In this article, I’m going to write about one of the greatest soul singers ever. Sadly, during their lifetime, they only released six albums. This album was their fourth album, released in 1966. Tragically, he died in tragic circumstances aged twenty-six, when the plane he was traveling on, crashed killing six people. Since then, their music has influenced two generations of artists, and even today, many people are discovering Otis Redding’s wonderful music. The Soul Album is the album this article is about, and before reviewing the album, I’ll briefly tell you about Otis Redding’s life and music.

Otis Redding was born in September 1941, in Dawson, a small town in Georgia. Aged three, he and his family moved to Macon, Georgia. Like many soul singers, his first experience of music as when he sang in the church. It was as a teenager, that his talent first became apparent. He won a talent show held at the Douglass Theatre for fifteen consecutive weeks. This led to King Records (USA) boss Syd Nathan discovering Otis Redding. 

In 1960, Otis Redding started his musical career, when he started touring the southern states of America with Johnny Jenkins and The Pinetoppers. Redding’s not only sang with the band, but doubled as Jenkins’ driver, as Jenkins didn’t have a driving license. The same year, Redding recorded two songs. These were Fat Gal released on Confederate Records and Shout Bamalama, released on Orbit Records. Both tracks were released as Otis Redding and The Pinetoppers. These songs weren’t Redding’s first foray into the recording studio. That came when Johnny Jenkins and The Pinetoppers recorded Love Twist, which was released on Atlantic Records.

It was 1962, when Otis Redding first came to the attention of the record buying public. He’d written These Arms of Mine, and recorded it when there was some studio time left over in a Johnny Jenkins and The Pinetoppers session. Volt Records, a subsidiary of Stax Records. These Arms of Mine, became a minor hit for Redding. This single, brought Redding to the attention of both Jim Stewart and Stax Records, who would release his debut album.

Aged twenty-three, Otis Redding released his first album, Pain In My Heart. The album was released in January 1964, and was produced by Jim Stewart. It was recorded for Volt Records, which was a subsidiary of the legendary Stax Records, the Memphis based record company. Four singles, all of which were successful, were released form the album. This includes one of his best known songs These Arms of Mine.

March 1965, saw Redding release his second album The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads. The album was released on Volt/Atco and was produced by Jim Stewart and Booker T and The MG’s. On the album, Redding covered songs by some of soul music’s greatest singers. This included songs by Sam Cooke and Jerry Butler. Like his debut album, this album featured songs written by Redding, and on Mr Pitiful, one of his best know songs, he cowrote the song with Steve Cropper, the guitarist with Booker T and The MG’s, who were known as Stax Records house-band. At this time, it was unusual for artists to write their own songs, but Redding was a highly talented songwriter, and during his short career, wrote some of his best known songs.

One of Redding’s best known albums, Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul in September 1965. Like his previous two albums, it was recorded at the Stax Recording Studios in Memphis. This time, the album was produced by Isaac Hayes, David Porter and Jim Stewart. On the album, he pays tribute to his idol Sam Cooke, who’d recently died, by covering three of his songs. Songs by Smokey Robinson, William Bell, and BB King are on the album. So is a cover of the Rolling Stones song Satisfaction. On the albums release, it was critically acclaimed. Critics loved the album, and since then, it’s widely been accepted that it’s one of the best albums ever released.

April 1966, saw Otis Redding release The Soul Album, the album this article is about. This time, the album was produced by Jim Stewart, Booker T and The MG’s Isaac Hayes and David Porter. It featured songs written or cowritten by Sam Cooke, Jerry Butler and Smokey Robinson. Redding wrote or cowrote, three of the songs on the album. Again, on The Soul Album’s release, it received critical acclaim and sold well. 

Otis Redding released his final studio album as a solo artist in October 1966. He’d spent from May to September 1996 recording the Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul. Like his previous album, it was produced by Jim Stewart, Booker T and The MG’s Isaac Hayes and David Porter. Redding had written four of the songs on the album and cowrote three others. One of his best known songs from that album was My Lover’s Prayer. On the album’s release critics lauded the album, believing it one of Redding’s finest albums. Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul is regarded by many people as one of the greatest soul albums ever produced. Like Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul, Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul is included in Rolling Stone magazines 500 greatest albums of all time.

The final album to feature Otis Redding was King and Queen, which he recorded in a week with Carla Thomas. This album saw two of Stax Records best selling artists unite, to record an album.  Two singles from the album charted in the Us singles charts, Tramp at number twenty-six and Knock On Wood at thirty. Little did anyone know, that King and Queen would be the last album released in Redding’s lifetime.

On 7 December 1967, Otis Redding recorded what many people would regard as his best known song, (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay. It would the last song he’d ever record. Three days later Otis Redding would be dead.

December 9 1967, saw Otis Redding and his backing band The Bar-Kays make an appearance on the Upbeat television program in Cleveland. Later that night, he made what would be his final live appearance at Leo’s Casino in Cleveland. The following day, the plane he was traveling in crashed. Redding, four members of The Bar Kays, Redding’s manager and the plane’s pilot all died in the crash. Only one person to survive the crash was Ben Cauley. 

After Redding’s death several albums were released posthumously. (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay was later released as a single, and became synonymous with Otis Redding. Since his tragic death in 1967, Otis Redding’s music is still as popular as ever. If anything, interest in his music has increased. It’s critically acclaimed, and still influences artists today. The Soul Album is one of my favorite Otis Redding albums, and I’ll now tell what makes it such a special album.

The Soul Album opens with Just One More Day, a song Redding cowrote with Steve Cropper. As with all Otis Redding’s album, a crack team of musicians had been assembled to record this album. Issac Hayes and three members of Booker T and The MG’s Al Jackson Jnr and Steve Cropper were among those musicians. It’s these musicians you hear playing, as Just One More Day Begins. The track begins quietly, a guitar plays, then, Otis sings, his voice is strong and loud. He sets the mood, it’s downtempo. What he produces is one of the most moving, heartfelt performances on the album. His vocal is soulful with a capital S. Behind him, the band respond to his performance. They too, lower the tempo, and add to the drama. A Hammond organ plays, the brass section and drums interject, their contribution like musical punctuation. Here the arrangement veers between understated, and dramatic. After such a passionate and dramatic opening track, you feel everything bodes well for the remainder of the album.

It’s Growing starts with a guitar playing, after which, the brass section announce their arrival. When Otis sings, he sings much quicker. His voice doesn’t sound as strong and loud at times, but it’s just as passionate. This might be because of the arrangement. It’s much louder and fuller. Drums pound and the brass section cut loose, really showboating, demonstrating just how good musicians they are. What is important to stress though, is that, back then, the Stax studios were quite basic, lacking the sophisticated recording equipment we now take for granted. The number of channels available to record onto were much less. Having said that, Otis sings the song well, and his band are outstanding.

As Cigarettes and Coffee opens, the tempo is slow. As Otis sings, the mood is set. What you hear is Otis singing slowly, lovingly, about sitting up late with his girlfriend, smoking and drinking coffee. It’s a happy Otis, he’s in love, in love with someone who he’s just met. However, he knows immediately, that she’s the one. The arrangement is perfect for the song. As for the arrangement, it’s got a lovely understated quality. Drums provide the song’s heartbeat, and the brass section play quietly, their playing subtle. A piano occasionally plays, it too, is subtle. Overall, Otis’ performance and that of his band is masterful, it’s a mixture of a strong, passionate vocal by Redding, and a subtle, understated performance by his band.

One of Otis Redding’s idols was Same Cooke. By the time this album was recorded, it had been over a year since Cooke died. In honor of his late hero, Redding decided to include one of Cooke’s greatest songs Chain Gang on the album. This is fraught with difficulties, as anyone who has heard the original, will agree that that is the definitive version of the song. When Otis reinterprets Chain Gang, it’s very different from Cooke’s version. Straight away, you can tell that it’s an interpretation, rather than copying Cooke’s version. As the song starts, drums and brass section play where they never played before. Redding sings the song very differently, he leaves space where space never before existed. Occasionally, he grunts and whoops. His voice is strong and loud, unlike Cooke’s much more gentile version. Sometimes, Redding sings like James Brown. Even the arrangement is much fuller and louder. Instead of being almost understated, it becomes almost overblown. Maybe if I’d never heard Sam Cooke’s version, I’d be more amenable to Redding’s rendition. It has its merits, and is not a bad song. The problem is, that the original is just so brilliant.

James Cox wrote the Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, and it’s a song that’s been covered my many people. Unlike Chain Gang, there’s no definitive version. Trumpets blow as the track begins, a guitar plays a jazzy lick, then Otis takes the tempo way down. His interpretation of the song is dramatic, very different from other versions. Trumpets accompany him, they play with a subtly, drums just keep time, and a piano plays. Otis and his vocal take centrestage. It’s only towards the end of the track does he increase the tempo, and even then, it’s only momentarily. This is a very different interpretation of this song, but one which I enjoyed. It was interesting to see the different way he approaches the track, how his version is so different. My only wish is that he’d used a similar approach on Chain Gang. Then he could’ve paid homage to his idol in a much more appropriate way.

Good To Me is the first of the two song Otis Redding cowrote on The Soul Album. He cowrote the song with Julius Green. From the beginning, Good To Me is a dramatic slice of Southern Soul. Even as the brass section and drums play, the mood is set. When Redding sings, immediately, the tempo drops, the drama increases, and as he sings, the song benefits from a brilliantly understated arrangement. A Hammond organ plays in the background, drums play slowly, space is at a premium. Occasionally, the brass section play. Their appearances are brief, which suits the song. Again, Otis is the centre of attention. His voice is outstanding, his delivery strong, heartfelt and  dripping in emotion. 

After the lovely subdued arrangement on Good To Me, things change on Scratch My Back. Trumpets play, bursting brightly into life as the song opens. Redding sings the song quicker, the arrangement is fuller, the brass section taking centrestage. They play throughout the track, and apart from the drums, no other instruments feature. Unlike, Good To Me, which had some really strong lyrics, Scratch My Back’s lyrics seem rather lightweight by comparison. Obviously, they’re laden with innuendo, and are similar to many such songs that were released on various soul labels. However, even though Redding sings the song well, and the brass section play brilliantly, I’m left disappointed at the almost lightweight, throwaway nature of the lyrics. They’re neither These Arms of Mine, nor (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.

Treat Her Right is thankfully, a return to form from Redding. It’s a much more serious, grown up song, and sees both Redding and the band put in a great performance. When Treat Her Right starts, you realize that this is a much better song. Again it’s the brass section and drums combining at the start, and thereafter, they combine with Redding during the song. Redding’s voice is much stronger, he whoops and hollers his way through the song. He’s rejoicing, enjoying himself, as the song swings along. The band too, are enjoying themselves, and really let loose, producing a joyful melange of brass and drums. For just over two minutes, you’re treated to some seminal soul music, from one of soul music’s best singers, and backing bands.

Everybody Makes A Mistake begins with the brass section playing, the sound they produce sounds sad, heart achingly sad. Drums play slowly, adding to the already downbeat sound. When Redding sings, this sadness is complete. His voice is sad, yet soulful, his delivery slow, yet strong. The song meanders along, Redding and the brass section playing. Redding sounds heartbroken, his partner has left him, and he sounds in pain, tormented almost. You can almost feel his hurt. Songs like this bring out the best in Redding. He has the ability to deliver these songs brilliantly. It’s as if he’s experienced the hurt and pain he’s singing about, and can empathize with this hurt and betrayal.

Any Ole Way is the second song Redding cowrote on the album. This time, he cowrote the song with Steve Cropper. It starts brightly with a trumpet solo, and is a much happier upbeat song. There’s even a jazz influence present in the introduction. Thereafter, it’s soul all the way. After the hurt and betrayal of the previous song, Redding in happier, singing about being in love, and awaiting his love’s arrival. The only sour note is when he wonders how long this love will last. During the song, it’s just Redding accompanied by trumpet, guitar and drums. This produces a lovely uptempo arrangement which swings along, with Redding joyously singing about being in love. It’s a complete contrast in style and subject matter to Everybody Makes A Mistake, the previous song.

The Soul Album ends with 634-5789. From when the band are counted in at the start of the song, the song swings along beautifully. It’s got a feelgood factor, and has the sound of another era. There’s almost got a quaintness about it. Redding has reserved a powerful, almost rasping delivery for the album’s closing track. Similarly, the band have reserved a standout performance for the track. A piano plays, the brass section play and the drums play steadily. Each musician raises his game for this track. Listen carefully to 634-5789, and you’ll hear a similarity with Sam Cooke. Redding’s voice and delivery is similar to Redding’s idol. That is the ultimate compliment you can pay Otis Redding. 634-5789 is a great track to end the album, and shows Otis Redding at his very best.

The Soul Album is my favorite Otis Redding album. It features Otis Redding at his best. His voice is brilliant, and he’s backed by some wonderful musicians. On the album, he sings songs written be some great songwriters. Songs written, or cowritten, by people like Jerry Butler, Eddie Floyd, Sam Cooke Smokey Robinson and Steve Cropper. Redding also cowrote two of the songs, Good To Me and Any Ole Way. This album was the second of three great albums Redding released between 1965 and 1966, on Stax Records. During that period, it was as if he could do no wrong. Two of those albums, Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul and Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul, are among the best albums ever released. Sadly, Redding’s career was tragically cut short. We’ll never know just how his career would’ve turned out, and what brilliant music he may have produced. That he only released six solo albums in his lifetime, is tragic. He was never allowed to fulfill his potential. However, he leaves behind some wonderful and magical music, music that still sounds as good today, as it did over forty years ago. 

If you’ve neither heard any of Otis Redding’s music, nor own any of his albums, I would recommend The Soul Album, which this article is about, or either Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul and Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul. These three albums feature some of the best soul music ever recorded, music that deserves to be part of any self respecting record collection. Standout Tracks: Just One More Day, Cigarettes and Coffee, Everybody Makes A Mistake and 634-5789.


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