Otis Redding got his first Billboard R & B #1 album with his third release, “Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul”, but I don’t think that was his biggest takeaway from the effort. To me, if Otis Redding’s debut album, “Pain In My Heart,” is his first album and his second album, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, is first ‘Otis Redding’ album, then his third album, Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul, is when Otis Redding got his first soul album. It was also, easily, his strongest effort to date, not because of the blanketing of 5-star albums it received, but because it’s the first album where Otis and the Booker T. & The M.G.’s signature sensual Stax live sound can be heard throughout the entire album. It’s an album that was recorded for no other than market than its own. It’s raw, untampered, and gritty.
It’s pretty incredible, especially for an album where most all songs were cut within a 24-hour span. That includes time taken out for Booker T. & The M.G.’s to make their local gig commitments. Unbelievable. Note: “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” was already recorded as a single so they weren’t that fast. Shit, who am I kidding? Nowadays bands will spend weeks recording a song anymore.
Otis Blue does have as many originals as it does Sam Cooke covers (3), a fact that intrigues me. This album was cut 9 months after Sam Cooke passed away, but this was the second album Otis cut since Sam’s passing, the aforementioned “Soul Ballads”, and on it he had only recorded one Sam cover: “Nothing Can Change This Love.” Also on “Pain in My Heart”, he only covered “You Send Me.”
I’m intrigued to know whether the reasons to cut so many covers were out of love for Cooke’s work, homage to his passing, or just a chance to scoop in on Cooke’s audience. Or all of the above. I hope to find out more reading Jonathan Gould’s “Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life.”
There is more than one version of “Otis Blue” available nowadays.
Otis Blue: Mono vs Stereo
The album was set up to record in Stereo, as part of Stax’s relationship with Atlantic record, but Stax owner Jim Stewart was still a fan of Mono and got permission to also record “Otis Blue” in Mono.
My choice: Mono
The version from Spotify below I included below is the mono version. To me, all old 50s and early 60s soul was recorded this way and should be heard that way. (Then I went ahead and used the stereo cover on this article. I know. Shut up. :-p). I would recommend starting with the mono version because this is the version that got me to really appreciate the album. Also, I like my 60s albums in mono because that’s how they originally were released in the early part of that decade.
“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” was originally recorded in Stereo, but was remixed into Mono for the Mono release.
That said, I believe the Stereo version was initially released first – or, more likely, Stereo was sent to pop audiences and Mono was sent to soul markets. Still looking for definitive info.
There is also an “Otis Blue” available in stereo. It also sounds great. I mean, if all you have is the “Stereo” version of the album, listen to it immediately. But, if you have the choice, go Mono.
There is also the “[Collector’s Edition]” that has both Stereo & Mono copies of “Otis Blue” as well as cuts from “Live at the Whisky a Go Go,”. Skip it.
I say this as one who tried to listen to “Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul [Collector’s Edition]” straight through in one session, either while working or walking, but would burn out before getting through it all. I did this for years, and it’s a shame because it got in the way of appreciating perhaps Redding’s best offering. It was very American of me: I was determined to get through the super-sized version. Don’t even try it. Listen to a copy of “Otis Blue” Mono (or Stereo) then, later on, go check out the complete “Whisky A Go Go” sessions, probably one album at a time. You’ll thank me. Probably.
- Released: September 15, 1965
- Where Recorded: Stax Records. Memphis, TN
- Record Labels: Volt (Stax) / Alco (Atlantic) / Rhino (current. By Time / Warner – manufactured and marketed)
- Produced by: Steve Cropper, Jim Stewart, Isaac Hayes (pre-Shaft), David Porter
- Album Peak Chart: 1 on US R&B Charts. #6 on UK Charts.
- Notable Musicians (to me) Included: Donald “Duck” Dunn, Isaac “Shaft” Hayes (contested), Steve Cropper
- Notable Reviews: AllMusic: 5/5 stars. Rolling Stone: 5/5 Stars. The Rolling Stone Album Guide: 5/5 stars
- Top Single: “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” w/ “Just One More Day”, Billboard R&B #2 – Pop chart #21
- Other charting singles:
- “Respect” w/ “Ole Man Trouble”, Billboard R&B #4 – Pop Chart #35
- “Shake” w/ “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, Billboard R&B #16 – Pop chart #47
- “Satisfaction” w/ “Any Ole Way”, Billboard R&B #4 – Pop chart #31.
- “Ole Man Trouble ” : Written by Otis Redding
- “Respect”: Written by Otis Redding
- “Change Gonna Come” : Written by Same Cooke
- “Down in the Valley” : Bert Berns / Solomon Burke / Babe Chivian / Joe Martin
- “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” : Otis Redding & Jerry Butler
- “Shake ” : Written by Sam Cooke
- “My Girl”: Written by Smokey Robinson & Ronald White
- “Wonderful World” : Written by Sam Cooke, Lou Adler, Herb Alpert
- “Rock Me Baby” : Written by B.B. King
- “Satisfaction” : Written by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
- “You Don’t Miss Your Water” : Written William Bell
Each Song (to me)
“Ole Man Trouble”
This really is a great intro track to the album and were it 1965 when I first heard it, I’d have no complaints under the sun, but my first time hearing “Ole Man Trouble” was from the “Live At The Whisky A Go Go” sessions so this studio version sounded a touch slow, thin, and tight at first. I get over it. I promise.
To be fair, “Otis Blue” and The “Whisky A Go Go” sessions are both incredible.
All four songs on this album that appear on “Whisky A Go Go” complete recordings [“Ole Man Trouble”“, “Respect”, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, and “Satisfaction”] are ass-kicking. Otis was just that incredible live, and “Whisky A Go Go” complete recordings is just one of those seminal live albums in American music. That’s probably why “Otis Blue” is such an incredible album: He essentially cut it live in the studio. These four songs are essentially two similar, yet distinctly different takes great songs.
But I stand by assessment: If you’re used to these on “Whisky A Go Go”, prepare to take it down a half step when listening to “Otis Blue”. Likewise, if you get used to these on “Otis Blue”, prepare to take it up a notch when you go “Whisky A Go Go”.
Just make sure you hear both albums many, many times.
For me, it took 3 listens to adapt to the difference. Once I did, this whole album just flowed.
As for “Ole Man Trouble”, you’ll find yourself swaying into swooning when the ole man comes to stay, perhaps too long if you don’t know what’s good for you, but it’ll be the time of your life. It’s meant to be a lament, but let’s face it: some of us look for trouble.
Go ahead, get it out now:
“Hey, wait. Is this the same as the Aretha Franklin song?”
“Did Aretha Franklin write it?”
“No. Otis Redding did.”
“Are you sure? Or did you read this on the internet?”
“And on the album liners, and watched videos where Otis jokes she stole his song and he’s stealing it back.”
“Care to continue?”
The big lyrical difference between Otis Redding & Aretha Franklin’s versions of “Respect:”
Forewarning: his track is incredible, but if you’re looking for another version of a Women’s Right anthem, this ain’t it. Far from it. Otis’ take on “Respect” is very raw, very honest, and quite reminiscent of many relationships back then void of love but without divorce as a recourse:
“Do me wrong, honey, if you wanna to
You can do me wrong honey, while I’m gone
But all I’m asking
Is for a little respect when I come home, ooh, yeah now
When Aretha got ahold of “Respect,” she switched up the lyrics quite a bit, turning it into somewhat of a reply to Otis’s version. It’s poignant, spoke to millions of women, and probably made it easier to get pop music execs to approve it:
“I ain’t gonna do you wrong while you’re gone
Ain’t gonna do you wrong cause I don’t wanna
All I’m askin’
Is for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)”
Zelma Redding probably first heard this and said, “gatdamned right.”
Sorry, Big O.
“Change Gonna Come”
Awww, Sam. Why did you have to dig so often in the dirt? You could be a dirty old man doing Vegas right now. Gatdamn.
It’s hard to say anyone does a version of a Sam Cooke song better than Sam himself. If you’re going to dare take a Sam Cooke cover in a different direction, then doing by going to your strengths like Otis did here would probably be your best bet.
This a Stax version. It’s a gritty, sweaty blues-club ballad, intimate, starved & squeezed from the unconscionable civil issues of the 60s (and still today). Otis cut “Change Gonna Come” with more soul & less orchestration. Much, much less orchestration. It’ll take you to church.
“Down in the Valley”
Here’s validation as to why I’m deep-diving Otis Redding for influential research into my Books of Blues: in “Down in the Valley” he’s one again covering a song originally cut by Solomon Burke. I had no idea who Solomon Burke was before I started down this path. I just though “King” Solomon Burke songs was one of Stax songwriters. Things you learn. The more I read, the more he looks like a badass.
As for “Down in the Valley,” I’m starting to hear the Solomon Burke “sound.” It’s pretty easy to hear why Redding must have loved “The Biship of Soul”: Otis really gets to vocally go up and down the valley…
My use of “valley” just now was a subconscious slip of a description. I swear by the makers of the sheepskin by which is printed verification of my BA in Religion that this is true. I was gonna go for “register,” but I liked the mistake so much I kept it. Don’t crucify me.
…when covering Burke. His vocals are pure Southern-Baptist-preacher-on-a-Sunday-morning. Otis is simply outpouring pure, overflowing passion into sultry groove. Go ahead and hand that tithe over and thank him for setting you back on the right path. Don’t feel guilt if you try to catch some of that passion in a Ball jar to save for later when it spills over you way.
“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)”
Turn down the lights down low. Light up the candles. Grab your baby. Slow dance until that next incredible thing comes to mind. And, now relax. Let the song do the work. You’ve had a long day.
This Redding & Butler-penned ballad is not only sexual and confessional, it’s an audio full body massage. Breathe in, breathe out. Enjoy over and over again.
“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” is also perfectly placed on the album placement, It’s an uninhibited ballad, which will calm folks down so they can calmly flip the record to side two without scratching the record with the needle – once they’re finished doing incredible things.
Hey, records aren’t just a hipster thing. Back in the 1960s, folks had to think of things such as “record flipping,” and “record scratching. ” There was no computer to back things up to.
Nothing sadder than acknowledging yet another posthumous top-10 hit, this time for Sam Cooke. If you’re researching Otis and are wondering if you’ve heard this version before, it’ll pop up again as one of the signature moments from his performance at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival.
The “Otis Blue” version is pretty incredible as well.
Just when you get used to Otis covering Southern Soul icons, he goes north to Detroit. Hitsville, USA. Motown. The Temptations, backed by my favorite band of all time: The Funk Brothers. Yeah, I know, most the Temps had migrated from the deep south.
I think it takes series stones to cover “My Girl.” David Ruffin’s defining vocals, the boys’ polished dance routine, all tuned to a Smokey Robinson & Ronald White ballad. Damn. I mean, dayum. Check this out:
“My Girl” was not even out 10 months when Otis covered it, but his version literally and figuratively Stax up to The Temptations just by adding a little Memphis to it.
I’ve written and deleted the following now three times: “Here’s another song you have to be self-confident in order to cover,” but the truth is, when Otis covered Sam Cooke’s, “Wonderful World”. Sam had some success with it.
Go figure, the very #FFFFFF British group Herman’s Hermits – here’s a reminder: “I’m Hen-r-ry the Eight, I am…” – had more success with it. I hated their version each and every time it got played on oldies radio. It’s nauseating. I’m torturing myself now with it to see if it’s as bad as I remembered.
[Update:] It’s still “H. E. N-R-Y.” bad.
There’s absolutely no redeeming quality to Herman’s Hermits version, yet, they had the most popular success with it. You can’t even Watusi to this shit.
A wonderful world, indeed.
At least they were willing to claim their version as an homage to Cooke or just piggybacked off the PR of a dead musician, but that’s probably me being cynical. It would have been their record company…
Getting back on the trail.
Redding’s version didn’t get the success of Cooke or Herman’s Hermits, which shouldn’t be surprising given the times it was released. It was 1965. Be glad it’s
somewhat not like those days.
“Rock Me Baby”
I was skeptical of this cover. The original is a guitar-driven blues standard written and performed by the Beale Street Blues Boy himself. But I guess if anyone is going to do justice to a Memphis Blues staple by a Memphis Blues god, it’s going to a Memphis Soul god. In this battle of the titans, Otis kept the Strax sound but went for BB’s tempo, kept the guitar simple – no sense battling a Blues god on his ground – flanked the song with his horns, and charged with his vocals.
The result was a stunning Soul variation of a blues groove, showing Otis wasn’t just Memphis Soul or Memphis Blues, but pure Memphis.
When your cover is so go the writers use it.
This are a few incredible backstories. For the first one, I was always told that Keith Richards preferred Redding’s cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” to The Rolling Stones, but I didn’t know Richards wanted horns to play his signature guitar riff intro instead of his guitar. Mind you, Keith Richards didn’t realized he had come up with the riff one night until the following morning when he woke up and heard his recording. It was in the first 30 seconds – and the rest was just him snoring.
So when Otis Redding did a horn intro upon covering the song, it was so good that The Stones’ Ronnie Wood later confessed they used Redding’s arrangement for live shows.
In short, Otis Redding’s version of “Satisfaction” kicks so much ass, The Rolling Stones use it.
If backstory one is true.
In theory, Ronnie Wood said it. There are websites that quote it. Even Wikipedia references it, but their source link, at the moment, is mostly bullshit. And, the internet being the internet, they probably all quoted Wikipedia and the line spiraled out of control. USA Today points out the horns use since Redding’s came out, but that’s only helpful to music fans who have no sensory perception.
I’m even going through Ronnie Wood’s YouTube interview with Steve Cropper. I’m waiting for to hear it if I can.
I was in the mood to Hail Mary so I just tweeted Ronnie Wood in hopes he confirms:
What a wonderful world, indeed.
What are the lyrics, again?
Otis started making up lyrics to “Satisfaction” in his cut.
“I use a lot of words different than the Stones’ version. That’s because I made them up.”
We’ve all been there, like Whoopi in this scene from “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. Right, Whoopi? – This is also where I got my favorite swear phrase: “Fuck a duck.”
First R&B to score a hit using a British Invasion song.
To this point in history, British bands were using American R&B songs to make waves into the international pop scene seemingly every day. Otis Redding hit #31 on the Billboard Pop charts and #4 on the R&B charts. This appears to be the first US R&B artist to make a hit off a British Invasion song.
“You Don’t Miss Your Water”
I wasn’t quite sure what the Hell this song was gonna be about until I heard the chorus:
“You don’t miss your water, you don’t miss your water
Till your well runs dry”
Those words washed over me. It was a beautiful moment from a beautiful, slow ballad. Enjoy the Hell out of this song. It’s refreshing.
As for the songwriter, William Bell was in the “I’ve never before heard of him before,” bucket. Now I just learned he wrote “Born Under a Bad Sign.” Okay, that makes him a badass.
“Otis Blue” would be the first album I’d send folks to in order to hear a great studio album. It has everything that made Otis Redding who he is today. To me, “Otis Blue” is his coming-out party. He’s more than a great voice. “Otis Blue” is first the that crowns Otis Redding The King of Soul.
What do you think of “Otis Blue?”
- My semi-inaccurate Otis Redding Discography
- Album liner notes and oldies radio