Otis Redding Reviews

My reviews of albums released by Otis Redding:

1964: Pain in My Heart (???)

I have yet to hear Otis Redding’s debut album. Read my reviews of albums released in 1964.

Otis Redding albums from 1965:

The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads (8/10)

Can I tell you how great it is to listen to a Stax record right after a Motown record? It’s pretty damn great. And I must admit that there is a nonzero chance that listening to The Temptations prior to listening to Otis made me like this record even more than I would have normally.

Full disclosure: Otis Redding is my favourite male soul singer and probably my favourite soul singer. But it’s not just his voice, it’s also his aesthetic, which has as much to do with Booker T and the MGs and him, to the best of my knowledge.

Yeah, I’m not sure the material is all here on this album: I don’t know the originals of the covers but I’ve definitely read criticisms that Otis’ versions are not distinct enough. If I was more familiar with the covers maybe I’d be more critical. And certainly not all of the originals are up to the standard of some of his contemporaries, as songs. He wasn’t the songwriter that Sam Cooke was or that Smokey Robinson is, or whomever you want to pick.

But most of my criticisms fade away when I hear him and the band. This is how I want ’60s soul to sound: a great voice with some gravel and character (and maybe even fragility) with a lean backing and with a judicious use of horns – horns which sound much more like they belong on a blues record than a pop record. It’s the sound of Otis’ voice and the band that wins me over, even when I don’t love the song. This is one of those records that I would play for someone who was wondering why some people think Southern Soul is preferable to the northern stuff, you can just feel the soul in this record, which is usually polished out in those northern recordings.

PS: Neat piece of pseudo trivia: this may or may not have been Isaac Hayes’ first recorded performance (on piano) though there is debate about it.

Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul (7/10)

If the previous album lacked for name material, Otis certainly fixed that problem on this record: he covers some really big tracks including two big Sam Cooke hits (and another Cooke song), “My Girl” and “Satisfaction”. And to it, he adds his growing ability as a songwriter, particularly with the original (and inferior) version of “Respect”. (This is coming from a big Otis fan…) The material here might be the strongest of his career.

But the problem with tackling really big songs is that you are measured up against the original or definitive versions. Otis’ version of “Satisfaction” is quite good. But his versions of “A Change is Gonna Come” (retitled “Change Gonna Come”), though good, is not definitely better than than the original. On a personal level, I like it more, but does it make me forget the original? And the same is true with “Wonderful World”, albeit even more so. That’s a tailor-made Sam Cooke song and it feels a little bit out of Otis’ wheelhouse. Is this version of “My Girl” convincing any fan of the original to take up its cause? I doubt it. Though I haven’t heard Solomon Burke’s original version of “Down in the Valley” but I do wonder about about that one too. (As I said before, his originals are stronger than they were on previous records, though.)

I don’t quibble with the aesthetic at all. I’d much rather listen to this stuff than Motown or Chicago soul. But the choices in songs lead to easy comparisons between these versions and their far more famous originals. When Otis was taking on deeper cuts, it was much harder for the casual fan to have any idea of the similarities or differences. But here, it’s easy. I like this stripped down version of “My Girl” but I suspect most people do not. And having heard a few of these tracks (both originals and covers) performed live, I also know that Otis was a more dynamic performer on stage. Not that he isn’t here, but that he does a better job selling these versions in concert. That’s because of the nature of these recordings – it’s nearly all on him.

And I like that but, I think, in this case, trying to do southern soul versions of some big songs from very polished soul markets, does a slight disservice to what makes this version of the genre the best one.

Read my reviews of music from 1965.

Albums released by Otis Redding in 1966:

The Soul Album (8/10)

As the kids say, I’m an Otis stan. (Oh science, I almost wrote “stan” like an old person, with quotes.) So I’m pretty much going to like everything he did.

But I think this record is an improvement on Otis Blue in part because he’s not taking on as many classic songs. And things get off to a good start with “Just One More Day,” one of his very best songs. (Though, honestly, I can’t really imagine someone else doing this song.) He still tackles some famous materiel – “Chain Gang,” “Nobody Knows You” – and some other songs first done by others which I don’t know as well. But his different takes on these are less jarring than they were on Otis Blue in part because the songs are just less iconic. (And, honestly, his version of “Chain Gang” is a lot less gimmicky than Cooke’s.) There’s not a lot of original material here but that’s honestly not really why anyone’s listening to Otis Redding (as far as I know). And I guess that’s why I don’t really care that the material isn’t “first rate” in the way it is on Otis Blue.

The reason people listen is the man’s the voice and aesthetic. And both are in fine form here. Few others have been able to wring so much emotion out of words that might otherwise seem completely trite (or innocuous). The MGs know when to play and when not to and the horn arrangements on this record are some of the best he’s had.

So, hot take: I like this more than Otis Blue, which is often considered his best album, and Complete & Unbelievable, which is often considered his second best. Maybe that’s just the mood I’m in. Maybe I need to listen to all his albums in a row and I’d change my mind. But, right now, this one is doing it for me.

Complete & UnbelievableThe Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul (8/10)

Otis is my favourite soul singer but I find him more restrained in the studio than live and generally prefer his live music. (Or maybe it’s just these mixes…)

His final solo album is a strong set of covers and originals with an excellent backing band. I prefer Otis Blue in terms of content, but this is still a pretty good idea of what he did, and how well he did it.

“Complete” it is not (the original record isn’t quite 25 minutes long). Nor is it some kind of encyclopedic overview of the genre. But it’s good stuff.

Read my reviews of 1966 albums.

Otis Redding albums from 1967:

King & Queen (???) with Carla Thomas

I have never heard his duet album.

Live in Europe (???)

I haven’t listened to this live album. Read my reviews of albums released in 1967.

Otis Redding died in December of 1967.

Posthumous Otis Redding albums released in 1968:

The Dock of the Bay (???)

Though it contains his most famous song (or second most famous, if you include “Respect”), I understand this is basically a compilation.

The Immortal Otis Redding (???)

This one apparently does contain unreleased material.

In Person at the Whisky a Go Go (9/10)

In 2009 I wrote this lazy “review”:

It’s pretty much everything I was hoping for. The only annoying thing is how short it is. Otherwise, this is the kind of soul I like. No polish.

Read my reviews of music from 1968.

1969: Love Man (???/10)

Another posthumous record I haven’t listened to. Read my reviews of 1969 albums.

1970: Tell the Truth (???/10)

Read my reviews of albums released in 1970.