MUSIC

OTIS REDDING: THE SAINT OF SOUL
By Neal Alpert


During his lifetime, he was often called the "King of Soul." After his death, he became the Saint of Soul. No matter what he’s called, though, Otis Redding has left behind music that is immortal. In the 1960s, Redding created a sound, a feeling and a vibe that touched every soul performer who came after him, from Al Green and Robert Cray, to Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. As Hollywood gears up for a major biopic about the singer’s life, Gadfly Online takes a look at four essential albums Redding left behind, albums that no lover of music will not want to be without. To listen to any of them is to become a fan for life.

Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul (1965): From the opening bars of "Ole Man Trouble" to the rousing horns blaring on "Shake" to the all time classic romance of "I’ve Been Loving You Too Long," Otis Blue is the shining example, the pinnacle of soul music. Although it is packed full of soul, Otis Blue is fueled by a rock ‘n’ roll passion, and it crackles with an energy that underscores even the most tender moments. For this must-have album, Redding penned the classic "Respect," which is more of a stomping, rollicking number in his hands than in Aretha Franklin’s. Although Franklin would claim the song as her own by 1967, there is no denying the energy and dynamics of the song in the hands of the composer. Although every track on the album is a gem, the standout number would have to be "I’ve Been Loving You Too Long." This song was tailor-made to fit the Stax sound, as the house horns caress Redding’s plaintive cry, building up an emotional intensity that words simply cannot do justice to. "Shake," originally by Sam Cooke, is the perfect slice of dance music, showcasing the Stax rhythm section of Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn on guitar and bass and Al Jackson, Jr. on drums. The high energy is also quite evident on Redding’s version of the Rolling Stones’ "Satisfaction," with a performance so perfect, in fact, that a rumor persisted for years that Redding was actually the song’s true composer. The album closes with a cover of Cooke’s "A Change is Gonna Come." The song, which is ostensibly about a love affair that is coming to an end, is done in grand, dynamic style. In Redding’s hands, the lyrics and title seem like the soul music answer to Dylan’s "The Times They Are A-Changin’." With such powerful numbers, Otis Blue is a timeless album, every song a perfect fit in the cycle. Soul albums simply do not get any better than this.

Complete and Unbelievable...The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul (1966): Here’s an album that would be worth owning for the cover alone: a picture of Otis dressed in an academic ensemble (complete with mortar board), standing next to a giant book that bears the album’s title. The humorous packaging, however, belies what is another classic album, this one featuring Redding’s powerful take on songs like "Tennessee Waltz," "My Lover’s Prayer," the Beatles’ "Day Tripper" and the song that Redding closed his set with at the Monterey Pop Festival, "Try A Little Tenderness." The album features a little more diversity of material than Otis Blue, but the powerful singing, crisp, tasteful Stax horns and tight rhythm section of Cropper, Dunn and Jackson all give the same special stamp to the material. When Otis sings "Oh, she may be wary/ and young girls, they do get wary/ wearing that same old shaggy dress..." in "Try a Little Tenderness," he sounds caught up in the passion of relating a story, and his voice gets the listener caught up as well. In classic style, the song slowly, yet steadily, builds up to an energetic, rhythmic climax, complete with crashing drum fills, screaming horns and Redding’s incomparable shouts. Redding has a little fun on songs like "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)," chanting out little grunts that let the listener know it’s not quite as sad as the title suggests. The horns, as always, punctuate the melodies, especially on this song and on "Day Tripper." Once again, Redding has produced an album packed with music that completely absorbs, sending the listener into a soul trance that doesn’t let up until "Love Have Mercy" finally comes to an end. That’s the cue to hit "play" again.

Live In Europe (1967): The final album that Redding released while he was still alive and able to enjoy the success, this live album documents the Otis Redding Concert Experience. While there were other soul performers on the Stax European tour, no one could cast a spell on the crowd like Redding could. Live in Europe includes a double time, screaming version of "Respect," a faithful, powerful reading of "I’ve Been Loving You Too Long," the absolutely breathtaking "These Arms of Mine" and the irresistible "Try A Little Tenderness," along with several other songs. The best live albums always manage to illustrate the magic that is at work when a performer is able to feed off the love and energy of his audience, transforming studio gems into living, breathing surges of emotional energy. Live in Europe definitely shows us just why Redding made such a reputation as an incomparable live performer. In addition to his singing, Redding gets to interact, between numbers, with the audience in a tone that shows just how much he truly is enjoying himself. His live performances, which electrified "the love crowd" at the Monterey Pop Festival (and introduced Redding to the white music audience) that same year, might have had an even larger impact in Europe, where the audiences greeted the soul man with an almost religious fervor. The warmth, energy, passion and showmanship are all present and accounted for here, and Live in Europe simply dares the listener not to get up and shake it.

Remember Me (1992): This collection, which was released in 1992, contains singles, lost tracks and rarities. Standouts include "Trick Or Treat," a heavy soul-rock number written by Isaac Hayes. The song is a dynamic, surging rocker featuring heavy horns and the usual superb rhythm section and indicates a direction Redding might have taken his music in if he’d had the chance. Another wonderful track is the funky treatment of Sam Cooke’s "Cupid," which has a punchy, raw, shaking quality, thanks to Redding and the Stax crew. These songs, along with "There Goes My Baby," an alternate take of "Respect," "I’ve Got Dreams To Remember" and an early take of "Try A Little Tenderness," would be reason enough to own this album. However, as if any further reason were needed, no Redding collection would be complete without "Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay," the song he recorded just a week before he died. Co-written with Steve Cropper, "Dock of the Bay" shows Redding’s mastery of infusing a soul feel to material not fitting that particular label. His abilities as a composer, arranger, singer and performer all coalesce on this track, as they do on nearly every track on these four albums. To just read about Redding’s music, though, is akin to trying to describe the beauty of the Grand Canyon to a sightless man. The proof is in the pudding, and these four CDs are essential listening to true lovers of classic soul music.