Its full name is “Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul.” That’s about the only thing that’s wrong with this otherwise soul-quenching album.
“Dictionary of Soul” starts & stays fast yet gives you just a bit of a break when you need before it picks you back up and takes you home. With 7 originals and timeless covers spanning the eras, Otis Redding made his 5th studio album, notably his last solo studio album, perhaps his strongest offering.
“Wait. His last solo studio album? But there are still a few left to go through.”
Quite true, but the last album he records before his death is a duet album, “King & Queen,” with Carla Thomas. The rest are songs cobbled together after his death. Trust me, I wish there was more to write, review, and most importantly, hear.
Otis’ life gives testament to the idea that you should do what you can while you can before you can’t anymore, because those days are a’coming, too.
Let’s begin while we still can:
- Released: October 15, 1966
- Where Recorded: Stax Records. Memphis, TN
- Record Labels: Volt (Stax) / Alco (Atlantic) / Rhino (current. By Time / Warner – manufactured and marketed)
- Produced by: Booker T. & the MG’s, Jim Stewart, Isaac Hayes (pre-Shaft), David Porter
- Album Peak Chart: #73 on Billboard Pop. #5 on Billboard R&B.
- Notable Musicians (to me) Included: Donald “Duck” Dunn, Isaac “Shaft” Hayes, Steve Cropper
- Notable Reviews: AllMusic: 5/5 stars. Rolling Stone: 4/5. The Rolling Stone Album Guide: 5/5, BBC – positive and awesome.
- Top Single: “Try A Little Tenderness”, Billboard R&B #4, Pop chart #25. “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)”, Billboard R&B #12, Pop chart #29.
- “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” : Written by Steve Cropper & Otis Redding
- “I’m Sick Y’all”: Written by Steve Cropper, David Porter, and Otis Redding
- “Tennessee Waltz” : Written by Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart
- “Sweet Lorene” : Written by Isaac Hayes, Alvertis Isbell, and Otis Redding
- “Try a Little Tenderness” : Written by Jimmy Campbell, Reginald Connelly, Harry M. Woods
- “Day Tripper” : Written by Lennon & McCartney
- “My Lover’s Prayer” : Written by Otis Redding
- “She Put the Hurt on Me”: Written by Otis Redding
- “Ton of Joy” : Written by Otis Redding
- “You’re Still My Baby” : Written by Chuck Willis
- “Hawg for You” : Written by Otis Redding
- “Love Have Mercy” : Written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter
Each Song (to me)
“Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)”
According to Wikipedia’s sources, “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa” (there are 5 “Fa”‘s in that title) is about Otis’ humming habit and is inspired by the theme song to the classic gameshow “The $64,000 Question.” Those sources included the book “Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records.” I’ll go with it.
Finally, Otis started a Stax soul album with something other than a slow ballad. This is a good table setter and will get into your head. You’ll end up developing Otis’ humming habit for periods of time.
And, welcome Memphis Horns.
“I’m Sick Y’all”
Back-to-back Cropper & Redding jams. Another strong #2 song on an Otis Album. I first heard “I’m Sick Y’all,” in 2011 on one of the later compilation albums, back when I was dumber. In addition to “Dictionary of Soul,”, “I’m Sick Y’all” was also the B-side to Redding’s single, “Try a Little Tenderness.”
It seems like everyone born before 1925 has covered “Tennessee Waltz” at least once. Otis’ version takes a little while for me to get into because I love Sam Cooke’s cover of this song so, so much. It actually crept into my Books of Blues in many-more-than-one place. I actually made it a theme. It reminds me of the road trips through Tennessee – I-65 through I-24 to I-75 – from Chicago to Ft. Myers and back with the OldOld Man. It was the first Sam Cooke song I got him to sing along to. Go figure it took a Tin Pan Alley standard for him to hum along, but so things go.
Otis Redding’s version of “Tennessee Waltz” is a good version, a great version, and if you never heard another version of this song, you would be deeply satisfied. It’s not him, it’s me. Personally, I still listen for Cooke’s shuffle beat, brush drums, and ladder-climbing vocals building me up into a crescendo. Here, take a listen to Sam Cooke doing “Tennessee Waltz” live:
Yeah. Exactly. Damn.
It’s not a knock on Otis’s take. It, too, is incredible. And, Hell, he also sung:
“That cotton-pickin’ Tennessee Waltz.”
So there’s that.
It’s just taste and preference, and Sam’s song stuck with me that way.
It’s pretty cool to come along a song whose songwriting credits are shared by Otis Redding and “Shaft.” It’s a solid Stax soul grit, grime, and groove song. Not too high, not too low, and all about feeling the moment.
Those of you who love singles will note that “Sweet Lorene” was the B-side to the Volt issued single of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”
“Try A Little Tenderness”
When you go to do a song that’s been covered by seemingly every entertainer before you, you have to put your fresh spin on it. That’s exactly what Otis & Stax did to this take of “Try a Little Tenderness.” Rearranged by Isaac Hayes, this version builds up through the song into a dizzying eye-clinching, ecstasy climax that few would have dared tried back then.
The result? It’s a quintessential part of music history and further cemented Redding’s legacy.
If anyone else took a Lennon / McCartney classic, sped it up, and forgot half the words, the music world would’ve crucified them. But we’re talking about Otis Redding. He remembered what he cared to remember, grunted and gritted the rest and focused on the object of his obsession moreso than the structure or the fallout.
And girls’ panties dropped, as did probably a few guys’ boxers.
This version drips the sweat from a bedroom romp and leaves your heartbeat sprinting. Don’t be afraid to grab a cigarette and a glass of Malbec when you’re done.
“My Lover’s Prayer”
Ugh. And that groan has nothing to do with the song. He just couldn’t go two sides without starting one with a slow ballad, could he? One day, I’m going to find out why.
Don’t let my groaning get in the way of a good Otis-penned ballad. Forget me. Just remember that “My Lover’s Prayer” is Otis giving out his daily confessional, something I can hear every day.
“She Put the Hurt on Me”
Welcome to the hidden gem of the album. It’s not complicated. It doesn’t mix words. It doesn’t hide behind facades. It just gets out of bed, off the coffee table, or out of the hot tub and lets you know:
“Wait a minute
I gotta tell you about it
She give me twenty two minutes of love
I had to think about it
She give me forty minutes
I had to talk about it
She give me sixty minutes
I can’t do without it
She give me one hour of love, y’all
She give me that yeah”
“Ton of Joy”
It’s the third straight Redding-penned confessional song on the side. It’s soft & smooth like a good whiskey with subtle bits of texture throughout which enhances the overall flavor. You won’t even notice your head bobbing ever-so-little as the song builds up every-so-slightly.
“You’re Still My Baby”
Otis pulled this cover out of the Atlantic extended family. It’s a nice change-of-pace ballad, perfectly slotted to give folks a rest. If you’ve never heard it before but know Otis’ ballads, it will sound like you it before. And that’s okay, as this song is another understated, inviting confessional gem.
“Hawg for You”
From the Department of Things One Thinks About When They Own Their Own Farm, here comes a 12-bar blues penned by the King of Soul. It’s a departure from anything else heard on the album, and that hog call will catch you off-guard in a clever sort of way when you first hear it.
“They say I’m a dirty man
But I’m doin’the best I can
They say I don’t do none right
But I’m gonna make love all night, huh”
You ‘dirty, Otis. You ‘dirty.
“Love Have Mercy”
A clever high-energy filler groove from Isaac Hayes and David Porter. The bridge adds a little texture to the song so it doesn’t feel like the same thing throughout. And the march at the end…m’mmm. A great way to finish up the album.
“Dictionary of Soul” is the first Otis Redding album where it felt, lyrically, that Stax took ownership. Isaac Hayes really put in his influence. Otis Redding penned 7 of the songs on this album, the most on any of his previous solo albums.
“Dictionary of Soul” is probably Otis Redding’s best-paced album. Even the ballads had enough of a beat where it didn’t feel like you had to hold your foot up in the air an extra second before putting it back down in order to keep pace. The songs go as fast as you want them too, and they leave you feeling better than before you found them.
Quintessential Stax. You’ll need to take a shower for more than one reason when you’re done listening to “Dictionary of Soul.”
Just when they put it all together, Otis Redding never gets the chance to record another studio solo album.
What do you think of “Dictionary of Soul”?
- My occasionally accurate Otis Redding Discography
- Album liner notes and oldies radio