“I know you said he was just a friend / But I saw you kiss him again and again.”
Otis Redding was one of those Olympians who are fantastically good at everything. He could shake. He could shout. He could dance. He had a straightforward, honest, high-testosterone presence—he was, as one of his hits had it, a “love man.”
Watching footage of him performing is a revelation. The Rolling Stones drove teenagers into spasms; Redding’s female fans were adult. They’d had sex, known love, experienced heartbreak.
Hot, he was soul music: “Respect.” “Satisfaction.” “Shake.”
But the test of authority is when a singer slows it down. The aching, endless pain of love—Redding sang like he invented it.
“Think About It” is one of eleven songs on a record aptly titled The Immortal Otis Redding. Redding co-wrote it. The first few stanzas will give you the idea:
Before you walk out that door,
hang your clothes in the closet.
You’re forgetting one thing—
I’m the one who saved you
From a long lonely life.
I’m the one who gave you
You’re first taste to paradise
Look how you’re payin’ me back
Look how you’re packin’ your bag
Please don’t do me like this, honey
All this good love you’re gonna miss
Think about it, honey
You really ought to think about it
‘fore you leave …
It’s hard to be that simple, that direct, that naked—it’s hard for a man to beg. But that is exactly what Redding does.
So I’m setting the bar high. Really, I can’t set it higher. For in 1987, Redding was simply flawless. He released the wonderful concert album, Otis Redding Live in Europe. In the summer, he triumphed at the Monterey Pop Festival—Janis Joplin sat in the front row so she could figure out how he did it. In the fall, he recorded enough songs for three first-class albums. In December, he recorded “Dock of the Bay.” And then the small plane ferrying the band to gigs in the Midwest crashed in a Wisconsin lake. Otis was 26.
The titles of the songs on this record—the first released after his death—tell the story. “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember.” “You Made a Man Out of Me.” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” “Thousand Miles Away.” “A Waste of Time.” “A Fool for You.” And three rousing affirmations: “Champagne and Wine.” “Happy Song.” And, ending with “Amen.”
The Immortal Otis Redding is great soul music at low volume. Louder, it’s like a diary of your best and worst moments, a testament to the glory and folly of love.