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Shake and slow dance with Otis's best
on June 20, 2005
Though his first hit, "These Arms of Mine" only peaked at #83 in 1963, it wasn't until 1965 that Otis Redding's career began to make headway. With his gritty soulful pipes, and soul music accompanied by a brass section and a strong rhythm section on those foot-stomping numbers, his brief impact on the music scene hinted at things to come had he not died aged 26.
The slow-dance of "I've Been Lovin' You Too Long" is simply heartwarming, nice for the last dance of the evening. His first Top 40 hit reached #21.
Redding describes "Respect" as a song taken away from him by a certain girl. While his version charted at #35 on the pop charts and #4 on the R&B, that certain girl, a Ms. Aretha Franklin, took it to #1 for two weeks (pop) and four times that long on the R&B charts. But Otis's original still has that original stomping rhythm in it. Ditto for "I Can't Turn You Loose," a #11 R&B hit that deserved better on the pop charts. Small wonder the Chamber Bros. covered it the year after he died. And "Mr. Pitiful," which barely missed the Top 40, has a shaking funky rhythm that would presage early 70's style soul.
Though a #6 hit for Ted Lewis in 1933, Otis Redding's version of the tender "Try A Little Tenderness" made it to #25, (R&B #4), higher than the other covers of the rock & roll era, though Three Dog Night came close with it in 1969 at #29. Rod Stewart did his hand of it on his Out of Order album.
He and Carla Thomas duet and rap with each other in "Tramp," where she gives him a hard time about his clothing and haircut, about how he's too country and not cosmopolitan. But he's okay with it, and holds his own. There is a brief horn melody that the Beatles later used or may have used in the "Hey la hey la hello-a" section that closes "Hello Goodbye."
His performance at the Monterey Pop Festival (June 1967) was considered to be one of the highlights, as Michelle Phillips, one of MPF's prime organizers, saw Otis as THE reason she wanted the festival in the first place. He performed a cover of the Stones' "Satisfaction," which had reached #31 a year prior. His version featured a brass arrangements, making his version an interesting contrast to the original. He also did a rousing cover of Sam Cooke's "Shake" and reached out successfully to the flower power crowd. Seeing the footage of him at Monterey doing this song made me want to get his music.
It was thus unbelievable that he only had six months left to live after Monterey. He then recorded a song quite different from his usual oeuvre. Three days later, he and four members of the Bar-Kays died in a plane crash on 10 December 1967. The track, the brooding and reflective "Sitting On The Dock of the Bay," became his only #1 pop hit, three months after he recorded it, and staying there for four weeks, also spending three weeks atop the R&B charts. Countless others, including the Dells, Sammy Hagar, and notorious R&B song shredder Michael Bolton have covered it, but Otis's version remains the most respected and brightest. I first heard this in Top Gun, when Tom Cruise explains to Kelly McGillis how it was his mother's favourite song.
Of his other posthumous singles, "The Happy Song" reached #25, and is a return to his usual style, while "I've Got Dreams To Remember" featuring a nice female backing chorus, fits in with his slow songs a la "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and "Try A Little Tenderness."
What would Reddings' career have been like had he survived? His success at Monterey hinted at bigger things, definitive crossover potential, though among the R&B pantheon, he still would've faced stiff competition from Motown artists like the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and the Temptations. Very Best Of is just that, a reminder of what was and what might have been.