Every king needs a queen, and the producers wanted to show that Otis Redding was a better king than Marvin Gaye. With “King & Queen,” Stax married the territories of Redding with Carla Thomas, and marched straight for Motown.
King & Queen shortcuts:
If you’re hoping for another quintessential Stax soul album filled with original Otis Redding originals like in “Dictionary of Soul,” this ain’t it. “King & Queen” is a PR album meant to show off the diverse, collaborative talents of Redding and Thomas. It’s filled with everyone else’s hits and was backed up with perhaps his biggest tour ever. Overall the album is tangible, entertaining, and sensuous. You don’t get “confessional” Otis in this album, but you get “entertaining” Otis, and that’s incredible.
If I’m getting my timeline right, it was during the end of – or just after – “King & Queen” tour where Otis stopped off and shook up the world at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival before taking a rest up the coast in Sausalito to write a little jingle about the dock he was sitting on.
My liege. If I may:
- Released: March 16, 1967
- Where Recorded: Stax Records. Memphis, TN
- Record Labels: Stax / 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: #36 on Billboard Top LPs. #5 on Billboard R&B.
- Notable Musicians (to me) Included: Donald “Duck” Dunn, Isaac “Shaft” Hayes, Steve Cropper
- Notable Reviews: AllMusic: 4.5/5 stars. Rolling Stone: NA. The Rolling Stone Album Guide: NA. The Village Voice: A-
- Top Single: “Tramp”, Billboard R&B #2, Hot 100 #26. “Knock on Wood”, Billboard R&B #8, Hot 100 #29. “Lovey Dovey”, Billboard R&B #21, Hot 100 #60.
- “Knock on Wood” : Written by Steve Cropper & Eddie Floyd
- “Let Me Be Good to You”: Written by Isaac Hayes, David Porter, and Carl Wells
- “Tramp” : Written by Lowell Fulson and Jimmy McCraklin
- “Tell It Like It Is” : Written by George Davis and Lee Diamond
- “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby” : Written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter
- “Lovey Dovey” : Written by Ahmet Ertegun & Eddie “Memphis” Curtis
- “New Year’s Resolution” : Written by Randle Catron, Will Dean “Deanie” Parker, and Mary Frieson
- “It Takes Two”: Written by Sylvia Moy, William “Mickey” Stevenson
- “Are You Lonely for me, Baby?” : Written by Bert Berns
- “Bring It On Home to Me” : Written by Sam Cooke
- “Hawg for You” : Written by Avertis Isbell and Otis Redding
Each Song (to me)
“Knock on Wood”
Outside of when Cropper started off the posthumous “Dock of the Bay” with “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” “Knock On Wood” is the best intro song to an Otis Redding studio album. They sped up the Eddie Floyd original, let Otis and Carla’s differing styles play off each other in dramatic “opposites attract” fashion, pulled the string, and let it all hang out.
“Let Me Be Good to You”
Neither Otis or Cropper had a writing credit on this, but it’s a Stax original. “Let Me Be Good to You,” is smokey jazz with a string-of-pearls piano & beatnik wood block in the As and the Memphis Horns in the Bs before it all comes together in the chorus.
For budding stars looking to remake a classic that has unfulfilled potential, this would be the song to go with. Stax did it right. This song deserves more general public adoration.
Stax played “Tramp” on this one, not only in the song but in their choice to go with it. According to Wikipedia’s sources, this song was but a few months out in the wild from a left coast blues label – Kent Records – before Otis & Carla recorded and ran with it. I’m sure Kent got paid, but Otis & Carla got the noterity for it.
“(Tramp, Otis, you just a tramp)
that’s all right, that’s all right.”
“Tell It Like It Is”
Fast, then slow. Fast, then slow. The tempo to “King & Queen,” to this point will keep you on your toes. With “Tell It Like It Is,” Stax took an Aaron Neville top-ten hit and reworked it from a plea of one watching two silhouettes on the shade to being the two creating those images by candlelight.
While the result didn’t net as much commercial success as Neville’s did, Otis & Carla’s intimate cover of “Tell It Like It Is” became a cornerstone to the album, consummating their work.
“When Something Is Wrong with My Baby”
Another great Stax ballad by producers Isaac Hayes & David Porter. It was written for Otis & Carla to sing in front of many, many people many, many times. I can see them in the spotlights, held close together, with cameras panned close to get their smiling faces.
A Staxed up cover of a 1950s R&B standard to round out the album side. It’s pure Stax grit, grime, and groove.
“I get a high when you kiss me and I’m on the ceiling.”
“New Year’s Resolution”
The format of this one is very similar to “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby.” On more than one occasion I ‘ve had to look at the track listing to see which one was being played. They really do sound like two parts of a song that should be played together easily in a medley.
Not a complaint. I think they go great together. Just trust your music player. The metadata isn’t wrong. They are two different songs. Just grab your partner and sway slowly. Everything will be alright. I promise. Trust me.
“It Takes Two”
Speaking of Marvin Gaye, Stax when right for the crown with this cover of the Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston crossover classic.
Otis & Carla’s version strips out the Motown shine – polished vocals, strings, and tambourine – and lets the duo sing to each other, not the audience. Less Copa Cabana, more Memphis.
Man, to go back in time and see Otis & Carla sing these.
“Are You Lonely for Me, Baby?”
These might be my favorite Stax songs, the ones where they don’t rush. They take their time and go with a slow groove, allowing for the lust to hold on a little while longer. This song reminds me that the first to finishes is seldom the winner.
Hat Tip to Bert Berns and Shout records for writing this aphrodisiac. Thank you.
“Bring It On Home to Me”
No. If you’re going to turn a Sam Cooke classic into a duet, you don’t pick from his most iconic selections. This peak only has room for one climber.
I know, I’m Monday Morning quarterbacking 50 years later. And, I really do like Otis & Carla’s version. And I know the version was recorded to let people know what to expect when heading out to see them live. But, it’s “Bring It On Home to Me.” It’s the top of Mount Sam. Especially when you hear Sam cut it Live at the Harlem Square Club.
I’ll shut up. Enjoy Otis & Carla’s. It’s great, too.
“Ooh Carla, Ooh Otis”
It’s the answer to the question, “Is there a song Otis Redding gets a writing credit for in ‘King and Queen?'” Another great high-octane groove to end the album. You’ll feel it first, shake your hips second, and hear the third. You’ll love all of it.
You can’t go into, “King & Queen” only expecting to hear king Otis address his kingdom. You’ll be let down. But if you go into hoping to be entertained, you’ll enjoy the shit out of this album. “King & Queen” will make you wish that someone got footage of the duo performing these songs, or any songs, live. And if you’re the one who has footage, be kind to the rest of us and share it.
And that’s it for the studio albums he recorded.
The rest are songs from other sessions or incomplete tracks that Stax finished and released over the next few years. God, I feel like I finished a journey after reviewing that album. I mean, there are the live albums and relevant compilations to go through, but otherwise, I’m through all he had. I feel a bit melancholic. His whole studio career comes down to under 3 hours of music.
Time. Sweet time. So much wasted. So little available.
Go enjoy the albums, again and again.
What do you think of “King & Queen”?
- My nearly accurate Otis Redding Discography
- Album liner notes and oldies radio