Saturday, May 24, 2008

Artist Profile: Otis Redding

Otis Redding is the greatest singer of all time. Period.

We will never know what he was truly capable of doing because on December 10, 1967 he was killed in a tragic plane crash. But he was moving into some great musical territory. Earlier that year Redding had participated in the Monterey Pop Festival, one of the greatest collections of musicians ever. His set was particularly spectacular and was only matched by legendary (and I mean legendary) performances by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Who (You can read more and possibly get an audio sample at one of my favorite blogs, Funky 16 Corners.)

Also, just days before his death, Redding had recorded what would become his biggest hit, "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." That song gives only a hint of what the man could have accomplished if given the time.

And on a lighter about the man did "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" better than the Rolling Stones! In fact, Keith Richards said Redding's version is the best.

But my favorite song of his, I believe it to be one of the five greatest songs ever recorded, is "I've Been Loving You (Too Long)." I had never heard it until about five years ago (the oldies radio stations around here rarely play more than the same playlists over and over). The first time I heard this song I was writing a paper my second semester in college in what is now stupidly referred to as the "Pete's Place" computer lab. It came on over some internet radio station. Here, put on the record as I write about my love for it!

The first thing you hear is Otis singing the first couple of words and then the piano comes in along with the bass (which for the majority of the song only plays on the first beat of a measure) and drums. The piano moves the most during most of the song, playing the same pattern on the different scales. But what really caught my ear was the guitar. The sound of that guitar is beautiful and it plays so few times I was almost dying to hear more.

This is just the beginning of the song and Otis is almost whispering and his voice is the definition of soul. He sounds so sad singing the words in the title, as if he shouldn't feel that way. But then the music starts building as the horns come in and he's now shouting because he can't take holding in the way he feels.

Then, just as suddenly as it started, he's back to whispering. At one point the horns come in and it sounds as if the song is about to pick up, but he doesn't start singing and everything calms back down again. It keeps on doing this, building momentum, making you want the song to resolve itself because he sounds so hurt.

Finally, the horns start lightly playing long notes that crescendo as he's singing and the song builds up as Otis starts becoming more and more bold to the point of shouting, "I love you, I love you, I love you with all my heart and I can't stop now." I suppose a great singer can make the simplest lyrics have more meaning than any amount of beautiful writing can express. It doesn't get any better than as when Redding is crying out "Please, please, please!" He doesn't need any more words. It's incredible. As the song fades out he's still crying out and it is almost as if the actual recording runs out of energy or power or whatever before Otis does, as if he'll be crying out all night. That's hard to get across in just under three minutes.

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