Sometime last year, not long after I started following the Life Of An El Paso Woman blog, Lisa A. made a post about the 16 Albums That Changed My Life Challenge. She picked up the challenge from the But I Smile Anyway blog. I really wanted to write that post here, but I had way more than sixteen albums that I felt strongly about. The post itself didn’t want you to spend a lot of time on picking the albums, but I decided I would tweak that by taking the albums one at a time and doing posts about each one. The first of the albums I will write about is Otis Redding’s History Of Otis Redding.
I’ve mentioned several times on this blog and elsewhere that the first song that I remember hearing was Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now).” I heard it so much because my mother had the album that I’m writing about today. Looking at the track listing, I can see why I heard it so much: it was the first track on the album. So if it was played from start to finish (and I’m betting that it was), I would always hear that song first.Released in November 1967, just one month before he died in a plane crash at the age of 26, History Of Otis Redding served as a greatest hits set for the singer. Because it was released when it was, it did not include his biggest hit—”(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.” That song was released after his death and became a #1 Pop and R&B hit posthumously.
But what the album does contain are twelve soul-soaked classics of Redding at his best. That year, he had begun to broaden his audience, playing the Monterey International Pop Festival that summer, wowing the crowd. This album may have been a response to catch his new audience up with what he had been doing the previous four years. What he had been doing is building an R&B audience that first took notice of him with ballads, but then found he had a way with uptempo songs too. They also noticed that his voice, while not exactly brimming with range, was filled with his emotion.
As for the songs themselves, there are a few covers mixed in with the originals. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” was co-written by Redding and Jerry Butler, the former lead singer of the Impressions. It may well be his signature ballad. “Try A Little Tenderness” was re-worked to fit a soul style from an old song written back in the 1930s and had been made famous by Bing Crosby. “These Arms Of Mine” was Redding’s first R&B hit, and while it seemed pretty simple at the time, the bigger, better known ballads he would become famous for built off that template. “Pain In My Heart” is a re-working of Irma Thomas’ “Ruler Of My Heart,” written by the late great Allen Toussaint under the pseudonym Naomi Neville. Both “My Lover’s Prayer” and “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” are Redding originals (the latter co-written by the great guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T. & The MG’s) that are two more of Redding’s classics.
Starting with “Respect” on the second half of the album, things begin to pick up. “Respect” is more famous for Aretha Franklin’s version, a version so iconic that even Redding admitted that Franklin stole the song from him. “Satisfaction” is a cover of the Rolling Stones hit, done in the Redding style. “Mr. Pitiful” was a song Redding wrote because he was told that his ballads made him sound so pitiful, and “Security” is one of Redding’s early fast songs, given some bounce by Booker T. & The MG’s and the Memphis Horns. “I Can’t Turn You Loose” is a song that any fan of The Blues Brothers should at least know the music to, if not the lyrics. It is my favorite uptempo song of his. The album closes with a remake of Sam Cooke’s “Shake”; Cooke was an idol of Redding’s, and he also would cover Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” during his career.
This album is no longer in print, having been superseded by several Redding anthologies and collections. I personally had three different ones, and those may now be out of print as well. The three-disc Pure Southern Soul: Otis Redding gives a good overview of Redding’s brief career, including many songs he had recorded, but weren’t released before his death. Given the response to “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay,” one can only imagine where Redding’s career may have been headed had he not perished months before the song became a hit. The song didn’t sound much like the material Redding had been doing prior to that, so maybe he was looking in new directions with his music. The soul music he helped to popularize would only remain in vogue for a few more years, as funk and disco began to take hold in the 1970s.
I think my mother’s constant playing of this album helped me appreciate the many great soul singers, and artists who were performing at the time of these recordings. With greats like Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, David Ruffin (of the Temptations), Joe Tex and so many others, it would be difficult to stand out. Yet Otis Redding did that, and became for me, the first singer I truly appreciated in learning about R&B and soul music.