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Song of the day – 372: Otis Redding

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Otis Redding

This is the one that I used to play endlessly at night, lights turned off, volume turned to the max on my tinny Dansette, lifting the stylus off at the end of the track (from the gorgeous 1965 album Otis Blue) to place it carefully back on at the start, over and over and over again, tears running down my face. I just wanted the world to end, right then and there. Those horns! That plaintive, pleading, good-god-almighty voice.

There’s a time
I will go to my brother, oh my
I’ve asked my brother
“Will you help me, please?”
Oh now, oh my
He turned me down
And then I asked my dear mother
Oh now, oh now
I said “mother”
I said, “mother, I’m down on my knees”

(“MOTHER! MOTHER! I’M DOWN ON MY KNEES!”)

It’s been a long, long time comin’
But I know a change is gonna come
Oh yes it is

(“BROTHER! BROTHER! WON’T YOU HELP ME PLEASE?”)

As any of my former house-mates will attest, I was so beholden to Otis during the Eighties that I needed to deny him during the Nineties (the same way I once denied Joy Division), for my own peace of mind. I would rail against his ‘histrionic’ manner, his maleness, his theatricality that I took as a masquerade for soul. I would seek out deeper Southern soul singers, going more and more into the style: Toussaint McCall and James Carr and dozens besides. It was only – literally – this week that I allowed myself to listen to Otis again, even though ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ was one of my (failed) karaoke standards for years. I would listen, for preference to cool jazz singer Chris Connor’s smokey Fifties croon on that song, from the 10-inch Lullabys Of Birdland.

Here. Have a listen. It’s so gorgeous.

It was only during the last decade, via one of those killer soul documentaries screened on BBC2, that I discovered the Sam Cooke original of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ (the same documentary that blew me away by revealing both Odetta and James Carr to me). An ‘answer’ song for America’s burgeoning civil rights movement to Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, Cooke’s performance here is stunning. And the swoop and emotional charge of those strings! The song suddenly took on a whole different, wider, meaning. For years, I would listen to no other.

And yet … I can’t deny myself.

Hearing Otis again after all this time, he’s still my man. His is the version that I lost my (broken) heart to.

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