When you mention artists that have been lost way too soon the usual suspects are normally not too far around the corner, whether it’s Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Janis Joplin or Kurt Cobain, we’re left mourning the loss of potential and talent. But one artist whose name is never mentioned in the same breath despite being lost at such a young age is the late, great Otis Redding.
The singer sadly died in a plane crash at just 26 years old and with his entire career ahead of him. While his time in the spotlight was short, his contribution to music is comparatively gigantic. His powerful sound and undeniable charisma ensured that he would carve out a generational-defining career with or without the appropriate amount of time to do so.
Below, we are bringing you six songs which hope to define the man and legend Otis Redding. As we spend our lives infinitely trawling the internet we’ve found that all too few people know the basics of our favourite musicians and have since been on a mission to offer up the roots of some of the music’s greatest icons and have been bringing you our six definitive songs ever since.
Redding, raised in Macon Georgia, was advantageous from the start and wasn’t discovered singing on the streets of a karaoke bar but after demanding he cut his own track after joining Johnny Jenkins’ band in the studio. He was signed almost instantly and begun a fruitful partnership with Stax records.
In five years of his career-proper, Redding produced five stunning albums and has since defined the phrase “gone too soon”.
Otis Redding’s six definitive songs:
‘These Arms of Mine’ (1962)
When Otis Redding did find room in the studio to try and cut himself a break, auditing for Jim Stewart of Stax Records, ‘These Arms of Mine’ was one of the songs he sang alongside, . Stewart was so impressed that he signed Redding almost instantly and the two songs became his first release.
A singer’s first single is always a key indicator of how great they are going to be and we’d say you’d be pretty hard pressed to find a better one than this. In one song Redding shows off all his power and poise, providing a soulful and emotionally charged track that breaks in all the right places.
‘Mr. Pitiful’ (1965)
Sometimes artist need someone to bounce off of and Redding found that in soulman Steve Cropper who would help the singer on some of his most celebrated works—more on that later. Their first song together sees Redding in a playful mood as he pastiches himself on the 1965 track ‘Mr Pitiful’.
A song written to play on the depths of pity that Redding can achieve with his vocal on his sadder songs, the artist juxtaposes these notions with a rhtymic jumper that mutates into a horn-heavy romp. It may be a touch sulky but somehow it all works as one and shows off a more experimental side to Redding’s classic tone.
‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)’ (1965)
When Redding let loose on a rhtyhm, chan ces are he had you dancing before you even heard the first note. But there’s nothing quite like Otis Redding singing a sad song and on ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)’ he really turns it on.
A track designed to soundtrack the final slow dance of a couple that both know it won’t last, Redding’s vocal range is truly impressive. As he pleads for his long-lost lover, Redding defines his career as an astute, consummate performer whose talent hangs on every human emotion he emanates.
‘Try A Little Tenderness’ (1966)
There aren’t many songs that slap like Otis Redding’s ‘Try A Little Tenderness’. We’d bet that no matter the party and no matter the age of those who were in attendance, if you stick on this song it will guarantee a reaction. Usually it’s the recognition of truly well-crafted and expertly performed piece of pop but sometimes it is a full-body shakedown.
Naturayll, when Jay-Z and Kanye West brought the song into the modern public consciousness they gave it a latptop-produced facelift. But for our money, it doesn’t get anyway near the original, which as well as being soulful, charming and everything else associated with Redding, has an unequivocal ubiquitous appeal.
Taken from Redding’s final studio album King & Queen, ‘Tramp’ sees Redding standing across from Stax starlet Carla Thomas as she tries to smooth out his raw vocal edges. The chemistry between the pair is palpable and it offers up yet another viewpoint of Redding’s sound.
Redding is a little rawer than Thomas but certainly no less sweet as the duo dual across the mic, trading verbal jabs at one another as Redding attempts to win her heart only to be foiled again and again by her assertions. Aside from any scientific connections between the two, the song is a standalone giant of a track.
‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay’ (1968)
Of course, no list about Otis Redding would be complete without the mention of his most famous track ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay’. Co-written with Steve Cropper, the song was recorded just days before his death and was released posthumously. Time, as it often is, was a little cruel and ensured it was Redding’s first number one.
There’s no real sense of Reddings previous theatrics on the mic. On this song he is restrained and almost resigned to his position. He adds an undeniable soul to the song and the track remains a poignant ode to his home and, in turn, now Redding himself. As he explore perhaps the universe’s overarching theme of death, both consciously and unconsciously, Redding is without a doubt one of the best.