As much as I love Otis Redding’s debut album, “Pain In My Heart,” after listening to his second album, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, to me, his second album sounds more like Otis’s first Otis Redding album. It was more about him as an artist and not an album that’s introducing a new audience to his range. Soul Ballads has more texture & depth and is unafraid to take it slow when need to, even if pop audiences weren’t going to be as much of a fan – at least, that’s how it sounds to me.
The album isn’t going to be one you workout or lift to, but if you got a better half and some candles and stolen time at night alone together, you’ll want this album in the collection.
But first, some background on The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads.
- Released: March 1, 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, Booker T & the MG’s
- Album Peak Chart: 147 on Billboard Pop Charts. Not sure about R&B charts.
- Notable Musicians (to me) Included: Donald “Duck” Dunn, Isaac “Shaft” Hayes (contested), Steve Cropper
- Notable Reviews: AllMusic: 3/5 stars. The Rolling Stone Album Guide: 5/5 stars
- Top Single: “Mr. Pitiful”, Billboard R&B #10, Billboard Pop #13
- Other charting singles: “Chained and Bound”, Billboard R&B #70. “Come to Me”, Billboard R&B #69. “That’s How Strong My Love Is”, Billboard R&B #18, Billboard Pop #74.
- “That’s How Strong My Love Is” : Written by Roosevelt Jamison
- “Chained and Bound”: Written by Otis Redding
- “A Woman, a Lover, a Friend” : Written by Sidney Wyche
- “Your One and Only Man” : Written by Otis Redding
- “Nothing Can Change This Love” : Written by Sam Cooke
- “It’s Too Late” : Written by Chuck Willis
- “For Your Precious Love” : Written by Arthur Brooks, Richard Brooks, & Jerry Butler
- “I Want to Thank You”: Written by Otis Redding
- “Come to Me” : Written by Otis Redding & Phil Walden
- “Home In Your Heart” : Written by Otis Blackwell & Winfield Scott
- “Keep Your Arms Around Me” : Written by Obie McClinton
- “Mr. Pitiful” : Written by Steve Cropper & Otis Redding
Each Song (to me)
“That’s How Strong My Love Is”
This song is a classic to me. Another Otis song that grew through time despite initial reception. I have to be prepared to be in a slow groove to hear it, but it’s one both my wife and I gaze at each other when it’s playing. It just takes you into a soft, vulnerable moment, shuts out everything else around, and confesses to you. Like gospel wedding vows. Maybe I should have quoted this more than Hunter S. Thompson at my wedding…(JK, babe).
Hell, it was also later cut by The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, Percy Sledge, Taj Mahal, Iggy Pop, Humble Pie… Good company to be in – and also, great versions to listen to.
I always think this is a Sam Cooke song. I swear I can hear him crooning and reflecting on it, But, alas, Sam had already passed by the time Otis cut this, though, noted: That’s How Strong My Love Is was first cut by O.V. Wright in 1964. Sam might have been alive enough to cover it. Maybe I just haven’t searched deep enough.
“Chained and Bound”
I’m way too white-and-born-in-Maine-and-raised-outside-Chicago-in-a-town-that-was-forced-to-integrate-in-1972 to get away with writing this song in today’s PC society. I don’t envy how he grew up, but I admire how he was able to pen it to verse. I mean, he was luckier than most in Georgia when his dad got the Air Force gig, but, still, slavery’s influence still abound.
Great slow groove. Pure Otis.
“Woman, Lover, A Friend”
It’s a great, great cover of a Jackie Wilson standard, cut under the name “A Woman, a Lover, a Friend.”
What the Hell with record studios not titling covers with the same title as the original? Motown did this with David Ruffin’s cover of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright?” If I keep noticing this, I’ll try to make a record of it.
I love the outro to this song. The baseline is simple, but it allows you to move your hips and dance when Otis cranks it up a notch.
After going back and hearing Jackie’s original for the first time in too-long-to-remember, I forgot how dolled up it was. If Jackie would have cut this at Stax…oooh. Then again, maybe he did get to do more soulful cuts. I’ll admit, I dunno. Maybe I deep dive Jackie after Otis, and David, and Sam…
“And once upon a time I didn’t think I’d have enough to write about. So shit goes.”
While you’re listening, check out Jose Feliciano’s cover of this track. Bluesier than I was expecting. Where’s the Flamenco, Jose?
Also, Booker T. & the M.G’s have an instrumental cover of this.
“Your One and Only Man”
Another Otis Original. To me, it’s a good B-side song that helps keep the album moving along. Nothing too deep or out of the ordinary, but another 3 minutes of Otis pumping through your speakers. That’s all one really ever needs.
Eric Clapton cut a domestic reggae cover on his 2013 album “Old Sock.” This is the hard part: give this a couple listens through. The lyrics lend itself well to a Reggae cover, but if Otis’ version is engrained in your brain, then this will hurt a little at first, but it gets better. Yeah, it surprised me, too.
“Nothing Can Change This Love”
This is a cover of a Sam Cooke favorite. Imagine if Sam Cooke and Otis Redding would have more time in the spotlight. I always picture a classic, professional rivalry brewing before the fates were so cruel. I hear both of them singing this song whenever I hear either’s version. Otis Redding’s version is straight soul, Cooke’s is straight gentlemen’s charm. Which version I prefer really comes down to the mood I’m in – especially if you switch to Sam Cooke’s live cut from “Live at the Harlem Square Club“ in 1963.
Just set this song on repeat for an hour. You’ll thank me.
“It’s Too Late”
This is what happens anytime I play this at home when my wife’s around:
Katie: “Is this Kanye’s version?”
Me: “No, babe.”
Katie: “Oh. Okay.”
*she sulks a little*
Katie: “It’s really hard to hear this without Kanye’s beat kicking in.”
The hardest part about all this? She’s actually right. She’s played Kanye West’s “Gone” – which samples the Hell out of this song – so many times on roadtrips that I now wait for the beat to kick in after Otis says:
“But it’s too late / too late / she’s gone.”
Hell, I’m playing “Gone” now just to get it out of my head. It might take 3 tries.
“It’s Too Late” is still a great ballad. It will always will be a sensuous, candlelit, lights-down-low and drink-in-hand ballad.
“For Your Precious Love”
Play this on low, light some candles, grab your partner, slow dance the night away. You’ll laugh, cry, remember everything worth remembering, and remember the most important moment is the one you’re sharing right now. And everything else will fade away. I know what I’m doing tonight, If I’m really, really lucky.
A great choice of covers for Otis. Written for Jerry Butler and The Impressions, covered by everyone from Jackie to the Rolling Stones. But this version, this is pure Otis, through and through. Holy immaculate Hell is this beautiful.
“I Want to Thank You”
This one throws me every time I read the title because I expect it to be Stax alums Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You”, poetically recorded shortly after Otis Redding passed – though I don’t know if there’s a connection. I believe there is. That’s all that should matter, right?
As for the song itself, it’s another Otis-penned gem where we can see Otis digging deeper into storytelling.
“Come to Me”
One written by Otis Redding & manager / producer Phil Walden. Simple words, simple plea, allowing room for Otis to shape and mold each moment. Good flowing B-side ballad.
“Home In Your Heart”
This cover of a Solomon Burke gem was about as rockabilly soul as Otis would get. It gives the horn players a chance to release some stress and blow out notes. It gave everyone a chance to dance.
“Keep Your Arms Around Me”
If there’s a skipover song on this album, to me, it’s this one. I like it. Don’t love it. Well, I’m not the biggest fan of how it begins. It’s like he’s whining, sort of that “Mr. Pitiful” Moohah Williams was referring to (see next song), but “Keep Me Your Arms Around Me” builds up a crescendo of sorts by the second verse and spills over into the third verse it’s filled out before ending quick and sharp. Something ominous in how it ended just as it got going.
Thus begins the ascension of Steve Cropper. So the story goes, then-guitarist Cropper hears DJ Moohah Williams call Otis Redding “Mr. Pitiful” because of how he sounds when singing the slow ones. Cropper goes to Redding and says they should take the idea and run with it. They finish it in a flash, slap it on the B-side to “That’s How Strong My Love Is” single, and it becomes the hit of the album.
Isn’t that how shit goes? Focus so intently on one thing, do something else while focusing on the first thing, and the second thing becomes the success. Life is a funny, funny thing.