riff and the horns at last get to play the sort of thing most soul arrangements ask for (bambambambambambambamadooeydooey!') Otis sounds less comfortable almost speak-singing the song and lyrics like 'I'm itchy and I don't know where to scratch' aren't exactly up to the best of the lyrics he's had to sing in his career. A tired song that like 'Cigarettes and Coffee' talks about meeting a soulmate, but this time in the most basic and un-poetic terms, this is a case of romance reduced to the level of getting a girlfriend because she can scratch the parts of your back you can't scratch yourself (a particular problem at Otis' great height one imagines!) I'm also a bit concerned at Otis doing what he calls 'the chicken scratch' - has the narrator caught chicken pox now?!
Roy Head's 'Treat Her Right' is another surprisingly contemporary song, a #2 hit for the writer a mere year before. A rare example of Otis covering 'white' soul ('Louie Louie' is the first 'white' song of course but isn't really soul), its notable for sounding as Otisified as all his other covers when re-arranged by Booker T and the MGs. A two minute screamer, this is Otis as lothario offering us advice on how to romance the person of our dreams: 'You start real slow...make her feel good...and tell her that you love her...like you know you should'. The song has a real swing behind it thanks to the triumphant Mar Keys horn part, although the fact that the rest of the band are playing what's really a head-down 12 bar blues relates to the album theme of not quite giving us what we think we're getting. After a run of songs based around the idea of Otis being a 'love man' on earlier albums its strange to hear the older Otis returning to the theme of his youth, even though it's only been a couple of albums and a little over a year since this was all a regular part of his repertoire. This is far from the deepest or most suitable song he ever sang on the subject either, although a strong band performance just about rescues the piece as an overall recording and Otis particularly is right on the money in the songs stop-starts and pauses, dismissed by a characteristic intake of breath.
I'm not that convinced by friend Eddie Floyd's 'Everybody Makes A Mistake' either, which seems to fall into all the traps that albums like Otis' do so well to avoid. The narrator is kicking himself for being a 'fool' for trusting his girl and 'paying her bills' while she's been of 'like a fool, running around, doing me wrong'. The song ought to soar and has clearly been written with Otis' keening, worrying vocal in mind and certainly the bits of the song that Otis improvises and makes his own works well. But there just isn't enough of a song here for Otis to get his teeth into and this time the song is conveyed straight, with some sighing see-sawing horns and a plodding Booker T piano part that's uncharacteristically basic (like almost half of this album, there is no guitar). Even a final outpouring of grief where the narrator changes his mind and calls out 'I love you baby, I love you darling!' can't lift the song.
Redding and Cropper's own 'Any Ole' Way is much better, a gentle 150 seconds of pure bliss with the Mar Keys horn parts getting a triumphant peal of 'bam bam bam bam bam!' and a strangely mournful cry of happiness that's irresistible. In truth the lyrics don't say much instead of repeating the lyrics of 'My Girl', but they're pretty sweet too for what they are: unlike the soulmate of 'Cigarettes and Coffee' this narrator has almost nothing in common with his loved one. They share different backgrounds, go to different places and see different friends. They should have nothing in common, but their love for each other is so strong that it can withstand any differences and there's a glorious acceptance of the fact that the pair's lives are intertwining as they know each other better, with him willing to go anywhere out of his comfort zone to be beside her and vice versa. A great realistic love song, as opposed to so many clichéd romantic songs that you know won't work when the lust wears off, this is a grown-up piece about meeting in the middle and the compromises being worth it to be together. There's even a middle eight - rare for this album - and we like a middle eight on this site, this one sounding like a rough draft for 'Dock Of The Bay' as the narrator glances at his watch getting irate at her being late - before realising it means nothing and that their love is going to outlast the lifetime of his watch anyhow. Otis sings with real sunshine in his voice, the horns almost dance in their delight at being able to do the sort of things they do on other soul singers' records and a sweet backing band delivers the song with the minimum of fuss, even if co-writer Cropper is conspicuous by his absence again (close listening reveals he is there, but picking at his guitar with the strings compressed rather than playing actual 'notes'!) Not as deep as the other Otis originals on the album, but a strong song all the same.
The album then ends on a playful note. Booker T leads off the song with what sounds like a countdown to the song starting, but soon turns into the song's title '1...2...6345789!' Steve Cropper and Floyd's silly lyrics and strutting riff have Otis back in 'love man' mode, delivering his alleged telephone number (destination: Soulsville) and in a rather risqué way for the times promises to deliver 'lovin' at the drop of a hat, night or day. Offering the service as if he's simply offering to be the speaking clock, it's hard not to laugh at Otis' cheek or his goodwill. Otis copes well on a song that to be honest isn't like any others we've had from him before - though it has the same tongue in cheek daftness as 'Love Man' et sequence, none of those songs actually boasted about what a good time a girl could have with him - instead they joked about what friends called him, what girls called him, what he wanted to be himself and rather shyly asked a girl to find out if they were true; Otis has never actually boasted before. This might be because the song wasn't actually written with Otis in mind but Wilson Pickett, who scored a #13 hit with the song in August 1966 (and recorded in May, about a month after Otis' version had been released). Though perhaps livelier than Otis' cover, it's less fun, missing his cheek and the strut of the horn players and was perhaps a little too insubstantial to be a hit single back in the days when there were son many great soul records out there. You'd never point to this song as an example of what Otis can do better than anybody or proclaim it as the highlight of the album, but it's still great fun and sits in great contrast to most of the album that came before it.
Overall, then, 'The Soul Album' is far from perfect and indeed is about as far away from being a pure 'soul' album as Otis ever came. It is however another very good and pioneering Otis Redding record, the end really of a great run that stretched back to the start of the previous year (and three very god records in 18 months, while still touring tirelessly, is a great achievement by anyone's standards). Though released on April Fool's Day there's nothing foolish about this record, although several 'pranks' are played on the listener - notably the fact that so many of these songs deliver something quite different to what fans of earlier cover versions of the songs would have been expecting or what the song titles on the back of the album would have suggested. It's not always a successful idea either, with some covers like 'Chain Gang' perhaps too far removed from the writer's original intentions, but Otis and the Booker T Band get bonus points for at least thinking about how to do things a bit differently and this album is far more brave than sequels to successful records tend to be (there's little of the optimism and even less of the politics heard on 'Otis Blue', which tends to deal with its subject matters far more directly than here). 'The Soul Album' may not match that record song-for-song, but it's another good album from a great singer almost at the top of his game and is by turns both hilarious and heart-breaking. A few songs short of a classic maybe, but what's here is generally very good and even the worst songs aren't that bad - not yet anyway...