Monday, November 26, 2007

No. 251: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul

Band: Otis Redding
Album: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: On the last record released before his untimely death, Otis was branching out by doing a more varied set of songs. He hit C&W, rock and roll and his own classic soul to assemble this seminal album.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: There's a lot of Otis on this list and with each one, I get a little more tired of him. Certainly, yes, he was the greatest soul singer, but with each subsequent record, I find more flaws.
Best song: “Try A Little Tenderness” and "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" are synonymous with Redding's name and signature songs.
Worst song: “You're Still My Baby” isn't great.
Is it awesome?: If only on the strength of those two songs, yes.

I have a friend (the same friend who wanted to make love to Frank Zappa) who used to claim that Otis Redding wrote 40% of the truly great R&B songs. That's a gross overestimation, but, certainly, Redding was a fantastic songwriter.

On “The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul,” Redding wasn't doing the writing, per se, but still doing plenty of other people's songs. Surprisingly, his version of the Lennon/McCartney classic “Day Tripper” is fantastic. Taking risks, he made the classic country standard “Tennessee Waltz” his own and put his own stamp on the big band classic “Try A Little Tenderness.” In fact, on “Try A Little Tenderness,” Redding's name has overtaken the original artists of the song, making it his own.

In addition, the record showcased Redding's ability to sing with sadness in his heart and a hitch in his voice. His own songs, "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" and "She Put the Hurt on Me” are brilliant songs, filled with achingly beautiful vocals.

Otis' band, including the famous MG Steve Cropper, is tight as can be on this record. The stops in “Day Tripper” mirror their version of “Satisfaction” and the ability to arrange the “Tennessee Waltz” to an R&B song is brilliant.

Overall, a wonderful record and something to discover, despite the overkill in regards to Redding.

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