Monday, 4 January 2016
"Complete and Unbelievable - The Otis Redding Dictionary Of Soul!" (1966)
Otis Redding "Complete and Unbelievable - The Otis Redding Dictionary Of Soul!" (1966)
Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/I'm Sick Y'all/Tennessee Waltz/Sweet lorene/Try A Little Tenderness/Day Tripper//My Lover's Prayer/She Put The Hurt On Me/Ton Of Joy/You're Still My Baby/Hawg For You/Love Has Mercy
"It's what's in your heart that puts you in the groove and when you sing this song it will make your whole body move"
Hello and welcome to the Otis 'n' Alan's Album Archives Dictionary of Soul, the updated version of everyone's favourite soul glossary! Yes that's right, for the complete and unbelievable price of an internet connection, we can present you with a guide to everything we intended to say with words but which came out in a sort of harrumphing noise or a jumbled collection of consonants. As a bonus You, errr gotta-getta this set a leetle leetle leetle because it gets ou we ni even though it was written in a bit of a ni (translation for the chronically un-hip who don't own Otis' fourth album with the helpful translations on the back sleeve: 'You're not able to do without this, so get just enough to make one want another three copies because we're getting, umm, 'gooder by the minute' however much of a hurry we've written this rubbish in). For the record, though, Otis' dictionary doesn't go far enough to cover all the grunts he uses on the record so here are a few more interpretations for you, several of which have become quite useful for the present day:
'Oo-woooah my!' (Û-wéeo-uh-mï) : Blimey what a record!
'Awo-u-uououou-w!' (ĄwŵŌōŏŐ): I'm a hawg for you baby, oink!
'Happahappamamymy' (Ħappamimi): Have mercy on my soul!
'Y'all' (Yê-allllllllllllllllllllllll): Each and every one of you happening dudes and dogs!
'Got-Got-Got-Got-Got!' (GÕT!!!): I think our Otis-bot has got stuck again! Give it a push!
'Ah-Y'allUhuh yeah!' (ahuluhuye-æh): I do indubitably agree with you my dear sir
'Uwwwwoaaaawwww!' (ὓwoooooaὦ): What do you mean side one's finished already? I've only just sat down and the record player is way over there and I've just got really comfy and how come records were so short back then? Unbelievable!
'Eggggggggggh!' (Ɇɰɿʬʩʦ): Oh no! My internet connection's down just as I was enjoying the erudite and slightly fabulous writing over at Alan's Album Archives!
'Aggggggggggh!' (žſƀƐƌƇ): Oh no! Another Conservative fake election victory!
'Uggggggggggh!' (ðﻱﻔɏɟɚɄɃɁȱȡɆ): Oh no! The Spice Girls!
There is, however, a depth of feeling across this record that even these latest terms and conditional words can't possibly hope to express. Amazingly, completely and unbelievably Otis' fourth record and the follow-up to his masterpiece 'Otis Blue' (his most successful record by far to date) is one of the saddest albums in the self-proclaimed Mr Pitiful's canon. The last album told, nay ordered us in varying degrees to 'shake', to have 'respect' and that 'a change is gonna come'. 'Otis Blue' is many things but it's also Redding's most upbeat album, charged with a certain inner confidence and pizzazz. 'The Dictionary Of Soul', despite the title, can come across as a little one-note with ten deeply melancholy blueses at different speeds enlivened only by the story of betrayal 'Day Tripper' (turned from cute Beatles hit into relationship Armageddon) and 'I'm A Hawg For You' (an excuse to do some American Indian whistling). Otis has always been good at sadness, a sound that come naturally to him as a vocalist with its chance for long drawn out notes and big space for characterisation and emotion. Where other soul singers use their vocals as a chance to impress or sing really fast, Otis (at least two thirds of the time) really is using his voice to make some deeper connection, trying desperately to find a connection in his audience so that both he and we don't feel quite so alone or abandoned after seeing him open his soul to us. Of all the soul vocalists who've ever lived Otis is the most 'soul' : other flash singers (though not many) might sing better or faster or harder, but none can make a song feel as if it's being lived and experienced as much as our own gentle giant. Of all the original five albums (duet record 'King and Queen' being a special case) 'Dictionary Of Soul' is perhaps the best example of this, with Otis struck dumb by the melancholy of life as much as the rockin' pneumonia and about as melancholy as the boogie-woogie flu. It is, alas, rather a sad place to find our hero on the last completed solo album and a mere calendar year before his untimely death and a seemingly odd place to find him 18 months into his career and after the twin biggest breakthroughs of his career (the 'Otis Blue' album's sales and acclaim and a four night stand at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go later released as a live album; even Bob Dylan raved about it and he rarely raved about anything back then!)
However, while professionally the long hard work of the last few years was falling into place at last, personally things were looking a little shaky. Otis had married young - he was nineteen, his wife Zelda was sixteen and the bigger Redding became the more in demand he was and the more time he had to spend away from home. Throw in the usual rock/soulstar groupie shenanigans and .suddenly all those songs of guilt and pleas for forgiveness - which reach a peak on this album - don't sound quite so much like acting anymore. Many performers would have shrugged and ended the marriage then: managers liked it best when you were 'unattached' anyway back then, even though one of the big differences between fans in the 1950s and 1960s were that people back home loved their singers as people, realised they were never likely to meet and just wanted them to be happy (though that didn't stop a few marriage proposals in the post just in case). But neither Otis nor Zelma were the quitting kind. Besides, unlike some relationships where a rock star's girlfriend/wife/boyfriend/husband/significant other stops becoming their muse the minute the wedding bells start to ring, you can tell that Otis was still besotted. Covers aside (many of which were selected for their emotional resonance anyway), all of Otis' material very nearly is about his wife somewhere: their love, the support, the hopes for a future that sadly never happened. Other Redding records, especially the early ones, can be quite playful on this score despite Otis' often gloomy image: 'Come To Me' 'Your One and Only Man'. But 'Dictionary' feels like a very different prospect, with every index and every entry turned inward: Otis is either depressed, or guilty, or desperate to make amends, or tired of living his life like this. He knows that a crunch time is coming in his marriage when he'll have to choose either his family or his music. Again, most 'stars' wouldn't have looked back - pre-fame marriages were something to be discarded along with the slums and estates you were brought up with. But Otis has always been a deeper writer than that. As early as his first album he's singing about the importance of 'security' to him, of having a home to come back to however mad his life gets up to on the road. In retrospect the next year or so of Otis' career sound like one long delaying tactic while Otis tries to get his head straight so he can be true to himself and his marriage, his last year on earth all but wasted until near the sudden explosion of creativity in the last month or so, his one and only finished album after this one a slightly wonky duets album (as if Otis is living out all the things in his relationship from two sides, but with a slightly clunky jovial side) and his next solo album is never finished (though he had about three times the material compared to normal to choose from) but points at him choosing family at least partly over affairs. If the 'Dictionary Of Soul' really was real and available in shops (Id' buy it, if only to find out why 'fa fa fa fa fa fa' means a 'sad song') the entry next to this album would feature a soggy wet heap, the most pitiful or Mr Pitiful's albums.
Which is not to say it's bad. On the contrary, 'Dictionary Of Soul' is much like second album 'Sings Soul Ballads' and fourth record 'The Soul Album' in that it's about halfway to being a classic - a shame about the other half. A deep thinker in one of the deepest thinking periods of his life, 'Dictionary' has several great moments. 'Try A Little Tenderness' wowed the crowds at Monterey six months later (the only song in the set not taken from 'Otis Blue') for a good reason: it's Otis near his best as he tries to offer both himself and us advice while taking a melancholy horn part and simultaneously making it sound big and powerful and hopeful by the end. Most Redding covers tend to stick rigidly in either sad or happy territory, but Otis is often at his best when he's straddling the two, taking a sad song and making it feel all better. This is perhaps the greatest example of his all too brief catalogue. That terack is closely matched by the album single 'Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)', which apart from driving me mad every time I have to write it out and count the 'Fa's in full all over again is a clever twist on the 'Mr Pitiful' idea, a sad song that isn't really no matter how many times Otis tells us it is. Of the album's lesser known songs 'I'm Sick Y'all' virtually created the whole funk genre with Otis moaning to a hard-as-rock riff that's just too inflexible to care, 'I'm A Hawg For You' is one of Otis' best 'novelty' songs, best heard once but at least quite funny the once you hear it, 'Love Have Mercy' features one of the better soul-performances-of-a-rock-groove the equal of any other 'riff' song in the riff heavy year of 1966 and the slow aching minor key sadness of 'My Lover's Prayer' is exquisite, one of Otis' greatest originals and perhaps the most honest of all his songs, caught between pity, guilt, anger and a deep deep sadness that breaks the heart. No wonder the back sleeve of this record lists the definition 'ou-ni', to 'hurt so good', it's a phrase that sums this half of the album up well.
Of course then there's the other half which sounds oddly distracted and weak for an artist who'd finally discovered his true calling on record just a year before. Otis sounds drained, run down by the pressures of coming up with his fifth album in three years and almost constant touring and though the seven originals on the album (the most of his published career, though his unfinished 'last' album would most likely have had more) point to a rush of creativity, to be honest a lot of them just sound like re-treads of where Otis had been before. 'She Put The Hurt On Me' and 'Ton Of Joy' are a step backwards to the early years while even their own writer seems to be uncharacteristically struggling how to sing them. The worst moment on the record though - perhaps on all the records before Carla Thomas gets involved - is the oft-covered 'Tennessee Waltz' which really doesn't fit soul or Otis and sounds like one big moan, uncomfortably in the wrong key for the singer throughout. Ah well, 'Try A Little Tenderness' and 'My Lover's Prayer' alone more than make up for the album's lesser moments. How much better this album would have been, though, with the better tracks from the album sessions released on it too: the exquisite 'Remember Me' (which would have fitted the confessional mood well), the sweet 'You Left The Water Running' (ditto), maybe even the 'Lover's Prayer' flipside 'Don't Mess With Cupid' (which is daft but less so than 'Ton Of Joy'). For a time this record was even set to feature Otis' interpretation of the freshly minted Bob Dylan song 'Just Like A Woman' which the Bobmeister had offered to Otis first backstage at the 'Whiskey-A-Go-Go' gig. Though many have since complained that Otis turned down the 'perfect' song, the only bit that's really Otis is the sudden surge of power in the middle eight - everything else is the usual Dylan wordplay and metaphor, not to mention 'fog, amphetamines and pearls', which isn't really Otis' forte. Fun as a version would have been, chances are Redding simply didn't understand the song.
One other reason this album doesn't quite match 'Otis Blue' especially is the lack of input from Booker T and the MGs. Now, as per every other Otis album they're very much here as a second element and guitarist Steve Cropper received a co-credit for 'Fa-I'm-not-writing-all-that-out-again-Fa (Sad Song)'. But compared to the olden days this is very much an Otis-with-horns record - actually it's a great showcase for the Mar-Keys trumpet section who sound utterly gorgeous on 'Tenderness' and 'Prayer', saying everything that cannot be said. Usually, though, that would be the Mgs role too, but the driving 'Day Tripper' aside (not exactly the most confessional moment here) the band have relatively little to add to the music. There are, for instance, no organ solos (in fact Booker T sticks mainly to simple minor key piano licks) and Cropper, astonishingly doesn't play a guitar solo either (after Otis' vocals themselves the most 'signature' sound of any Redding album). Donald 'Duck' Dunn and Al Jackson feel slightly wasted here, again on really getting their groove on for 'Day Tripper'. This may have simply been a matter of circumstances: by now the MGs are more in demand than ever, with their third and fourth albums (the slightly disappointing 'And Now!' and the deeply odd festive record 'In The Christmas Spirit', which features strangely soul-less soul covers of carols) out in the shops a mere month after 'Dictionary'. Redding had been on tour with his substitute band The Bar-Keys while the MGs had been criss-crossing the country on their own tour - chances are, unlike the olden days, they barely got time to send each other postcards never mind ideas for the albums. However given the personal nature of many of the songs, could it be that Otis was just reluctant about opening up about what was on his mind, while simultaneously being afflicted with the need to be authentic, to write songs from the heart or not at all. Either way, sadly the lack of MGs input is the biggest obstacle that prevents this album from being as great as 'Otis Blue', along with two songs too many of filler material.
Oddly, though, reviewers at the time and a few since have always liked this album more than the fans, usually praised for its eclectic tastes and soulful interpretative singing. Which sounds odd to me - Otis has been playing styles as early as his first record 'Pain In My Heart' (which is what a Little Richard album made by Sam Cooke would sound like) and in those terms 'Dictionary' is actually a backwards step, with several 'pure' soul ballads that sound like before with only three and a half (the half being the second half of 'Tenderness') of the twelve songs possessing anything above a walking pace tempo. The reviewers seem to have missed the point on the 'interpretative singing' too - Otis sounds uncharacteristically awful the few times he's not singing from the heart ('Ton Of Joy' is a struggle to sit through, while 'You're Still My Baby' might well be the worst Redding vocal in the slow yearning aching ballad style he made his own, all over the shop across the song). However what 'Dictionary' does have over other Redding albums, even 'Otis Blue', is realism and honesty with the best tracks on this album songs where Otis clearly isn't 'interpreting' anything but singing right from his soul. The performances on 'Tenderness' and 'My Lover's Prayer' especially rank alongside his best, but calling them interpretative singing is like calling 'The Wall' Pink Floyd's greatest interpretative album, praising John Lennon for getting so far into the part of a songwriter who had a tough life that mirrored his own in great detail during his primal scream years or praising the Spice Girls video for 'Wannabe' full of kung-fu kicks aimed at tramps interpretative dance.
It's one of the great tragedies of this site not only that Otis died so young but that he died just when he died, at the height of his fame and after all the places had just fallen into place. The Otis of the last two months of 1967 is so different to the Otis of this album: now confident, calm, assured and able to make sense of a heartbreaking year with renewed vigour at keeping both his marriage and his career alive ('Dock Of The Bay' is the tip of the iceberg of this sea change, which is easily the oddest metaphor I've used today - no wonder the ships are 'rolling'!) 'Dictionary', for all its impersonal title and hilarious mock-learned cover (in real life Otis left school at fifteen, examless, to keep his family afloat after his father's death) is too close to the eye of the storm to be any of these things, Redding so stricken with grief and doubt and worry that he can't think or in some cases write or sing straight. The sheer speed of this album, almost six months to the day after 'The Soul Album', probably didn't help much either. But where this album wins out is the sheer intensity of 'Tenderness' and 'Prayer', two songs every bit the equal of any other tracks in the Redding canon, matched in self-deprecating terms by 'Fa x Six (Sad Song)', a glorious sequel to 'Mr Pitiful' that manages to be even funnier. 'Dictionary' is an album without as many pages worth reading as some other Otis records, but the pages that are good are miraculous. Not complete then by any means (this may well be Otis' most 'incomplete' and inconsistent record since his first) and by Redding terms not all that unbelievable, but 'Dictionary' is another very strong Redding album that leaves you saying more than a few 'my my mys' along the way.
'Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)' would not doubt have been mentioned in our Otis reviews a lot earlier had it been easier to write out. It is, you see, a very important track in Redding's canon that doesn't always get the due it deserves (perhaps because no fan in casual conversation is going to casually drop the name 'Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa' into conversation the same way they do 'Dock Of The Bay'). Apart from 'Try A Little Tenderness' it was the last big hit of Otis' lifetime and 'feels' like a career ending song, a tale of frustration at how so many things have changed in the singer's life and yet some things always stay the same. 'I keep singing these sad songs, because sad songs is all I know' Otis sighs in his best 'Mr Pitiful' voice, even though we know this time that patently isn't true, that songs like 'Respect' 'Shake' and 'Satisfaction' have proved that there's more to Otis than this. But those songs are passing fancies - sadness is an intrinsic part of Otis' character and something he's utterly unable to shake off. Otis kind of admires the 'sad song' though - it has universal reach and appeal the way his happy go lucky and socially aware songs don't because even the happiest person gets sad sometimes. Otis adds that he's been singing these type of songs 'my whole life' because that's where he feels his greatest message lies, pointedly turning to someone in the audience (whose almost certainly Zelda) and pleading that these songs are all messages to her. The irony of this all is that, by Redding standards, the Steve Cropper tune this track is set to isn't that sad at all. It's not exactly fast but it's certainly not slow, with an urgent riff and a catchy chorus that makes Otis sound more giddy than depressed (legend has it that Cropper based it on the theme tune for the American game show 'The $64,000 Question'!) One of the pair's last songs together, with 'Dock Of The Bay' about the only one to come, it's one of the cleverest and proof that the pair know each other very well by now. Always musically curious, both men would have wanted to go somewhere new while staying 'faithful' to the Redding persona - with 'Dock Of The Bay' still over the horizon this sort of self-deprecating joke makes perfect sense, with 'Mr Pitiful' so into his own sadness that he hasn't even noticed when the song he's singing is no longer sad, because everything is. In case you were wondering the 'fa fa fa fa fa fa' line was Otis simply singing where he intended the horn part to go later on, but the band liked the effect so much they kept that [part in and had the Mar-Keys horn parts 'answering' instead. It's a very lovely horn part, actually, which makes the song and adds just enough sadness without approaching depression. The song gets an added twist too from Otis' turn to the audience (or the band if you watch Otis' first music video), singing 'your turn!' as if turning the blues - the most personal sound in the world - into a mass communal singalong. One of Otis' most overlooked singles.
The hard driving 'I'm Sick Y'all' is another of Otis' groove songs, written in the same style as 'Can't Turn You Loose' and 'Hard To Handle'. The vocal seems deliberately set low in the mix as if the actual words matter less than the overall feeling of claustrophobia, as a heavy organ 'n' horns beat locks Otis so far inside his head that we can't even hear him, the singer too lost in his own thoughts and his 'terrible state' to communicate. You have to be careful with songs like this one that feature a lot of repetition, especially as it's closer in 'feel' to something James Brown or Sam Cooke would tackle than Otis who usually wears his emotions on his sleeve, not hidden by production techniques. But luckily the groove is a good one the whole band get behind and there's just enough sense of hope in the middle with a raised eyebrow of a major key before the minor key depression weighs the song down all over again. The lyrics, probably set by Otis to Cropper's tune, are interesting in their own right if you can hear them though: we've heard 'Sad' Otis many times but rarely 'mad' Otis and Redding is now so angry/guilty he can't get his words straight. 'Been put out y'all got nowhere to go children!' he pleads to us in shock that the 'Security' of his second published original now seems to be over and he's had a huge physical re-action with headaches and shakes all from a 'pain in the heart' (a very telling reference back to Otis' first hit, now sung from a bit more experience of heartbreak). By the end of the song a dejected Otis has been walking the streets all night and is standing outside his own house in a pitiful state, Redding exaggerating his condition with OTT tales of being caught in a thunderstorm and having had nothing to eat for '12 days'. Though this event never actually happened, Otis is clearly 'in bad shape' emotionally if not physically and perhaps ducks the vocals in the song because this lyric cuts so very close to the 'truth', Redding's worry over being kicked out the family house for good.
So far the record has been going toe-to-toe with the heights of 'Otis Blue' but alas things take a tumble for the worse with 'Tennessee Waltz'. An over obvious choice of cover song, this 1946 song was covered by everybody but comes across as terribly false in most versions - the sort of song you write on auto-pilot to appeal to the lowest common denominator. The 1960s was about throwing out such tin pan alley garbage, so it seems odd to hear a performer as 'real' as Otis giving it a go. Even he's stumped trying to maker this song swing, though, and turns in what might well be his worst performance, full of stutters and fake dramatic pauses that give away how little is heart is in the song. The MGs get visibly fed up of this song before the end too, Al Jackson sticking in a thunderous drum roll that's completely out of place, as if to release his building frustrations. Only another lovely Mar-Keys horn part overcomes what would otherwise be the single worst performance on an Otis album, sighing and swing their way through the song with all the 'real' emotion even Redding himself can't inject into the song. One of the hardest going three minutes Otis ever gave us - why was this song released over so many better songs in the vaults? Bizarrely the original version, the all American affair by Patti Page (which you can hear on the Pink Floyd/Jerry Garcia dominated soundtrack for the 'Zabriskie Point' film in 1972) is the best-selling single ever in...Japan! Go figure!
'Sweet Lorene' is about as closest as Otis the songwriter ever got to filler too, a re-make of 'In The Midnight Hour' with as-near-it the same groove and tune and some daft lyrics about a runaway girl who won't do what she's told. Co-written with long standing friend Isaac Hayes, it's one of the few examples of Otis writing 'fiction' rather than feeling and using characters in his stories. The song concerns a man whose been abandoned for real, rather than in the imagination like so many Otis songs, and leaves him sadly walking through places they used to go to together 'starin' at me now'. Though his vocal is sharper than on 'Tennessee Waltz', it's still not the Otis we know and love - Otis is a more natural confessional singer than a narrator and gets by through sheer force of personality rather than doing anything that amazing. The MGs cope better with a funky beat and Booker T back on the organ at last, but even they sound a little under-used and under-stretched. The lyrics about how Otis is 'going to kiss you from head to toe if you walk back through my door' don't exactly stretch him as a writer either.
After all, you only need to hear the opening lick of 'Try A Little Tenderness' to know what a 'real' song from the heart sounds like. The most famous Redding song that Otis didn't write, the fact this is a cover song always comes as a shock given how note-perfect Otis' vocal is here. First written in the 1930s, it became more popular in the 1960s thanks to a cover by Aretha Franklin - Otis' choice of it himself might be 'revenge' for her covering 'Respect' a few months earlier! The song is perfectly suited to Otis' style, Redding choosing to add a typically mournful horn lick to the start that perfectly sets up the song. He also slightly tweaks the arrangement of the song so that it starts slow and humble and sad before slowly turning bit by bit into another communal singalong and celebration. Booker T's opening organ licks takes the song straight into gospel and this is about the closest Otis ever comes to 'preaching' on one of his records, offering advice to the world and perhaps himself about how to cope with fraying relationships; all it takes is some 'tenderness'. There's a hint in the first verse that the growing problems between the couple are money-related, that she's 'weary' from 'wearing the same old dress'. But when treated as a Queen she feels like a Queen, Otis urging his audience to 'anticipate' whatever she might be 'waiting for'. By the end the song has lost any sense of difficulty because Otis is so sure in his technique that it can't possibly go wrong and is open to all irrespective of race or class. Sadly the studio original cuts off short when Otis has just begun to get into gear, but the period live versions of this song are a revelation, Redding extending the finale into a track full of such verve and joy and manic improvisations that the blues of the opening seem a million light years away (it works particularly well as the finale to Otis' Monterey Pop setlist, where the lyrics are changed to a 'mini-skirt dress'). This original is still mighty fine, though, given Otis the chance to show off all sides of his musical nature off in one single song.
Following the success of the soul-drenched cover of the Stones' 'Satisfaction' on 'Otis Blue', Redding went off looking for another rock song to work his magic on. His first choice was The Beatles' 'A Hard Day's Night', which was performed in concert across 1966 and a shoe-in for this record, but in the meantime the fab four themselves had got into soul and Otis in particular, releasing a number of Stax-inspired songs in the summer ('Got To Get You Into My Life' was the most obvious but the signs are also there in 'Drive My Car' and 'Paperback Writer'). 'Day Tripper' was a particularly worthy choice, though, and it's tale of the 'girl' being in command and only in it for the short-term while her man gets besotted is right up this album's street. The MGs have fun on a song that urges them to be big and heavy (Jackson utterly destroys Ringo's simplistic part on the original), while Otis is having fun improvising his way round lyrics that are, by Lennon-McCartney standards, fairly light anyway with lots of 'y'alls' and whoops and hollers. He even adds a verse at the end: 'Mean thing that told me girl, you're best halfway aren't you honey, better go all the way with me honey, you better love me pretty mama, you gotta squeeze me pretty baby...' However the guitar riff doesn't quite as strong switched to horns as the similar part on 'Satisfaction' did and 'Day Tripper' has less peaks and valleys along the way, running out of steam by the halfway stage. The song isn't quite as powerful a statement then - and 'A Hard Day's Night' may still have been the better or at least more suitable choice - but the track is still a brave statement, taking on the rock world at their own game and proving that there isn't actually that big a difference between the two. I've often wondered, by the way, what other 60s rock classics Otis might have made his own had he stayed with his pattern of at least rehearsing one for every album. The Who's 'My Generation' perhaps (with the stutters and repeats already in?) The Kinks' You Really Gotta Gotta Gotta Me'? The Animals' ''We Gotta Gotta Gotta Get Out Of This Place'? The Beatles' 'All Y'all Need Is Love'? It would have been fascinating to see...
Over on side two 'My Lover's Prayer' is, finally, Otis doing what he was born to do rather than playing around and having fun with his reputation. A surprise flop as a single, it's one of the most brilliant things he ever did, clearly written from the heart for Zelda as a mixture of forgiveness, playfulness and guilt. It's easy to trace the heartbroken balladeer of 'These Arms Of Mine' and 'Pain In My Heart' to here, with a similar sense of inner desperation, but everything's a little more up market than before. Booker T and co know exactly how to do this sort of thing by now and are magnificent here, with Booker's slowly circling piano licks, going round and round the same old ground over and over, while the Mar-Keys horn riff is one of the most heartbreaking of any Redding song. The lilting phrase tries to lift itself up, gets up a head of steam and then falls pathetically on a sighing minor key line that instead gazing back at its shoes, it's spirit crushed. Otis is utterly brilliant, as he refuses to believe 'that it's all over' after a love affair that's 'gone round in so many circles', but you know that despite his hope that this relationship is over. The lyrics manage to combine so many things at once: 'My life is such a weary thing' Otis sighs as if looking for pity, 'Deep down I know I'm not to blame' Otis snarls angrily, 'What you going to do tonight when you need my voice to tell you goodnight?' Otis asks hopefully, looking for a chink in his loved one's armour, 'It can't be too serious to talk it over' tries to be reasonable, while 'Yeah, I won't be missing you' is clearly an out and out lie. Otis' narrator has thrown everything at this relationship without an answer but still utterly refuses that it's 'all over', reduced to relying on nothing more than faith, turning this lyric into a 'lover's prayer' that Otis hopes will 'reach you' and the sheer strength of power and feeling will be enough where his words have fallen short. Together with the funeral air of the music it's a powerful combination and Redding turns in one of the greatest performances of his career to match it, with perhaps the ultimate 'sad song' of his career. Much overlooked and under-rated, this was the first single released from the album - always a sign of what Otis considered his most 'important' work - and deserved better than to stall at #61 in the US charts (though you could argue it's not exactly singles material - what song, even back in 1966, could possibly follow this on top 40 radio without sounding empty and forced by comparison?)
The noisy 'She Put The Hurt On Me' is a second straight solo Redding original that tries to make him out to be the victim. However it's lighter in every sense, another of those 'groove' songs that's more about the riff than the development. For once, an Otis groove song is 'happy' rather than mad or sad, with a chirpy Mar-Keys horn part on a singalong riff that could easily have become a strong catchy single. However there's nothing else really happening in this song which just keeps going round the houses for three minutes. The song quickly turns into Otis proving he can tell the time with a tongue-in-cheek risqué commentary about an illicit meeting that paints him fully as the hapless seduced victim ('She gave me 22 minutes - I had to think about it, she gave me 40 - I had to talk about it, she gave me 60 - I can't do without it, she knocked me down to the floor!') You have to wonder at the mischievousness of putting such a silly and frivolous song about a one-night stand (well, three night stand technically) straight after a guilty confessional like 'My Lover's Prayer' though: Otis is clearly still in two minds about his future conduct across 1966. A shame that a better song couldn't be found for those contradictions though: this is two choruses stapled together without an actual song to go between them.
Otis' third straight solo song 'Ton Of Joy' slips somewhere between the two, a heartfelt tribute to the security of family life treated in a similar throwaway light-hearted style to 'Hurt On Me'. The biggest development here is in the performance, with Booker T's organ work given a spacey psychedelic feel with a few effects (the MGs will do a lot more with this style on their fourth album, the under-rated 'Hip-Hug-Her' the following year) that hint at the heartfelt arrangement between the lovers taking both of them to an other-worldly plane. 'The way she loves me makes me feel like a man' Otis grins over a slow blissful groove that's as close as he ever came to feeling smug. He's got everything he ever wanted and adds that 'she's got what all men are trying to find' - so why does this song still feel slightly dark and troubled? The hint, largely unspoken in the song, is that a love that's powerful enough to bring a 'ton of joy' is powerful enough to feel mighty claustrophobic whenever it goes wrong - Otis' talk of being 'set on fire' and 'feeling the weight' shows that he's well out of his comfort zone here. Otis hints also that he's learned his lessons, that she's such a powerful force of nature 'she makes me want to learn' how to treat here right (hence perhaps the cover of 'Try A Little Tenderness', which sounds like lesson number one). Of course, he still has the audacity to plead with her not to betray him or 'break my heart!'
'You're Still My Baby' is a Chuck Willis cover firmly in the usual Redding mode: he's waving 'bye bye baby' while wishing his outgoing girl 'a lotta luck darling' and secretly hoping for a reconciliation that never comes. You can see why this song would have appealed to Otis in the context of the darkness and guilt of this game-playing album as he tries to play the innocent victim ('What did I do honey? Why? Why?!?') However, there's nothing in this song he hadn't already written better himself, with a slightly sloppy backing track that doesn't seem quite sure where it's going. Cropper tries hard to launch himself into a solo over the fade, but Otis crashes his lines by going off on one of the longest extended improvs of the record (always a sign of the 'real' Otis: 'No matter what you do, no matter how big you get, no matter what road you take, no matter what in the world you do, you're still my baby!') The horns too sweep in from nowhere, only to be themselves swept aside by a rather twee Booker T organ lick that sounds like the sort of things Wurlitzers used to play over adverts at the cinema before Al Jackson dismisses them both with a rattle of the drums. There are too many sounds competing for our attention here on a cluttered arrangement that's unusual for the directness of the MGs and the result is another slightly forgettable song from this album's second side.
'Hawg For You' is, at last, some belated fun with Redding spoofing pre-war blues songs with a simple earnest 12 bar groove undercut by silly lyrics about Otis being a 'hog'. Fitting in the sense that it's another Redding song about obsession, the narrator simply refusing to leave his girl's front door after an argument, comparing a pig 'rooting' in the mud for truffles for his own obsession with her home, it's also by far the funniest song in the Redding catalogue, played straight except for the American Indian whistles and war whoops that turn the serious business of love into a childish game of cowboys and indians. The last verse has Otis as the jetsetter, the rich star with everything at his fingertips and able to go anywhere at a moment's notice - but he's still as obsessed with his girl's front door as ever. This is clearly another message for Zelda, then, but performed more playfully than on the rest of the record. The MGs, who by now are relative specialists at this sort of thing, come up with a creditable backing track, with Cropper's laidback guitar hitting Booker T's urgency head on, while Jackson Jnr plays cat and mouse throughout, letting a bit of slack into the song onto to immediately pound away like he's hammering on the door. Inconsequential, but fun.
After largely coasting across the second half of the album, the album finally gets back into gear for the finale 'Love Have Mercy', a collaboration between two of Otis' close friends Isaac Hayes and David Porter. That's Hayes himself playing the rockabilly piano while Booker T plays the simpler organ lines, behind a lyric so close to the traditional Otis style it seems likely the two friends wrote it with him in mind. Otis is feeling crushed by the weight of love, asking God for 'mercy' as girls gang up to tear his heart in two. Otis shyly tells us about all 'the kisses I stole' and worries over having to 'reap what I sow' and overall sounds as if he's beginning to regret his behaviour, this song's improvised fadeout tellingly ending 'Sorry about that!' over and over as if Otis is doing penance. By the end of the song he's no longer even a hawg but a 'duck', so unfeeling that all these new experiences and 'broken hearts' aren't even noticed anymore, like water off his back. However the chirpy backing keeps breaking out into new exciting places: sunny riffs that come out of nowhere, a funky instrumental groove, a pinging guitar riff that comes and goes, a driving horn part and a slower more reflective section. The musical equivalent of a box full of compartments, this song is so full of goodies that Otis' curiosity keeps getting the better of him as he tries hard to put the brakes on but ends up exploring them all, pleading the whole time for 'mercy' for his predicament to stop. A clever song that could have only been written by people who knew him well, it doesn't quite have the class of 'Lover's 'Prayer' or 'Try A Little Tenderness', but it's a good summary of the album's themes with Otis as both hapless victim and curious explorer, both desperate to see and desperate not to see everything that life has to offer him. Otis struggles a little on a track that demands him to set up various bit of the songs and then back away - he's better when he can build from layer to layer rather than passing between them as here - but it's another strong meeting between singer, band and writers, with everyone on the same page.
Overall, then, 'Dictionary Of Soul' is a funny old album. All the filler - two tracks from the first side, a whopping four from the second side - makes it a less immediately likeable album than most of its predecessors and the overall effect is of a performer whose reached a bit of a dead-end, tried of what he's been in the past but not sure confident about what he should be instead. However the record also has several clear peaks matched only by 'Otis Blue' and the best of the material recorded in the final few weeks of his life and released posthumously, tracks like 'Sad Song' 'Lover's Prayer' Tenderness' and to some extent 'I'm Sick Y'all' and 'Love Have Mercy' where Redding sounds so utterly in control and up for anything that it seems hard to equate him with the same writer/performer. There's also an impressive consistency of mood if not quality across this album, with the debates about the security of married life and the fun of bachelorhood spread out across pretty much every track on this album which makes 'Dictionary', neatly, the Otis album that probably hangs together best, with every 'entry' part of the same 'book'. The result is a mixed album, great in some ways and ghastly in others that may well be the most inconsistent of Otis' career but with so many great moments you can still overlook the lesser moments. More pocket dictionary than epic encyclopaedia in the context of Otis' career, then, but 'ou-ni', this record hurts so good and 'ou we ni', the more you play it the more it's getting gooder by the minute. Come to it with a little tenderness and mercy for its flaws and there's enough here in the 'Dictionary' to keep you looking things up for a long time to come.