Sunday, August 3, 2014

Otis Redding is Much Better than "[Sitting on] The Dock of the Bay"

Otis Redding is still remembered by most as the artist who sang "[Sittin' on] The Dock of the Bay." I'm here to tell you that he's contributed so much more, and that the one song that he's usually identified by isn't half as good as the music he's recorded over the years.
The first thing to know about Otis is his voice. Otis pulls emotion from songs like Michelangelo pulls delicate human forms from solid marble (Hey David!).

Song: These Arms of Mine / I've Got Dreams to Remember / I've Been Loving You Too Long
Album: These songs appear in multiple live, best of, and studio albums
Artist: Otis Redding
Genre: Soul
Released:  1964 / 1968 / 1965 (original release dates)
Youtubeable ?: Extremely, but most videos will be of the audio with image stills and a text crawl of the lyrics
Karaoke Difficulty: Difficult. You probably can't sing soul or blues with the same tender, deep and strong voice that Otis Redding can. It won't help if you decide to start smoking either. If you do try to sing any Otis Redding songs, just put your own style on it, instead of trying to mimic or match Otis Redding. Conversely, if you can sing like Otis Redding... get thee to YouTube and start posting your voice!!!
Listenable ?: Immensely. These songs, by themselves or in groups, or absolute treats. There's nothing like this on the air right now. One listen - from a very short time acquaintance, to a recommended Otis Redding song - and I was hooked.
Popularity: Unknown but probably not well remembered outside of the following groups:

  • People whose parents raised them on Otis Redding and the early versions of the 'soul' genre
  • Die Hard fans of old school soul music (I mean 'soul' from the 60's and 70's with piano, brass arrangement, one to two guitars, and drummer).
  • Radio DJs for 'oldies' stations

Tempo: Each of these songs are slow. Y'know when you pour jam from the jar onto your waiting piece of peanut-butter smeared bread, and the jam oozes out, like time waits for the jam? Yeah... time seems to wait, in anticipation, for Otis Redding as it hangs on every soulful syllable. And no, I don't care that my jam metaphor didn't work for you.
Time Signature: 6/8 (I think the supporting guitar line is what makes me think this is 6/8 instead of 3/4) / 6/8 / 6/8 (probably, because though it breaks down into 3/4 just fine, the melody and phrasing divides itself into complete counts of 6.
Notable Song(s) by Artist: Sitting by the Dock of the Bay
Other Songs Worth Listening To:

  • That's How Strong My Love Is
  • Mary's Little Lamb (just listen to that controlled wailing / bleeting)
  • Respect
  • Try a Little Tenderness - worth listening to for a more complex intro arrangement, containing layered chords in multiple directions, and an Otis song with a touch more jazz (you can hear it especially in the jazz/rock beat from the drummer as well as the wandering piano and organ. It then builds into something approaching jazz /  funk.

The Songs

All songs are reviewed from "The King of Soul" multi-disc album.

These Arms of Mine

This is a simple song, with the low key guitar and drums providing a skeleton rhythm creating a perfect backdrop to showcase the power of his voice.
The brass line comes in just after the one minute mark, and come back at 1:45, for the build and key change, and then carry the song around 2:06. At 2:50, Otis starts belting out his dreams in a gust of blues passion.

I've Got Dreams to Remember

Very similar in style to "The Arms of Mine" except it doesn't build as much and creates its fabric of blues on voice and rhythm alone; the brass section is absent here.

I've Been Loving You Too Long - To Stop Now

This is another Otis Redding, crescendo song with power and emphasis provided by a brass section. The minimalist beginning, the slow,
At 1:10 a small build starts that cleanly transitions from building brass notes right into Otis' voice carrying the climax of the section. The transition from horn to Otis' voice is near seamless at first because of the contorl he has over the timbre of his voice; it's worth listening to for that moment (and the crescendo to come).
The great crescendo at starting at 2:13. The mood for this crescendo starts around 17 seconds prior. You can hear it in the slight shift in instrumentation (the added trumpets).
In the height of the crescendo the piano is louder, but still as simple; everything is louder, without falling apart. It's just more intense.
Why Is this Album Amazing?: Read up here: link to wiki page. Here are the highlights:

  • Did you love the "Blues Brothers" soundtrack? Many of those musicians also play on this album
  • The album was recorded over a 24 hour period, with a break to let the musicians play a gig.
  • Otis wrote some of the songs (like "I've Been Loving You" and "Respect"*)
  • The back half are covers of other great songs.


* Yup. According to the article, Otis Redding wrote "Respect" (though some dispute exists as to whether he did it himself). This is the same song that Aretha Franklin rocked out and recorded the most popular recording of that song. She also rocked it for the "Blues Brothers" soundtrack (that scene in the diner is classic).

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