Reviewed on this page:
Pain In My Heart - Otis Blue - The Otis Redding Dictionary Of Soul - Live In Europe - The Dock Of The Bay -
The Immortal Otis Redding - In Person At The Whisky A Go Go - Love Man - Remember Me
Otis Redding was the biggest star of the influential Stax/Volt
label, which was based in Memphis, Tennessee, and had several other
soul hitmakers on its roster including Sam and Dave, Carla & Rufus
Thomas. The house band, Booker T. & The MGs, was the best-known R&B
instrumental band of the period. Redding, who died in a 1967 plane
crash that also took the lives of the Bar-Kays, Stax's second-string backing band, was an impassioned vocalist who usually sang
agonizing songs of tortured love, but could also belt out uptempo
rockers ("Shake") and whose best-known tune is "(Sittin' On) The
Dock Of The Bay," a song of gentle despair. Together with Aretha Franklin (Redding wrote her huge hit
"Respect"), he was instrumental in "crossing over" soul music to
white audiences. (DBW)
We should point out that Otis wrote much of his material, sometimes in collaboration with Steve Cropper (e.g., "The Dock Of The Bay"), although his records always included a few covers. We're moving as quickly as possible to snap up the recent "Atlantic/Atco Remasters Series," which includes all of Otis' original studio and live records. (JA)
Lineup (Booker T. and The MG's): Steve Cropper (guitar); Donald "Duck" Dunn (bass); Al Jackson, Jr. (drums); Booker T. Jones (keyboards).
Jones was frequently augmented or replaced by Isaac Hayes (keyboards). Most tracks also feature the Memphis Horns, a.k.a. The Mar-Keys: Joe Arnold (tenor sax); Wayne Jackson (trumpet); Andrew Love (tenor sax); Floyd Newman (baritone sax); and/or several other horn players. (JA)
Pain In My Heart (1963)
Redding was still learning how to write songs, and there are a lot
of uninteresting covers ("Lucille," "Louie Louie") along with a
couple of fine originals ("That's What My Heart Needs," title
Sings Soul Ballads (1964)
At this point Redding was developing so fast as a songwriter and a
performer that the late 1964 songs on the album ("Mr. Pitiful,"
"That's How Strong My Love Is") are so much better than the earlier
songs ("Come To Me") they hardly seem to belong on the same album.
Otis Blue (1965)
A vehicle for Otis' self-penned, breakthrough Top 40 single "I've Been Loving You Too Long" - probably his best 12/8 ballad - this was cut in July, 1965. As usual, most of the record is covers. There's Motown (a by-the-book "My Girl"); B. B. King (a really hard-edged "Rock Me Baby" with a rare Steve Cropper solo, and a good one); the Rolling Stones ("Satisfaction," the album's third single); and especially Sam Cooke (three tunes, including "Shake," the fourth and least successful single although it did become a concert staple, and "Wonderful World," with those famous "don't know much about..." verses).
But there are two more originals, and they're superb: "Ole Man Trouble," later re-released on Dock Of The Bay, and "Respect," a minor hit for Otis but a huge one for Aretha Franklin two years later. Redding's first mature, solidly enjoyable album, it's a must-have for fans. Isaac Hayes joins the regular Stax-Volt band here. (JA)
The Soul Album (1966)
A couple of covers here, including Cooke's "Chain Gang" and the classic blues "Nobody Knows You (When You're Down And Out)," later covered by the Dominoes. (JA)
The Otis Redding Dictionary Of Soul (1966)
Like the preceding album and unlike Dock Of The Bay, this is a coherent batch of songs released within weeks of the economical, one-month recording sessions (the only exception is the slightly older A-side "My Lover's Prayer," a classic 3/4 ballad). It's solid from start to finish, with both Otis and the MG's being in good form and the singles being memorable ("Try A Little Tenderness" and "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)"). Still, though, it's not quite up to the standard of Otis Blue. Strangest moment: an almost unrecognizable cover of the Beatles' "Day Tripper," with the horn section in good form. In addition to the usual MG's, future soul star Isaac Hayes is featured on keyboards; he contributes a clever, ass-bumpin' dance number as well ("Love Have Mercy"). The liner notes feature hysterical, sexually gravid "definitions" of Otis' famous soulful mutterings. (JA)
King And Queen (1967)
With Carla Thomas. The only cut from this album I know is "Tramp,"
which has been sampled by both Salt-N-Pepa and Prince and is a fun song in its own right. (DBW)
And "Tramp" is recycled on Dock Of The Bay. Apparently there's also a cover here of Eddie Floyd's "Knock On Wood," one of Stax-Volt's biggest hits apart from Otis'. (JA)
Live In Europe (1967)
A pretty formulaic live album recorded with the MG's and Mar-Keys - a sampling of their own set was put out on a separate live record at the same time. There's a lot of familiar, but generally well-performed stuff like "Day Tripper," "Satisfaction," "Try A Little Tenderness," and of course "Respect." But there are a few less-frequently recorded numbers like Redding's own "These Arms Of Mine" and an excellent "Can't Turn You Loose," and tributes to contemporary soul singers like Smokey Robinson ("My Girl").
And Otis entertainingly indulges the audience with call-and-response on "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" and Sam Cooke's "Shake" (one of the more energetic tracks). The down side is a couple of ragged vocals and halting song-endings. And then there's the ambience: the acoustics sound cold and distant, the MC is a twerp, and the audience seems to be a bunch of teenagers expecting to hear a black Elvis. Even though this was the only major tour featuring both Otis and the MG's, Whisky A Go Go is a better listen overall. (JA)
Monterey International Pop Festival (recorded
1967, released 1970)
The performances here are very good, but you only get half an album
for your money (the other side is Jimi
Hendrix's performance, best heard in full on the Live At
Monterey CD). (DBW)
Numbers like "Try A Little Tenderness" actually sound better here, with the MG's rocking harder than they usually did in the studio. But this is true of Otis' live stuff in general, so the two full-length live LP's are both better buys. (JA)
The Dock Of The Bay (1968)
- Rushed out after his death, there are plenty of excellent songs
(title song, "Open The Door," "Let Me Come On Home") that show many
facets of his talent, which clearly was still broadening up until
the day he died. I don't know if this is his best or most
representative recording, but it's certainly not a bad place to
- This is a solid, high-energy collection of tracks - several recycled from earlier records ("Tramp"; "Ole Man Trouble") and others dug up from deep within the out-take vault - that wonderfully demonstrates Redding's fantastic emotive power and Stax-Volt's crisp, no-bullshit instrumental sound. Cropper's guitar work is brilliantly understated throughout. The recycled cover of "Nobody Knows You (When You're Down And Out)" stands in fascinating contrast to Derek and the Dominoes' version. (JA)
The Immortal Otis Redding (1968)
Less than four months after the first of what became many posthumous releases, Cropper threw together another eleven-track set of 1967 outtakes.
Incredibly, it ranks as one of Redding's best and most coherent efforts, with tight arrangments and masterful vocal performances.
There are no repeated tracks and most of the tunes are originals, often written with collaborators like Cropper, Don Covay, and Otis' wife Zelma; the only cover is Ray Charles' hard-hitting blues-gospel testimonial "A Fool For You."
There's funky, danceable R & B ("Hard To Handle," with striking a capella breaks; "You Made A Man Out Of Me"; "Nobody's Fault But Mine"), classy 12/8 balladry ("I've Got Dreams To Remember," with female vocal harmonies; "Thousand Miles Away"; "A Waste Of Time"), respectable pop ("Think About It"), a gradually-building vocal showcase ("Amen"), and a superb, upbeat gimmick tune ("The Happy Song (Dum-Dum-De-De-De-Dum-Dum)").
Plus "Champagne And Wine" uses the mellow, breezy formula of "Dock Of The Bay."
More solid than the last record, its only weakness is the lack of audible innovation or a truly great song like "Dock Of The Bay."
Four different sides hit the R & B charts, and two ("Amen" and "Happy Song") were middling Top 40 pop hits. (JA)
In Person At The Whisky A Go Go (1968)
Recorded in L.A. in April, 1966 with Bob Dylan in the audience, this naturally is missing all of his classic 1966-1967 numbers like "Try A Little Tenderness" and "Dock Of The Bay." But it does include a call-and-response take on the Stones' "Satisfaction" that barrels through like a runaway train, and a jaw-dropping cover of James Brown's "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag."
Otherwise Redding focuses on top-notch originals like "Respect" and "Mr. Pitiful." Since the MG's and Memphis Horns were busy with studio work, he used second-string bands in most live appearances like this one. But second-string doesn't mean second-rate - they're flawlessly rehearsed, guitarist James Young captures Cropper's sound perfectly, and the energy level is nearly explosive. With the arrangements being the same as in the studio but delivered with far more enthusiasm, this might be the best place to start with live Otis.
"Brand New Bag" was released as a modest Top 40 single. (JA)
Love Man (1969)
With Redding high on the charts and his backlog of unreleased cuts barely depleted, Cropper dug out another dozen to fill out a new album.
This time, however, none of the four singles broke the Billboard Top 40, even though three of them (title track; the slow ballad "Free Me"; "A Lover's Question") did well on the R & B charts.
Still, though, it never really scrapes bottom.
Everything was recorded in 1967, and only three cuts are covers, including an energetic take on "(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher And Higher" (a current hit for Jackie Wilson when Redding recorded it) and Clyde McPhatter's old single "A Lover's Question," done up with all the 1950's R & B trimmings.
Redding does stick with formulas; there are some more 12/8 ballads ("I'll Let Nothing Separate Us"), and as sharp as the house band sounds on numbers like "Your Feeling Is Mine," it's hard to tell the material apart.
But there are also some quirks, such as some bluesy female backing vocals on "Look At That Girl," Cropper's unusually free-wheeling (and apparently overdubbed) guitar licks on "Direct Me," and the amusingly funky title track.
There aren't a lot of high points here, but at least you get what you pay for.
The standard Stax-Volt band appears; Cropper and Tom Dowd did the mixes. (JA)
Tell The Truth (1970)
Apparently all of this material was recorded in 1967, and considering that Stax waited three years to release it, it's remarkably strong. Only three tunes are covers, including another persuasively rendered James Brown tune ("Out Of Sight") and an oddly Latin-sounding take on Little Richard's "Slippin' And Slidin'." The new stuff is all finished and well-performed, but a lot of it sounds overfamiliar; there's the same Stax-Volt instrumentation, chord progressions, and chugging rhythm on every tune, often without that little spark of inventiveness that made Redding's classic hits so memorable.
But Redding's vocals are just as mind-blowing as ever, and without the screwups and occasional primitiveness you'll hear on Remember Me, it's actually one of his most consistent collections. (JA)
Recorded Live (1982)
My guess is that this is a new release and not just something recycled out of the other three live records. (JA)
Remember Me (1992)
Now this is a disk to look out for. A quarter century after Otis' death, Stax somehow managed to dig out 22 "new" unreleased takes from the Redding vault - and they're consistently good. Only about 1/3 are alternate versions of familiar tunes, and some of the new numbers are absolute gems.
Unlike the original set of four posthumous studio albums, this one is actually dominated by pre-1967 recordings. You'll hear oddities like female backup singers, a song with a different lead guitarist than Cropper, Otis' original seagull impersonation on "Dock Of The Bay," a warp-speed remake of "Respect," and yet another Sam Cooke cover ("Cupid").
Diehard fans will drool over it, and the material is so strong that beginners might mistake it for a greatest hits - until they peruse the excellent liner notes. The major drawback is the non-chronological ordering of the tunes, which gives the proceedings no coherency at all. (JA)
Let me come on home.