Otis Redding’s “Otis Blue”

Album cover for "Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul"

This week, I’ve been listening to Otis Redding’s album “Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul” from 1965. This is one I’ve been looking forward to. I knew a little Otis before, like “Hard to Handle,” “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” These soulful R&B hits can be heard in movies, and television, as well getting frequent play on classic rock and oldies stations. This album “Otis Blue” also contains the original version of “Respect,” which was famously covered by Aretha Franklin. Her version makes the already great Otis recording sound like a demo. “Respect” is one of only three originals on “Otis Blue,” which is otherwise an album of covers. Among these is a good enough cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” adding the horns that Keith Richards may’ve wanted the song to have.

Down in the Valley

I love Redding’s rocking soul cover of Solomon Burke’s version of the American folk song “Down in the Valley.” When I was in elementary school, we sang “Down in the Valley” a little more like the classic country folk versions recorded by the Cisco Houston or Patti Page. Jimmie Tarlton of Darby and Tarlton may’ve written the original song as “Birmingham Jail.

Whatever the history, Redding’s cover adds some great syncopated punctuation that I love. The rhythm section of drum, bass and piano strongly emphasize the downbeat on all four beats, especially the first. Every fourth bar, the last two beats use extended notes to pull in the next section. Redding’s voice, however, emphasizes the up-beat. This gives a good hop to the beat. Pretty awesome. Especially check out that drum and vocal break at about 55 seconds into the song, leading into the horn solo.

Rock Me Baby

The previous year, B.B. King releases a single of his blues song “Rock Me Baby,” a variation of Muddy Waters’s “Rock Me,” which in turn was a cover of Lil Son Jackson’s “Rock Me.” Jackson’s version feels the most lifeless to me. I like the Chicago Blues rhythm of Muddy Waters’s version, which has an unusual 15 bar blues pattern. Redding’s version, however, is a great improvement over the B.B. King. However, I should point out that I listened to Redding’s version for a week and only once to the others.

This recording also caught my ear due to Jon Spencer having borrowed the lead riff in one of his songs, though I couldn’t remember which. What we have here is the regular 12 bar blues with a pulsing rhythm section, a delicious clean guitar riff, and staccato horns. Far from original, except I do love that guitar. A great tune well performed.

I’ve Been Loving You Too Long

Otis Redding wrote “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” with Jerry Butler of the Impressions. This soulful ballad drifts along at an incredibly slow tempo in 6/8 time. Whereas most recorded songs performed without a click track tend to speed up a little as they progress, this one slows down just slightly. It opens at about 52 BPM and gradually works down to a 49 BPM at the end. This song inspired the Rolling Stones on “I Got the Blues” which also makes use of the slow tempo and much of the instrumentation style.

Otis’s voice opens the song “I’ve been..” with misleading energy, he pauses, and then with the accompaniment brought in completes the title line slowly and slowly. The piano, sometimes doubled by a guitar, softly plays a simple arpeggio. There is minimal use of high-hat during the verses, with the kick and snare being brought in to lend power to post-chorus and outro sections of the song. An electric guitar adds unobtrusive soul-blues riffs between some of the vocals lines to carry the movement of the chord progression.

The lyrics are simple, expressive, and mournful. The first two lines of each verse rhyme (free/me, cold/old) but there’s not a strict rhyme scheme. Rather, many of the lines rhyme because they end with the word “now”. This gives the longing and emotion an immediate sense of urgency. The speaker feels the hurt immediately as a result of what’s happening now.

You were tired and you want to be free
My love is growing stronger, as you become a habit to me
Oh I’ve been loving you a little too long
I don’t want to stop now
With you my life has been so wonderful
I can’t stop now

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