In this age of auto-tuned excesses, it’s a perfect time to revisit the purity of the early soul/R&B singers. Aside from Sam Cooke, no voice mastered the nuances of soul as much as the great Otis Redding. So many greatest hits albums have been released of Redding’s music, but turning to his original albums provides some wonderful listening. In a way, Redding is an easy artist to begin the “Buy This Next!” feature, as he never put out a poor album during his all-too-brief life. Gems can be found on all of them.
Otis Blue – the obvious first choice (though not necessarily my favorite; see #2). Otis Blue is the album that makes all the best-of lists, as it contains “Respect” (written by Redding, though the Aretha Franklin version is most known) and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”. It also contains Otis’ frenetic cover of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” and the tremendous opener “Ole Man Trouble”. Essential for all, soul lover or not.
The Soul Album – less well known songs but Otis is in top form here. This album is my personal fave. His phrasing on “Cigarettes and Coffee” and “Just One More Day” is perfect. “Shake” is one of his best Sam Cooke covers, and the old blues song “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” sounds so natural in a soul version. Tremendous.
Live Otis – if you’ve ever seen footage of when he performed for the “love crowd” at Monterey, it will be obvious why his live performances are so touted. Redding exudes energy and power; the sweat flies out of the speakers. Several live collections are out there, and most are great. The two released near or immediately after his death are the best. Live at Europe is often touted as one of the best live albums ever, but I prefer In Person at the Whiskey a Go Go which is from a more intimate setting and features his regular touring band.
Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul – despite its unwieldy title and a hideous album cover that would send modern buyers running, this is a perfect album, containing “Try A Little Tenderness” and his excellent cover of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper”. Enjoy the tender soul of lesser known songs like “My Lover’s Prayer” and one of the best versions of that old chestnut “The Tennessee Waltz” that you’ll ever hear
The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads – mainly an album of cover songs, but Redding on his second album had become of a master of the cover. Check out his version of Jerry Butler’s hit “For Your Precious Love” and Sam Cooke’s “Nothing Can Change This Love”
Pain In My Heart – His first album, with a number of covers, all serviceable, but no one at this point in Redding’s career would choose his versions of Cooke’s “You Send Me”, Little Richard’s “Lucille”, or Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” over the more known versions. Still, this album contains the great title number as well as “These Arms of Mine” which (despite all the contenders) may be Redding’s most beautiful song
Dock of the Bay – several posthumous collections came out soon after Redding’s tragic death in December, 1967. This one was first, best, and contains his most known song “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”. Worth checking out though points off for containing three previously released songs. Interestingly contains “The Hucklebuck” which, despite a number of swing-era versions, I still think of as the song Ralph and Norton dance to on The Honeymooners.
So go down the list and enjoy! Redding was truly one of the greatest soul singers ever, and his voice remains today impassioned, moving, perfect.