Monday, 28 November 2016

The Searchers "Play For Today" aka "Love's Melodies" (1981)





The Searchers "Play For Today" aka "Love's Melodies"

Another Night/September Gurls/Murder In My Heart/She Made A Fool Of You/Silver/Sick and Tired//Radio Romance/Infatuation/ Almost Saturday Night/Everything But A Heartbeat/Little Bit Of Heaven/New Day

You wait fourteen years for a Searchers album and then two come along at once - well nearly, with the two year break between albums six and seven seeming like nothing to fans who had patiently been waiting for a full Searchers long-player since the band got kicked off Pye in 1965. Like their eponymous last album made for Sire it finds The Searchers traditional sound of Rickenbackers, teenage pop and harmonies updated for a new 1980s sound that sometimes tries a little too hard to sound contemporary but more often than not sounds as if The Searchers have always been making records like this one, in whatever genre happens to be in fashion at the time, and somehow moulding their elastic 'band' sound to fit it. That's both the album's strength and biggest weakness as The Searchers ape the period sound without ever really feeling part of it: it sounds as if The Searchers have always been doing this - recording a 1969 'protest' album here, a glam rock album there and a punk extravaganza in 1976 even though the only albums we happened to 'get' were the new wave ones. On the positive side, mind you, it means that The Searchers sound closer to their 'original' style than many bands who were so keen to sound like hot new wave young things that they started cutting their hair in funny styles and dressing accordingly and 1960s fans will find these two albums much more to their style than some of The Searchers' contemporaries like The Who and The Kinks that try to 'live' in the genre instead of making it a nice place to visit. You sense that The Searchers are making a new wave record in the hope of getting a hit, but it's a jacket they wear - that core sound is still The Searchers and can never be from anywhere else but Liverpool 1963-1965.

That's especially true of this second album, which is an altogether more interesting affair than The Searchers' 1979 comeback. Though that album was, predictably, a poor seller it received a lot of polite notices and a lot of enthusiasm from the new wave acts who'd been name-checking The Searchers for a while now so the band have a new confidence flowing through their guitar strings that maybe, just maybe, this second album would be the one to make them 'big' again. Equally predictably that didn't happen either (in fact this album sold even less copies than the first), but you can hear the hope in the studio as The Searchers play with a lot more fire and passion than the album before and they know what they're doing a lot more now, which mostly means guitar-based adult pop. Not everything works on this album - and the lows are arguably lower than anything that made it onto 'The Searchers' - but this time around even the 'failures' are interesting because they reveal how much more comfortable the band are and how ready they are to step away from their traditional sound on occasion. John David's hit-of-the-day 'You Are The New Day', for instance, is most definitely not a traditional Searchers song (and it sounds pretty awful with a synth-fiddle backing and Mike Pender shouting the words). 'Murder In My Heart' too is a dark and ugly song about jealousy and betrayal, quite unlike anything else The Searchers had ever done before and after twenty years of showing their lighter, sugary side they don't sound entirely comfortable with the change. But why not? This is a band who feel re-energised and able to do anything instead of being pigeon-holed with yet more re-recordings of 'Needles and Pins' and 'Sugar and Spice'.

For the most part, after all, they just sound like 'The Searchers' did circa 1964, albeit with a slightly tinnier drum sound and a few extra keyboards in the room. Mike Pender continues to sing with a tidy pop swagger most contemporary acts would have killed for, John McNally's twelve-string still rings through everything and Frank Allen remains one of rock and roll's most under-rated supporting vocalists. At long last, too, they've got pop material that sounds like they were built for The Searchers (in contrast to much of the 1979 album, which was chosen because it was written by big names, whether or not they had any natural feel with the material), with compact tales of love blossoming and dying that are performed without fuss and a great deal of precision. Though most of them are 'new' songs and the surroundings are too, most of the songs sound like they could have been hits in the 1960s: Dave Paul's charming chat-up line 'Silver', Randy Bishop's slow-burning love song 'Infatuation', the oh-so-nearly-a-hit-single 'Another Saturday Night', a tale of loneliness borrowed from Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Forgerty which suits The Searchers better than it did either the author or the better known hit version by Dave Edmunds,  the oh-so-catchy 'Little Bit Of Heaven', the other-oh-so-nearly-hit-single and unrequited love-fest 'Everything But A Heartbeat', the postmodernist 'Radio Romance' and the 'Needles and Pins' soundalike 'September Gurls'. All of these could have been big breezy hit singles in some alternative universe where fifth album 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' came out on time and The Searchers never ran out of steam and take The Searchers back to their pop-root basics quite brilliantly. Though I never quite got why so many fans adore the 1979 comeback album so, this similar (but better!) sequel feels like a much more natural part of The Searchers discography somehow and deserves to be so much better known than it is today.

Even so, the twelve-string playing elephant in the room on this album is once again that The Searchers could and arguably should have been doing more. In this period the band were blessed with three great songwriters - it seems a crying shame that they could only come up with two original songs between them after a two year gap (and 'The Searchers' isn't exactly overflowing with originals either). Great as the band are at re-arranging and interpreting, it would have been nice if they could have showed their not inconsiderable 'creative' skills too. Chris Curtis, their one-time drummer and driving force now living out a very different life working in a Liverpool tax office, must have heard this album (or perhaps had a glance at the writing credits on the sleeve, given the price of albums juxtaposed with his nearly non-existent salary) and laughed at how, even fifteen years on, The Searchers still hadn't found a natural replacement for him in the creative stakes. What's more the one song that is an original (the rather desperate and noisy 'Another Night') is probably the weakest song on here. What happened to all those glorious Searcher B-sides, the late 1960s flop singles - and 'And A Button'? Even though everybody always thinks of The Searchers as a 'pop' band, they'd also proved so many times across the 1960s that they were more than that, pioneering folk-rock, rockabilly, psychedelia, Walker Brothers-esque ballads and out-Phil Spectoring Spector during their late album run. The Searchers still haven't quite taken up the mantle they left off when they stopped making long-playing records in 1965 and while they could afford to go one comeback record without showing their full hand, going across two seems like a wasted opportunity. The moment when The Searchers could have broken out from only being a very good pop covers band is here and I'm afraid they don't take it, with final album 'Hungry Hearts' pretty much sticking to this one.

In case you hadn't noticed, 'hearts' crop up a lot on these three 1980s Searchers albums. Nobody seems quite sure why, given that most of the songs on all three records were by different writers - maybe The Searchers were just in a loved-up mood? Anyway, once again that's basically the theme of the record: boy meets girl, boy plucks up courage to speak to girl, on one occasion a boy has known girl a very long time and only just realised he has feelings for her. However when the boy finally gets to kiss the girl he invariably makes her cry, with songs full of guilt, regret, missed phone calls and in one case a vengeful murder the result, with the exception of the sort-of title track 'Love's Melody' where for once on this album everything is in tune. Largely, though, it's noticeable what a 'down' lot of songs these are when you look at them individually instead of getting carried away on the uplift of that twelve-string. While love is the theme that dominates this album, the way it does so many rock and roll and pop albums, this is a far from teenagery record. Love is an obsession here, a chance to look stupid or something that seems so unlikely for one person to feel that the odds of their partner feeling it too are astronomical. Hearing this record in one go is like wondering how the human race ever lasted this long with so many complications to get round in our genes. Clearly the band were thinking more 'Needles and Pins' than 'Sweets For My Sweet' when they made this record, even though the blistering pace, production values and glittering twelve-strings still make everything sound like pure pop.

The sound of this album is quite distinctive too, even if it does share most of its DNA with its predecessor. Producer Pat Moran once belonged to the 1970s prog rock band Spring, which makes both Sire's nomination of him as producer and the pretty much bang-on contemporary sound a surprise. Nor does a quick run through the acts Moran had worked with reveal any real devotion to a new wave sound with prog-rockers Queen, Robert Plant and Van Der Graaf Generators among his list of clients and Iggy Pop about as contemporary as he got. However Moran is clearly a Searchers fan too: though he doesn't get everything right, he knows their style well enough to allow them to carry on doing what they do, with the Rickenbackers up loud and central to the mix where they ought to be (it's a shame Moran didn't produce the band's 1970s material as well) and even when there are mistakes on the songs that really don't suit the band they still have a peculiarly 'Searchers' quality to them. The first album had everything Searchersy but a drumbeat, as it were - thankfully, while this album is another very 1960s-1980s hybrid of Rickenbackers and synthesisers there are no dodgy drum machines or 'special effects' this time around. The Searchers sound pure again, which is how it always should have been.

If there's a problem with this album though it's a) finding it and b) working out what name it comes under. We've asked you to dig out quite a lot of obscure LPs on this site down the eight odd years we've been running, dear readers, and I'm afraid this is one of the hardest. In Europe this album was released as 'Play For Today', which was a pun on words that name-checked the popular BBC TV drama slot which ran most weeks between 1970 and 1984 and on the other shows that the sound is The Searchers 'now'. Even so, it's probably a pun too far - and what self-respecting Sire-buying new-wave loving teen (very much the album's target audience in 1981) ever watched 'Play For Today'? The album also came with a terribly weak and ineffective cover that basically consists of a black background and a 'radio dial' on it in green and orange - a reference to the track 'Radio Romance' presumably, although as the song doesn't appear for most of the album and isn't mentioned on the cover it must have left lots of record-buyers shaking their heads (plus which self-respecting Sire-buying etc etc listened to the radio?) In America that title clearly made no sense whatsoever, so the album was re-named 'Love's Melodies' in a kind of reflection of one of the album's strongest tracks. Only this album had an even stranger front cover, with a heart-shaped lollipop stuck on a roadside as if it's a 'sign' even though there is no writing on it. Other than going back to this period of The Searchers' discography's obsession with hearts I can't see any reason for it either. Both albums feature the same tracks, by the way, but in a very different order - it's the earlier UK edition we've used here although actually the US one seems to flow better. Given all the hard work that went into making this album sound bright and contemporary it seems strange that Sire allowed it out with a cover that was so ugly and clunky. Both copies of the album are exceedingly hard to find, so your best bet is probably to ignore them both and head straight for 'The Sire Sessions' set of 1997 which includes both the 1979 and this 1981 album plus relevant B-sides on one handy disc (both albums are quite short). However even this set is now pretty darn hard to find so until both albums are re-issued the way they deserve then you might find even tracking this one down is a bit of a struggle. Sorry about that! You're a Searchers fan though if you've got this far, you're probably bitterly used to disappointment by now...

Talking of disappointments, it won't surprise you to learn that this album didn't represent a new beginning for The Searchers as hoped but a kind of ending. Though Sire very much believed in their token 'oldies act' (we still speculate that they wanted The Byrds really who were forever being name-checked by the other bands on their label and The Searchers were the next best thing) even they couldn't go on financing the band forever on poor record sales. After waiting so long for anyone to give them a chance The Searchers were stung by letting this second chance to become stars slip through their fingers. Singer Mike Pender, especially, was furious and felt let down by management, label and bandmates with the feeling within the band never quite the same again, even after re-signing to PRT, the 1980s variation of Pye, shortly after (where The Searchers were only ever allowed to make one single, with plans for a full LP nixed early on). Mike will become so frustrated at The Searchers' return to the cabaret circuit after their dalliance with young trendy twenty-somethings that he'll slowly come to the conclusion that he just has to get out of the band - and he does, quitting the band in December 1984 for one last crack at fame as a solo act at the age of 43. Sadly neither half of The Searchers ever quite regains the momentum lost after this record and to this day members of the band on both sides regret not being given the chance to make a third, planned record for Sire which they agree would have been 'one of the best' (and they don't agree on a lot anymore, these former friends). There will be one last Searchers album, in 1989, on Germany's Coconut album with new vocalist Spencer James on lead and the remaining band will sound as great as they ever did as they continue performing their well-polished set as part of multiple 'Solid Silver Sixties Nights' up and down the UK (sometimes in competition with Mike Pender's Searchers). However things will never be quite the same and for many the magic ends here - a sorry end to the regular recording life of a once great band.

The good news is that if you're persistent enough to track this album down in any format, it will be worth your while - for the most part. Unlike 'The Searchers' which so often sounded as if it was made on automatic pilot and through a lack of confidence that The Searchers could ever work in a new wave setting, 'Love's Melodies' aka 'Play For Today' is confident and brimming lots of very Searchers-esque moments with pure pop played to perfection. There are some horrors on there too which the band should never have gone near of course and you could never put this album on the same footing as the band's achievements in the 1960s, simply because they weren't anywhere near as involved in the creation of this almost-entirely 'covers' album. Anyone expecting another nugget of gold like 'Needles and Pins' or 'Goodbye My Love' or 'He's Got No Love' will be disappointed: rather than being slightly ahead of the curve (with these three songs all but inventing folk-rock, power-pop and psychedelia months or years early) The Searchers are squarely on it and simply doing what everyone else is doing (albeit, often doing it better). There are no great strides forward here and the few times The Searchers do step outside the rather samey template used across this album they have a habit of falling flat on their Rickenbackers (painful!) However, sometimes a record doesn't need to reinvent the wheel and sometimes it's just good to have old friends along sounding much the same way they always did, especially if you haven't really heard as much from them as you might in the last fifteen years. This record, whatever you want to call it and whatever version you happen to be lucky enough to own, won't ever be the greatest album you'll ever buy or even the greatest Searchers album you'll ever buy but it's easily the best of the trio the band went on to make in the 1980s and as a result is a curio worth looking out for, a minor forgotten gem by a great over-looked band.

The Searchers' only original begins the European edition of the album (Americans get 'Silver'). The credit to Allen's name first suggest that 'Another Night' is chiefly his and it does sound more in keeping with his wordier and slightly aggressive material, probably helped out by a stinging McNally guitar riff and a few inputs from Pender. Released as the third single from the album, it's a catchy but rather depressing song about the narrator finding himself alone again after so many nights on his own he's going a bit mad. He is, in fact, losing sight of who he really is, because he relies on always having somebody else to bounce ideas off. Pender does sound a little unhinged here, especially in the falsetto-sung middle eight. Though the song fits in well with the slinky pop of 1981, this song lacks the bite and catchiness of the best of this album and the 'night, another night, ooh wild lady' chorus is what you might call one of the band's more unusual. There was a review of this single in 1981 that said that if every radio presenter did his job then this track ought to be a #1 - plainly they weren't as the single didn't even make the charts, but actually this is almost the only song from the album which isn't an obvious big hit.

One of the few bands who used to be as obscure as The Searchers were the 1970s act 'Big Star', led by Alex Chilton. Somehow word of mouth and similarities with the clean, polished sound of the 'new wave' era meant the band were far bigger in 1981 than they had been in 1971 when they'd released their first record. The band only made three records before breaking up from lack of interest and personality splits anyway (which is two less than The Searchers managed in the 1960s) - this track, 'September Gurls', is from their second 'Radio City'. The original is a slow, emotive ballad that's unusual for Big Star in that it's quite quiet and understated. The Searchers cover is more like the general Big Star big sound: snazzy guitarwork, a vocal that's bright and aggressive and some really fine drumming from Billy Adamson. Pender's narrator sighs over a few of the girls he loved and lost down the years and his mixed feelings in wanting to 'stay away' and feeling love 'for all my days'. The 'September' bit is a puzzle: traditionally it's the time the school year starts in the UK so maybe it's a romance at the start of term - or as it's our Autumn over here, maybe it's a relationship that's doomed to be short and fall apart before too long. Big Star songs weren't exactly known for their rationality (some of the tracks on the last, the most original and maybe the best album 'Sister Lover' get very weird indeed) so look out for the last verse where suddenly, out of the blue, Pender's girl is making things 'right' in the 'dead of night' - though whether this is a 'September Gurl' he married/slept with/met up with again/some new through-the-winter 'January Woman' is unclear. Though many fans rate this song highly (It's interesting reading the forums how many Searchers fans like Big Star and vice versa), it's another track that doesn't quite have the same energy and life as some of the other songs and though The Searchers' new arrangement is inventive they don't radically re-work the song either.

Geez - if this was the American edition we'd have just enjoyed three classics in a row. Instead the European edition has yet another dodgy album cut stacked at the front, with Ronnie Thomas' 'Murder In My Heart'. Though the classic ring of The Searchers' guitar is turned way up loud the way it should be and though the melody is a very catchy bit of pop writing, there's something about this song that just doesn't suit this band. Pender's narrator turns his music way up high and tries to forget his troubles but it's too late to stop the dark nasty feelings he carries with him all day long and the murder in his heart. The Searchers could have gone to town on this song, perhaps the only one in their canon to truly explore their dark side, but musically this just sounds so much like typical Searchers pop that the opportunity is rather wasted. It's a shame, too, that the opening couplet about music being able to soothe anything, even the narrator's impending madness, wasn't explored further as that's a great theme for a band who've believed more than most in the power of pop music as escapism. The song was originally written and released by The Heavy Metal Kids, a short-lived London band who were better (and quieter!) than their name suggests and who put out a string of albums in the 1970s. Anyone who thinks The Searchers' version is obscure though should try and track down the original which is proving impossible to find! A shame, as this is a good song full of dark wry humour and a kind of gleeful manic grin, at least the way The Searchers play it - they're just not the right band to do this sort of song quite frankly and even when stretched and emoting Pender is too 'stable' a singer to do it justice.

John Martin's 'She's Made A Fool Of You' is a better fit, sounding much like a classic 1960s pop single full of guitar riffs and harmonies, even if 'Moon' Martin (he got the nickname because nearly all his early songs had the word 'moon' in them somewhere - though sadly this song doesn't!) actually wrote this and most of his other hits in the 1980s. Though my tastes and those of a few other Searchers fans stretch to their later, maturer works most of the record-buying public tended to think of the band as exactly thius: a bright breezy happy-go-lucky pop band who liked make people feel good about themselves. Recorded with the same rush of adrenalin and fast-paced tempo as 'Sweets For My Sweet' eighteen years earlier, The Searchers sound as if they know what they're doing here, with a great lead from Pender, some tight harmonies, some fierce drumming and some truly majestic twelve-string work from Pender and McNally. This is instantly recognisable as 'The Searchers', even though the original (on Moon's own 'Escape From Domination' record released in 1979) sounds much the same, just a bit slower and a little less glossy. It's notable though that despite this song's effortless pop hooks it's actually quite an adult song: the narrator fell in love and got taken for a ride and he's bitterly, desperately hurt even if he hides it well with a stiff upper lip (which is much more Searchers than resorting to murder).

Dave Paul doesn't seem to have written many other songs (a sole credit for a Textones album was the only other credit I could find) and that's a shame because 'Silver' is one of the album highlights. A clever cross between 1960s innocence and 1980s cynicism, a schoolboy tried to ask his classmate out telling her to forget her homework 'cause you're coming on out with me!' Simultaneously this song is full of such bitter regret (cleverly maintained through a natural switch back to the minor key in every verse) that you just know that this tale of cute first love is going to have an unhappy ending and that it's actually being written by an adult crying over what happened in his past. Even this early on the narrator is adamant that the couple won't hurt each other the way other couples do or 'play games' - something you know is said more defensively than accurately. This relationship is just too good to be true and Pender sings it with the sighing knowledge of someone re-reading their favourite book who knows his characters are going to come a cropper by the end. The McNally-Pender guitarwork. so strong across the whole of this record, is particularly strong here with a gutsy solo (probably played by Pender) which weaves effortlessly round  the choppy rhythm chords (probably by McNally), as if the couple in the song are building the basis for every relationship they're ever going to have. The fact that the young schoolgirl is named 'Silver' also suggests a much older age and stability, the narrator already imagining a long happy life together. A clever song that's well played by a band who know exactly what they're doing.

'Sick and Tired' was an old Iron Door Club favourite (heard in 1963 vintage form on the 'Star-Club Tapes') that the band revived for the album, though sadly this rather good and gritty cover version of an R and B song by Chris Kenner was dropped from the American edition of the album and replaced by the new sort-of title track 'Love's Melody' (by contrast this song is kind of an 'Enemy's Rhythm'). That's a shame because it suits the good-time feel of the record without just sounding like a bunch of ageing rockers returning to their youth either. Performed with a Jerry Lee Lewis style piano stomp, Pender has fun yelling the lyrics at full shout (even though Tony Jackson always used to perform it in the band's early days). Billy Adamson, occasionally flat-footed on the band's more elaborate ballads, sounds particularly at home here on this fast and messy cover. Shockingly this track is still missing on CD, having been skipped for the 'Sire Sessions' CD as well as the 'Love's Melodies' re-issue. Not that deep perhaps, but good fun and the hardest rocking The Searchers have been since about 1964!

Hands up whose heard of the 'Kursaal Flyers'! What, really? No don't be silly, you're just pretending! Anyway those of us who weren't cheating might be interested to know that the originators of 'Radio Romance' came from Southend in the 1970s and scored one lower top twenty hit with a different song, 'Little Does She Know', before disappearing. Which is a shame given that they very much sound like the 1970s' natural inheritors of The Searchers sound, all jingly-jangly guitar and stiff-upper-lip lyrics tied in a neat pop cotton candy bow. This song suits The Searchers a lot more than most on this album and this could easily have been one of their 1960s singles with a tale of how much the radio means to the narrator. It's often a one-way affair, though, as he doesn't always like what he hears but he's still addicted and has to hear more (he sounds like the perfect AAA reader if you ask me!) Someone (Pender?) plays their guitar with a much angrier, grittier tone than usual for The Searchers and it ever so nearly howls with feedback - or at least as close as the clean-cut clear-cut Searchers ever came to that in the studio. A sweet tale of obsession and the power of music to heal all, even when you don't always hear the songs you want to hear, this song was clearly made for top 40 radio itself and deserved to be released as one of the album's singles.

'Infatuation' is perhaps the only song on this album that's a pure love song, as opposed to one with a sudden nasty switch or one that's trying to grin through the tears. Randy Bishop's lyric ask the question 'is it infatuation or is it love?' but the two are clearly linked, as the narrator finds himself falling head over heels in love despite himself. Pender sings with a n audible silly grin plastered all over his face while the twin guitars weave their way through a rather Buddy Hollyish set of chord changes and the quick-stepping rhythm jollies the narrator along almost despite himself. The moment when the harmonies kick in on the middle eight is pure Searchers too as the lyrics make clear that the narrator has never found himself in this situation in his life before and doesn't make a habit of falling in love ('Someone to call my own!' is a stunning revealing moment sung with a cascade of voices that keep tripping over themselves in clumsy absent-mindedness). A sweet, clever song with a jokey Holly 'o-o-o-oh' from Pender near the end, once again this song isn't that deep or that clever but it's a very well crafted bit of pop from a band who know pop singles like the back of their hand. One of the album highlights, daft as it is.

John Fogerty's 'Almost Saturday Night' was the album's second single and a sensible choice as it's one of the most commercial songs here. Allen's falsetto joins in well with Pender's own on yet another album tribute to the radio as the band contradict 'She's Made A Fool Of You' with the advice that they're going to go out and party at the weekend, whatever happens. The sound of this song is again distinctly 1950s ish, as if the band have gone back to their childhood, but it's that peculiar 'Shakin' Stevens' version of the 1980s (but better), with a far gloissier and tidier and, well, mod production than any act in the 1950s would have actually delivered. The band sound right at home on this one and turn in a tight performance on the backing as well as the vocals, with Allen's unusual bass solo particularly catching the ear. Though there are no radios mentioned this time round in the lyric, it's notably the music again that keeps the narrator going, ringing in his ears all through the week while he's waiting for Saturday night to come round again. Beating the author's rather low-key original by a country mile, this is another strong song well suited to The Searchers sound. When is 'Almost Saturday Night' set by the way? I kept expecting the joke that it was only Monday night and the narrator didn't the hope of the weekend to keep him going again already...

The Kursaal Flyers also wrote 'Everything But A Heartbeat' which has everything that's 1980s apart from the central riff which is again is pure Buddy Holly 1980s ('Peggy Sue' to be specific). However the mood is decidedly more cruel this time around lyrically: the narrator's fallen in love with an ice maiden, whose perfect in looks, smile and temperament when they're out with people, but in private she's wicked and cruel, lacking the 'heartbeat' of love. The narrator is being 'spun round' by her even so, though, unable to keep away and everyone around them thinks they're the perfect couple. It's always going to fall apart though: as Pender sings resignedly here 'she's got everything but a heartbeat - but that heartbeat matters so!' A stomping performance has some fine keyboards and piano that push the backing track onwards, with another great Adamson backbeat (and even a cowbell, just to throw some 1960s Merseybeat in there too). Catchier than the plague, with more hooks than a pair of curtains and another good choice of song that could have been tailor-made for The Searchers and their ringing Rickenbackers, how this album highlight wasn't a bigger success as a single I'll never know.

'Little Bit Of Heaven' is the second and final original Searchers composition on the record (and therefore the last to contain a credit for Mike Pender during his time with the group). Though a stronger song than 'Another Night', it's still one of the weaker songs on the album and one which seems to borrow a little too heavily from period influences (the bass and drum are ripped straight from The Jam and the guitar and synths from Blondie - and no, if you haven't heard it, the two styles aren't that compatible now you mention it). Pender's quick-snapping lead tries hard to be a lad about town, but the repetitive chorus doesn't quite nail the effortless pop of the rest of the record and some of the verses are just weird. The best part of the song is when the twin guitars stop twinkling and start rushing at each like rutting stags in the solo, angry and desperate at rectifying the way the narrator has been wronged, the 'little bit of heaven' in his heart taken away forever. Though good to dance to, with a sturdy and unbreakable bass and drum riff (yeah, as if I'd know - I'd just fall over if I tried...) this song repeats the chorus a few too many times to be up to the rest of the album and is a sad way for Pender to end his run of songs with the band (though credited to all three Searchers again, this sounds more like Mike's work to me, especially the riff, perhaps with the others adding the lyrics along the way). For some reason the 'Sire Sessions' disc missed this song out too, which must have been a disappointment for the writers who really needed the royalties.

'Play For Today' ends with the weakest song since the first: 'New Day' (wrongly titled 'You Are The New Day' on some copies). So far The Searchers have been much braver than they were last time out in 1979 and chosen fairly obscure songs that few rock and pop collectors would have recognised, but this Airwaves a capella hit of 1978 was a huge seller for lots of bands (The King's Singers do it best) and had a 'Radio Romance' of its own in this era when it always seemed to be sung by someone. The Searchers go for a different interpretation to most, treating this fragile and loved-up track to a full band makeover which works quite well in that sense, but in their haste to make it sound different to the original they also speed up the tempo a lot which makes it sound less like life-long devotion and more like a quickie behind the bins. Somebody also needs to move the piano away from the wind tunnel where it appears to have been recorded! It's a particular shame that Mike Pender should end his career singing what should be the perfect reminder of his strong voice and sensitive touch on ballads to what is a particularly gruesome and ill-judged backing track. This is also the only track on the album which doesn't feature The Searchers' Rickenbacker sound, which could easily have been fitted into the quietly-hopeful-jubilation of this song. This is one of those tracks that sounds better if you 'accidentally' play it at the wrong speed and slow it down (actually it sounds like Barry White)...A new day for lots of people, but not The Searchers alas.

Overall, then, 'Play For Today' isn't perfect. The album gets quite a few things wrong arrangement and song-choice wise during it's opening and closing stints, although there are more than enough solid Rickenbacker-ready tracks in the middle to keep the album afloat. Certainly the album is an improvement on its predecessor, with new confidence and power on a majority of the recordings made here and whoever was buying records and making choices for The Searchers deserves a medal because there are some really inventive and obscure songs here which are a perfect fit for them. There's easily enough life in this formula for the band to have made a third record for Sire, which they were all geared up to do before the label broke it to them that the record sales just weren't happening quick enough to make that viable. You can't blame Sire - they did well to take a chance on The Searchers in the first place after a full fourteen year gap since their last album which wasn't just limp re-recordings - but it's a real shame that The Searchers couldn't have had just one more go at perfecting this formula, because they've almost got it right here and the band clearly learnt a lot from making these two LPs. They're both fan favourites for a reason these records, not least how hard to find and valuable they are, while The Searchers update their sound with more taste and flair than most of their peers. However they still needed a tweak or three (or seven in the case of 'The Searchers') to truly represent what The Searchers could have sounded like given the perfect song choice, production methods and recording time. The band could still give their new wave contemporaries a run for their money - which is impressive enough in itself - but any band with The Searchers' reputation to carry was always going to struggle winning a new audience over and these records don't add quite as much as they could to the band's legacy.

More Searchers articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

'It's The Searchers' (1964) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/its-searchers-1964.html

‘Sounds Like Searchers’ (1965) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/the-searchers-sounds-like-searchers-1965.html

'Take Me For What I'm Worth' (1965)  http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-5-searchers-take-me-for-what-im.html

'The Searchers' (1979/1980) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/the-searchers-19791980.html

'Play The System' (B sides and rarities) (1988) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-89-searchers-play-system-1988.html



Otis Redding: Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums 1963-2014




"Live At The Apollo Theatre 1963"

(Recorded November1963, Released in 1964 on the Various Artists set 'Live At The Apollo'; Re-released as part Of 'Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding' Box Set In November 1993)

"I just need me somebody to treat me right!"

You wouldn't know, listening to the two songs taped at the Apollo in November 1963, that Otis was a new star, still a full two months away from releasing his debut album. Redding already sings with a confidence and charisma that belies his young age and his voice is gloriously smokey, sounding like he's packed a lot of living into that time. The songs are no surprise - both had been showstoppers in Otis' set for some time and are both highlights of his debut LP, but it's the way Otis sings them with even more intensity than later years that makes this gig stand out. Redding was one of many up and coming and established stars captured in concert for an all-star record released as 'Saturday Night At The Apollo' in 1964 - a yearly event that had been running since the late 1940s showcasing the best of soul. This was, however, the first album taken from the shows, for which we have to thank James Brown, whose full length set from the Apollo the year before had set new records for soul album sales and proved that there was a big market for these sort of live shows. How lucky, then, that Otis' early years were captured that year alongside performances by Ben E King, The Coasters, Rufus Thomas, Doris Troy and a band known as The Falcons who feature future stars Wilson Pickett and Eddie Floyd in the line-up. It's a testament to how great the soul music scene was back then that all the acts on the original record either were or went on to become stars. Though the Falcons come close, it's clearly Otis who steals the show despite reportedly shaking with stagefright before he went on to play to his biggest audience at that time (Rufus Thomas, already a friend after meeting on tour before, is said to have put his arms round Otis, told him he'd be great and to ignore the sea of faces and imagine he was singing to just one pretty girl in the front row...) A wonderfully warm 'Pain In My Heart' was the only track to make the original record, but the 'Otis!' box set from 1993 includes both that track and a lovely slow version of 'These Arms Of Mine' that should have made the record too.

"In Person At The Whiskey-A-Go-Go"

(Atco, Recorded April 1966, Released October 1968)

I Can't Turn You Loose/Pain In My Heart/Just One Day/Mr Pitiful/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction)//I'm Depending On You/Any Ole Way/These Arms Of Mine/Papa's Got A Brand New Bag/Respect

"You're sweeter than honey - and I'm about to give you all of my money!"

Otis' second full live album was the third of the archive sets to be released in tribute to him after his death and so was actually taped a year before his first (this collecting lark can be really confusing sometimes!) Though the concert was only a couple of years old by the time of its release, it already sounded like it came from a different era altogether, with Otis at full-throttle grunt and captured on tour promoting the 'Soul Album' released a couple of weeks prior, a sound very different to 'Dock Of The Bay'. You can tell that Otis is near the end of a weary tour, that his voice is husky and beginning to give way, while the Bar-Keys (who played these smaller club-style dates with Otis, with the MGs held back for the bigger venues) are towards the looser end of their usual slick selves. This means that on the more intense passionate ballads like 'Pain In My Heart' and 'These Arms Of Mine' the band sound slightly lacking, scrappy rather than intense. However at other times this sense of things being on the edge brings out the best in everyone: 'Just One Day', for instance, is a remarkable performance with Otis somehow overcoming his vocal restrictions to suddenly start soaring at full throttle with the band going right out to the edge with him. The up-tempo numbers like 'Mr Pitiful' and 'Satisfaction' also benefit from this looser, rawer edge as Otis comes at both songs less like a soul singer than a rock star. Otis also turns in a song that, at the time, was exclusive to this set - a cover of James Brown's 'Papa's Got A Brand New Bag' which gets the full Otis treatment. The band are a little too rough to truly nail the song but you can at least hear Redding making it his own. Though short at thirty-five minutes and less interesting to the collector than the second volume released years later which contains the more interesting songs (and is taken from a slightly earlier run of dates when Otis' voice is still in good health), 'In Person' is still a fine purchase with Otis' charisma shining through any restrictions. Better live albums have been released since and you wonder why Stax chose this concert in particular to remember Otis by, but in a world that had never heard a live Otis album before (unless you were lucky enough to see him in concert) this was more than enough. Respect! 

"Good To Me: Live At The Whiskey-A-Go-Go Volume Two" re-issued as
"Recorded Live - Previously Unreleased Performances!"

(Stax, Recorded April 1966, Released 1982/Re-Released 1993)

Introduction/I'm Depending On You/You're One And Only Man/Good To Me/Chained and Bound/Ole Man Trouble/Pain In My Heart/These Arms Of Mine/I Can't Turn You Loose/I've Been Loving You Too Long/Security/A Hard Day's Night

Note: This running order is for the 1982 album 'Good To Me'. A shorter edit of the album in a slightly different order appeared on the 'Recorded Live' album in 1993

"It's worth it just to hear you say you're gonna give me everything"

Usually soul never sounds more sober than when it comes in the hands of Otis Redding. Full of morning after worries and regrets and fears over the future, Redding's is the thinking man's soul, not the boozy knees up of Mother James Brown or the rave of Sam and Dave. This album might well be the exception, however, as a combination of a slightly blurry recording technique, a speed that sounds a gnat's crotchet slow of real time and Otis pouring out his soul with even more passion than normal combine to make this the booziest of Redding recordings. Actually that's not the disaster it sounds. Though Otis always sounded like he meant it, here he sounds as if he's living each and every word, pulling most of the songs long past their natural ending point with improvisation after improvisation. It's not just Otis either - the Mar Keys are all slightly skee-whiff tonight as if their horns have all been slightly squashed out of shape, while Al Jackson Jnr drops his usual on-the-money groove to sound like he's auditioning with a part in The Who. Only Booker T himself, almost inaudible in amongst all this noise, keeps his cool - everyone else is treating the show as a rave-up and cutting looser than they've ever cut before. 'Good To Me', a song I'd never really rated before, flies out of the blocks like it's got somewhere good to go, 'Security' goes from muted introspective ballad to extrovert singalong and a rare take on The Beatles' 'A Hard Day's Night' has the band working like a dog. 'Your One and Only Man' meanwhile, perhaps the greatest Redding song you may not know, sounds glorious with the tension between Redding's voice hard on the accelerator and the horns putting the brakes on the perfect way to arrange this song. Soul's consummate professionals always, you've never quite heard the band like this before and as a one-off I rather like it. The first volume with the 'hits' on it was pretty good, but this may well be the best live Otis album of them all (after the half-album of Monterey anyway).

In case you were wondering, the reason behind the changes of name are that Stax 'accidentally' passed the rights of the original album 'Good To Me' over to Atlantic, who then realised that actually Otis was an artist they wanted to keep only for Stax so they quickly bought up the rights and stuck it out again. Stax slightly tweaked track listing and a different name a decade later with the addition of a few extra tracks at the beginning and end. 'Good To Me', the later one from 1993, is the one to get being longer and coming in ever so slightly better sound.

"Live On The Sunset Strip"

(Recorded April 1966, Released May 2010)

CD One: Security/Just One More Day/These Arms Of Mine/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/I Can't Turn You Loose/Chained and Bound/Respect/I'm Depending On You/I can't Turn You Loose #2/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction #]2/Chained And Bound #2/Just One More Day/Any Old Way

CD Two: I've Been Loving You Too Long/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Destiny/Security/Good To Me/Respect/Chained and Bound/Mr Pitiful/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction #4/Ole Man Trouble/I Can't Turn You Loose #2/A Hard Day's Night/These Arms Of Mine #2/Papa's Got A Brand New Bag/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction #5

"I remember those sweet kisses you gave me that night, man they were so good to me..."

Where have all these live Redding albums been sitting for forty years? After some thirty with only one full live Otis album to go on, suddenly we have our sixth Redding in concert album and it seems that Otis couldn't have gone anywhere across 1966 and 1967 without a microphone in his face. Though new fans will probably be better off with the one official set 'Live In Europe' or the essential 'Monterey' set, for collectors this may well be the most interesting, containing effectively a double dose of the early Otis who across 1966 was adding all sorts of interesting and rare material to his set lists. Some selections from the record had already been released on the two 'Whiskey-A-Go-Go' sets out and arguably there's a lot more still in the vaults so prepare yourself for a full box set of each complete show one day. However this is by far the fullest version out yet and reveals subtleties to Redding's performances over the four nights away from the twenty-five-minutes-and-stop drama of each of the other albums. Fascinatingly, too, it's our best chance to hear the short-lived 'Otis Redding Orchestra', a ten piece band 'hand picked' by Otis from the Mar-Keys, Bar-Keys and other friends who rival even the MGs for precision and power. Redding sure was lucky to have so many great bands willing to go out on a limb for him and this set's high points are as often as not due to them as much as him. Uniquely for a Redding band, they tend to play most of these show stoppers as 'medleys, specialising in the most unlikely segues - which is fun for listeners but must have been hell for the people editing the highlights records!

Though there's an awful lot of repeats across this album, which was taken from three gigs across a four night stand in Hollywood (a big deal back then and probably Otis' biggest claim to fame in his homeland before Monterey) and spread across two action packed CDs (live shows were short back then!) what's fascinating is hearing how Otis makes each gig different. The first disc is perhaps the best, with Otis particularly on form, but the second is worth hearing too for both the rarities (both 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'Papa's Got A Brand New Bag') and the ways that Otis' mindset changes the set: sometimes he's in a slow yearning wistful mood, sometimes he's ready to rock and roll, sometimes he's aggressive and assertive and sometimes he leaves big silences for the Bar-Keys to show their stuff. Hopefully one day all four shows will be released complete so we can see how different each gig seemed as a whole, but cobbling the best of them together here, with some big differences night to night, is a fair compromise.

Highlights include the definitive 'Can't Turn You Loose' from the first disc, with Cropper stand in James Young playing a killer guitar part that just challenges Otis to keep up over the course of six of the most energetic minutes in the Redding catalogue, a brilliant 'Security' (actually two of them!) doubled in speed and toughened up considerably via Elbert Woodson's drum rolls, a thumping great 'Your One and Only Man' strangely re-titled 'Destiny' here, a charming 'Any Ole Way' (rarely heard live for some reason - it stands up well especially with a new horn part) and, on disc two, an extended seven minute epic version of 'Chained and Bound' with a gloriously extended finale. Only the complete and rather drunken emcee announcement and a couple of slightly shakier performances ('Respect' and 'Satisfaction' suffering the most) really gets in the way of a fine live set that's the most 'complete' yet. The first 'Whiskey-A-Go-Go' album is probably more than enough for most people, but in my opinion the best songs from the shows got left behind on both volumes one and two and were only released for the first time here.

"In Concert"

(Stax, Recorded April 1966 and March 1967, Released '1999')

Respect/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/Chained and Bound/Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay/I've Been Loving You Too Long/Security

"I ain't goin' no further 'cause you got me chained and bound"

A rather odd CD this, which despite being on Stax itself has the ring of cash-in about it. The rather tacky packaging is enough to put you off for starters (including an off-centre shot of Otis grinning mid-song with his eyes closed in front of a bored audience - check out the grumpy kid peering up at his microphone seemingly unaware that he's in the presence of a musical giant). The music too is redundant if you own the sources it comes from already, none of them mentioned on the sleeve: the rowdy 'Live On Sunset Strip' gig from Easter 1966, the slightly more 'polite' 'Live In Europe/London/Paris' sets from March 1967 and - bizarrely - the studio outtake of 'Dock Of The Bay' from a month earlier than the 'famous' version (which is kind of 'live' I guess without any overdubs going on, though that definitions' still a bit cheeky!) At the time this set was a handy way of getting hold of the 'Sunset Strip' material released a year later, though even then it felt like little more than a sampler for a forthcoming bigger event and at seven tracks decidedly under-sells Otis' talent. There's really little reason to own it now, unless you can't get hold of the bigger sets around it and it's going cheap.  


"Live In Europe"

(Volt/Atco, Recorded March 1967, Released July 1967)

Respect/Can't Turn You Loose/I've Been Loving You Too Long/My Girl/Shake/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/These Arms Of Mine/Day Tripper/Try A Little Tenderness

"Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa - Your turn!"

The only live album of Otis' lifetime, released a month after 'Monterey' in order to cash in on the success of that concert, is not the one I'd have chosen having heard the other Redding live recordings sitting in the vaults with less character than the 'Whiskey A Go Go' and 'Apollo/Sunset Strip' recording. It's not even the gig I'd have chosen from this tour, given that the later CD re-issue combines the superior London show with the Paris gig that makes up the backbone of this concert. I'm surprised that perfectionist Redding allowed the gig through given that he sounds husky and sloppy most of the night, while the MGs are as ropey as you will ever hear them, including their own slightly wonky live recordings. However there's still a sort of manic brilliance about this album, with Otis getting by through sheer force of charisma as he realises his voice is beginning to give out and he can't sing with his customary subtlety. This really suits the rockers in the set which now have a hold-on-tight-it-could-go-wrong-at-any-moment-feel, with an 'I Can't Turn You Loose' that's far funkier than the studio cut and a 'Day Tripper' that's played so faster it's less a scenic journey than a car crash and extra thrilling as a result. 'Shake', though, sounds as if it was recorded in a shower, 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' features the all-time worst Redding vocal as he struggles to nail the tricky 'peak' section in the middle and roars huskily instead of sings and 'Try A Little Tenderness' is horrifically raw and should perhaps have taken its own advice. There's none of the sense of drama and character you get watching Otis or which comes over loud and clear on his other live records and even the reviews of the time said that Otis was shown up by both the MGs' own set and Sam and Dave's support act. The last album of 'new' material in Otis' lifetime is, like the Carla Thomas album, a misguided cash-in that proves how low Redding had fallen in the first half of the last year of his life. Get this on CD as 'Live In Paris and London' if you must get it, but I'm not sure you really need either.

"Live In London and Paris 1967"

(Stax/Universal, Recorded March-April 1967, Released February 2009)
London: Introduction/Respect/My Girl/Shake/Day Tripper/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Try A Little Tenderness

Paris: Introduction/Respect/I Can't Turn You Loose/I've Been Loving You Too Long/My Girl/Shake/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction)/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/These Arms Of Mine/Day Tripper/Try A Little Tenderness

"You're on the record - you, you and you! The man who sings our favourite songs it's W-I-L-S-O-N-P-I-C-K-E-T-T. Whoops, sorry, wrong gig, it's O-T-I-S-R-E-D-D-I-N-G!"

Having already released Otis' studio albums several times, Otis' live record - only made available once, briefly on CD - was a natural contender for re-issue. However rather than simply re-issue an album that neither artist nor fans had really taken to that much Stax did the sensible thing and went back to the original masters, offering up not only the Paris show the original record came from but the London show taped four days earlier as 'back-up' as well. Though shorter (seven songs rather than ten) and a lot rougher (with Otis at his most aggressive and husky), the unheard London show is to my ears the better of the two, with the fast pace of the whole act pushing the band to new exciting heights. The Paris show- already released complete on 'Live In Europe' - is rather tamer and closer to the records, though you can see why it was released at the time for those reasons. The Paris show is one you bought at the time to impress your granny with - The London show is more the sort of album you use now to annoy your neighbours with. 'Respect' is screamed rather than debated, 'Shake' is so dementedly manic you sense any of the audience trying to join in are getting into a tangle, 'Satisfaction' is harder rock than the Stones live version on 'Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!' in 1970 and 'Try A Little Tenderness' is stretched out to a powerful seven minutes of peaks and troughs that leave both singer and audience breathless. Only 'Day Tripper' maintains its respect, strangely treated as the 'light ballad' song in the set and the chance for the Bar-Keys to get their breath back (I didn't see that coming!) Neither album quite matches the Monterey show for power and guts, but this welcome set offers new insight into the sheer scale and oomph of a Redding live show and is far better than a straight re-issue of the record.

"Historic Performances: Live At The Monterey Pop Festival"

(Reprise, Recorded June 1967, Released '1970')

Side One: Jimi Hendrix Experience

Side Two: Shake/Respect/I've Been Loving You Too Long/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Try A Little Tenderness

"This is the love crowd, right? We all love each other don't we? Let me hear you say YEAH!"

'Shake! Let me hear you all say it...' After a day and a half of laidback hippiedom, mellow acoustic numbers and peace and love vibes this was a real shot of adrenalin that takes the entire 90,000 crowd by surprise. Believe it or not, few people attending the Monterey Pop Festival had ever heard of Otis Redding. Though Otis was big in soul circles and had managed to cross over quite well to the white pop market in Europe, his records had always sold far better overseas than his homeland. Suddenly, two and a half years after his debut, the whole world knew Otis Redding. In a meticulously planned five song set Otis and Booker T and the MGs (returning to Otis' side for what was such a prestigious event and who played their own set before the singer hit the stage) give their all, nailing five very different sides to Otis' art. Warming to what he calls' the love crowd', Otis responds to the peace and love vibes of the festival with a powerful soul-rock crossover that's all about breaking barriers rather than building them, as Otis pours his heart out on themes of equality and frustration similar to those already heard across the June weekend, but in a very different style. The crowd, their attention snatched in the most brutal way with 'Shake', are shocked to find that the Aretha Franklin feminist anthem 'Respect' that had only just fallen out of the charts was actually a minor hit first for the soul giant in front of them, turned back instantly into a song about first race but also a more hippie-esque philosophy of equal rights and values and shared respect between generations. The most intense 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' of his career features Otis dropping his manic glint for some of the most naked confessionals outside Simon and Garfunkel's set, with Otis playing cat and mouse with the crowd as he breaks away from the 'ah-oh-woah' middle eight to grin at the MGs and ask to do it again, performing this hook a third and fourth time before finally moving on with the song. By the end of the song every eye is on the stage. Switching things up, Otis then owns the hippies at their own game, bravely performing the Stones' 'Satisfaction' with all the passion but none of the sneer of the original. Any doubts that Otis is an interloper playing at hippie philosophy is dispelled by a rare speech from the stage from a performer who rarely spoke to his audiences. 'We're the love crowd right? We all love each other now don't we? :Let me hear you say yeah!' By now there isn't anything the crowd won't do for Otis, who has become firmly one of them. Finally, Otis brings things to another peak with a gorgeous 'Try A Little Tenderness', another very hippie-esque soul song about mini-skirt dresses which switches from laidback love song into intense feminist anthem by the end and has Otis yelling for all he's worth by the end. 'I've got to go' he pleads at the end 'Lord knows I don't want to go'. The crowd don't want him to go either.

The single most important show of Otis' career finds both singer and band living up to the scale of the occasion. Though always a nervy and stagestruck performer, who spent most of the run-up to this show shaking, it's Otis' confidence in front of an audience that cowed even some of the festival's biggest names that weekend that made his mark (Simon and Garfunkel struggled for instance, while The New Animals and The Byrds turned in disappointing sets). Despite what legend tells you, Otis was not the only soul singer who played the festival, but whereas Lou Rawls played his usual set early on on the opening day, Otis tailored his set to the 'love crowd' and offered the hippies both something that stood out from the other acts of the day and appealed quite genuinely to their own ethics and ethos. It was the perfect match between band and audience and Otis nailed every line. Of course he was the star of the show (joining Janis Joplin from earlier in the day and Jimi Hendrix the next day, whose explosive performance appears on the 'other' side of Otis' official recording, Janis being stuck on a different label); the wonder is that it had taken his American crowd so long to take him to their hearts.

Tragically Otis wouldn't have long to enjoy the fame he'd been searching for for so long. In fact in a way Monterey came along at just the wrong time: Otis was struggling for a new direction (most of the songs performed on the night were older songs dating back to 'Otis Blue' a full year or so earlier) and simply ran out of time to record a fully hippie-pleasing album to make the most of his new cross-over audience. With the failure of the Carla Thomas duets record still ringing in his ears, Otis won't actually release another album in his lifetime, with 'Dock Of The Bay' - a song quite different to any performed here - his only major recording to come. But even if Otis never got the chance to make the most of his success afterwards, he certainly made the most of his chances on June 16th 1967 when he gives the single greatest show of his life. 'Shake' and 'Respect' can be seen in the 'Monterey' film released in 1968 (six months after Otis had died), with the other three songs in the 'Monterey' DVD box set. The music has been released several times too, best heard complete as part of the 'Monterey Pop Festival' 30th anniversary four disc box set in 1997 as well as various Otis releases (including the final two songs of the 1993 'Otis!' box set). However the most poignant release remains the first, released in 1970 as a tribute to both Otis and Hendrix, the two stars who passed too soon given a side each to prove their very different respective styles. One of the best selling live albums of the year, it proved that the magic in the room (well, field) had been every bit as strong as the people lucky enough to be there claimed it had been. Even with all the many other Redding live albums in this book, most of them played to his 'own' crowds, this is still hands down the best Redding show. Every Otis fan needs to hear it; heck every fan of music needs to it - this is one of those occasions when a show truly deserved to pass into legend.



"The History Of Otis Redding"

(Volt, November 1967)

I've Been Loving You Too Long/Try A Little Tenderness/These Arms Of Mine/Pain In My Heart/My Lover's Prayer/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)//Respect/(I Can't Get No Satisfaction)/Mr Pitiful/Security/I Can't Turn You Loose/Shake

"I've been loving you too long - and I'm not about to stop now!"

The timing of the one and only compilation album of Otis' lifetime seems spookily timed, released mere weeks before his death and unexpectedly reaping the benefits of the extra publicity surrounding the singer's death (most labels get accused of being tacky by releasing best-ofs after their artist dies - but Stax managed to avoid them given that this album was already riding high in the charts anyway when Otis died). In retrospect that title, suggesting that everything Otis had to offer is already passed, seems mighty spooky, although it's pretty much in keeping with most soul compilations back then (where acts tended to go 'bigger' and more 'epic' than their rock cousins - we've already seen it in the way the singer became 'The Great Otis Redding' as early as his not that hot selling second album). Actually the timing of the record makes perfect sense: Otis was on a creative roll with three album's worth of material being recorded the very same time this album made the shops, but even Otis at speed would never have got a record ready for Christmas 1967. Far better, then, for the Monterey 'love crowd' to get a timely reminder in their festive stockings a mere five months after they'd discovered who Otis was. The resulting compilation is cheap and cheerful, understandably handicapped by the short playing times of records back in the mid-1960s and marred slightly by the sense that Stax are keeping a few songs back for what must at the time have seemed an inevitable volume two. As a result this set is not really recommended, being superseded by better and longer albums several times over and particularly hit by the fact that 'Dock Of The Bay' is only just being recorded this same month so understandably doesn't appear. You could do worse though: all the big hits are here, as are lesser selling fan favourites like 'Security' and 'My Lover's Prayer' alongside the B-side oddity 'I Can't Turn You Loose'. Though nobody who bought this album in the first month of release knew it, they were buying the last Otis Redding album to be given the singer's stamp of approval and it's full of his customary value for money and hallmark of quality.

"The Dock Of The Bay"

(Volt/Atco, February 1968)

(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay/I Love You More Than Words Can Say/Let Me Come On Home/Open The Door/Don't Mess With Cupid//The Glory Of Love/I'm Coming Home To See You/Tramp/The Huckle-Buck/Nobody Knows You (When You're Down and Out)/Ole Man Trouble

"Look likes nothing's gonna change, looks like everything always stays the same..."

The timing of Otis' death was doubly cruel because after a slow start to his career he'd really found his voice across 1967. Though he only released one solo album that year, he had enough for at least another two in reserve thanks to a lengthy run of recording sessions in the second half of the bay of which 'Dock Of The Bay' was only the tip of the iceberg. This first of four attempts at releasing some of that mass of material, this is so much better than it has any right to be for an 'outtakes' set and suggests that Otis' sixth solo album would have been one of his best. Though 'Dock Of The Bay' is clearly the stand-out track and by far the biggest switch of gears, the rest of the material points towards a slight softening of Otis'  stance and a more introspective sound all round. It would have been fascinating to see how well the public would have taken to such a change in Otis' work (would 'Dock Of The Bay' have even been a hit coming out of the blue like that without his death to push it up the charts?) but I have a sneaking suspicion that even if it hadn't sold this mythical 'sixth album' would have been at least a fan favourite. 'Dock Of The Bay' predecessor 'The Glory Of Love' is just gorgeous, Otis unwinding slowly rather than unravelling quickly over the course of a song, while 'I'm Coming Home'  is one of Otis' loveliest love songs for Zelda and perhaps reflects his eagerness for a rest after a gruelling year, imagining a return home that sadly would never come.

However it's important to remember that 'Dock Of The Bay' isn't quite what Otis would have wanted for his sixth album - given that the sessions were still ongoing at the time of his death it's unlikely that he'd have though too much about what to keep and discard anyway. Stax, perhaps sensing they can get a few extra sales by including a few old favourites sneakily add a few old singles here to pad the album out - even though, as we know now, there was more than enough stuff left in the vaults. 'Nobody Knows You' and 'Ole Man Trouble' really stick out a mile possessing Otis' younger more aggressive voice, while 'Tramp' sounds even more clueless and above all soul-less than ever, it's fake comedy tones grating in amongst all the real naked vulnerability Otis offers here. 'Don't Mess With Cupid' too is a B-side from 1966 and much played on tour that year that never quite found a home and isn't up to the 1967 material here either. Thankfully Stax have also included both sides of both of the last singles released in Otis'  lifetime which are sort of the long lost stepping towards from his pure soul period to 'Dock Of The Bay', Though neither were big hits (peaking at #78 and #60 in the US respectively), both 'I Love You More Than Words Can Say' and 'The Glory Of Love' are welcome important releases in Otis' discography, yearning ballads that are ever so nearly matched by their fine and similarly titled B-sides 'Let Me Come On Home' and 'I'm Coming Home' that perhaps hint at how much 'home' was becoming an obsession for Otis in this period. I've always been surprised that all four don't crop up on Redding compilations more often.

 That doesn't leave an awful lot on this album you can't find elsewhere then to be honest, although chances are maybe even half of this album would have made it onto whatever record Otis would have released next ('Open The Door' and 'The Hucklebuck' are the two songs exclusive to this set at the time and neither are what I would have chosen from the piles still in the vaults). Still, given all that, Stax have still put together an album that's more of a worthy tribute than a blood-sucking cash-in. Hiring Steve Cropper in to oversee the track selection is a strong move and the guitarist copes well sifting through recordings he'd have made only weeks before in such very different circumstances. The cover, too, says it all without being direct about anything: Otis is on a black background, lost in deep thought, with a gold border round the album, an inversion of the usual tacky 'black border' tribute albums. I've always considered this record the equal of any main album in the Redding catalogue, maybe even the better of a few of them - though treasured as a last will and testament from a great man and the biggest seller of Otis' career by far, this record has never perhaps been given the love it quite deserves. Well worth digging out.

"The Immortal Otis Redding"

(Volt, June 1968)

I've Got Dreams To Remember/You Made A Man Out Of Me/Nobody's Fault But Mine/Hard To Handle/Thousand Miles Away/The Happy Song (Dum-Dum-De-De-De-Dum-Dum)//Think About It/A Waste Of Time/Champagne and Wine/A Fool For You/Amen

"Big O, everything's gonna be alright!"

The second posthumous Otis Redding release of 1968 is as close as we have to what that mythical sixth solo album might have sounded like. Taken entirely from the recording sessions Otis recorded in the last few weeks of his life, its proof that Otis was going through a real creative renaissance after a year or so in the doldrums with some of his most impressive and experimental work to date. Of course, chances are the album wouldn't have looked exactly like this - Otis had a lot of strong material to choose from, another two-thirds of which will be spread across the next two retrospectives 'Love Man' and 'Tell The Truth' across the next couple of years. Without his death the previous December the record certainly wouldn't have had that choice of title or the album's funeral elegiac air. But one thing the album Otis might have lived to make would surely have matched are the high sales figures, amongst the best of his career, because the record's brilliance and crossover appeal so soon after that Monterey performance would surely have made this a career highlight no matter how many more albums Otis might have gone on to make.

Though there are a couple of slightly weaker cover songs towards the end I'd gladly swap with the better stuff from 'Love Man' and 'Trust Me' and 'Dock Of The Bay' and to a lesser extent 'The Glory Of Love' and 'The Hucklebuck' sound like they 'belong' to this album too, so this set could and should have been better - Otis, generally a good judge of his own material despite some slightly inconsistent albums, would surely have made this album even better had he lived. But even with some of the stronger songs missing this album is quite an achievement and represents the biggest single step up in Otis' work since 'Otis Blue' back in 1965. What will hit you if you're coming to these albums in order is how many of Otis' own songs are here: the November/December 1967 sessions actually doubled the amount of recorded originals Otis had managed across his career. Redding has a lot on his mind and has found a new way to communicate the struggles of his personal life into music. Most of the songs here are about his increasingly fragmented relationship with wife Zelda, but like 'Dictionary Of Soul' they represent a see-saw ride: one minute Otis is holding back the tears as he steels himself to make the break; the next he's realised how perfect the couple are for each other and all the great times they shared. Otis was always a singer who came from the heart, but his heart has never been open as wide or for as long as it is here, with Otis agonisingly, terrifyingly real throughout. Hearing the record together in one go is exhausting in fact, an emotional rollercoaster that leaves you drained. Otis sure put a lot of living and writing into those last few months, to almost unanimously great effect - once again what a tragedy that he got taken from us before he could reap the reward of what would surely come to be seen as hopefully the first in a series of truly grown-up work. Mr Pitiful at last has a reason to sound sad and a way of communicating it to us without relying on past glories or soul cliches.

Anyone who thought that all the best stuff from the vaults had already been raided for 'Dock Of The Bay' would have been met with a surprise as soon as this record starts up. 'I've Got Dreams To Remember' is perfect from Staxc's point of view, a ghostly Otis waving us goodbye but telling us not to worry because he had some great times - actually it's a lyric by wife Zelda about what must surely have been their impending split sung by her husband with eerie accuracy and detached cool. 'Dock Of The Bay' sequel 'The Happy Song' is a clever pop song, the single most happy go lucky moment in the Redding canon and yet one that fits perfectly, a brief moment of brevity from a man who knows how rare these special fun times are. 'Hard To Handle' is such a famous composition (a Grateful Dead setlist regular among many dozens of other cover versions) that it comes as a surprise the song was never released in Otis' own lifetime. 'A Waste Of Time' is an overlooked classic, the obvious update of Otis' slow yearning ballad style for this darker, deeper modern age. And these are just the highlights: the album's only weak inclusion really is the Ray Charles cover 'A Fool For You' and even that stands up against the covers from earlier in Otis' career. A mood piece that hangs together well thanks to its head-hanging guilty conscience and deeply moving thanks to the feeling of shadows circling the horizon, 'The Immortal Otis Redding' is as good as any other record in Otis' catalogue, matched for consistency and power only by 'Otis Blue'. To think how much greater it would have been still with 'Dock Of The Bay' surely  a shoe-in for the record, perhaps with hit single 'Love Man' and the one highlight from the archives missing here 'I'll Let Nothing Separate Us' included over 'A Fool For You' and 'Amen'. What an album, what a talent, what a career and what better way to remember Otis than to hear him searching out new ground, his artistic talents re-awakened after a rather quiet start to the year. Usually I hate records that have title like 'Immortal' or 'Great' or 'Mega-talented' but for once Stax got the title spot on. Immortal, for the ages, timeless and to be enjoyed by every generation to come: yeah, they got that right. Highly recommended.

"Love Man"

(Atco, June 1969)

I'm A Changed Man/(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher/That's A Good Idea/I'll Let Nothing Separate Us/Direct Me/Love Man//Groovin' Time/Your Feeling Is Mine/Got To Get Myself Together/Free Me/A Lover's Question/Look At That Girl

"When this whole world comes to an end  I'll be standing there holding your trembling hand, I won't let anything separate us, woah for now"

Posthumous album number four (if you count 'Live At The Whiskey A Go Go) and for the first time there's a slight sense of barrel-bottoms being scraped. Otis had, after all, been even more prolific in death than life with double his usual output across the year - it was inevitable that something would have to give way soon. This time the album was taken exclusively from the final sessions in 1967 but throws a new light on Otis' art. Instead of 'Dock Of The Bay' style ballads, this is a new form of his old fast-paced soul, sung with as much gusto and energy as the old days but with a slightly quieter, relaxed feel about everything. 'I'm a changed man!' Otis soars rather than screams on the opening track and it sounds like it too with a number of Otis; happiest and most uplifting songs, a million miles away from 'Mr Pitiful' - a million miles upwards in the case of the charming cover 'Higher and Higher'. 'Love Man' is the song from the album that everyone knows after being lifted as a single - though it only peaked at #72 in the singles chart, this song and the even better full on soul ballad 'Free Me' also from this album were Otis' last ever hits.
This album doesn't quite live up to the last two in terms of consistency mind - there are a few cover songs here that you'd have hoped Otis would have rejected, both because they don't quite mould to his style and because his performance is clearly a take or two away from his usual perfection. 'A Lover's Question', another strangely popular song, is one of his weakest recordings since the earliest days, while 'Look At That Girl' is grooving nicely until the gospel choir come along to ruin things, an uncharacteristic lapse in taste. This album remains important, however, for showcasing Otis' development as a songwriter over the last year of his life and amazingly for a posthumous compilation contains far more originals than any of his 'real' records. Admittedly not all are prime Otis -'Groovin' Time is the usual Booker T and the MGs funk filler with added worlds and 'Got To Get Myself Together' re-uses the standard Otis Redding rhythm without really adding anything interesting. However, there are some crackers here too that really deserved release sooner and deserve to be more widely known. 'That's A Good Idea' is nicely slow and slinky in the 'Hard To Handle' mould, 'Your Feeling Is Mine' is almost folk rock with a softer, less solid feel than usual that could have been a really nice future direction for Otis in 1968 and 'I'll Let Nothing Separate Us', one final love song for Zelda, is a beautiful track that's almost too painful to bear. No it's not perfect and Otis would no doubt have sat on a good third of this album without releasing it, but if you come to this album in mind then this last majority-unreleased Redding album is so much better than it has any right to be. Had 'Love Man' come out in time to reach the end period of the 'love crowd' Otis might have been even bigger than he had been in 1967 had he lived.

"Tell The Truth"

(Atco, July 1970)

Demonstration/Tell The Truth/Out Of Sight/Give Away None Of My Love/Wholesale Love/I Got The Will//Johnny's Heartbreak/Snatch A Little Peace/Slippin' and Slidin'/The Match Game/A Little Time/Swingin' On A String

"For just as long as I may live my love to you I will give"

There are two ways of looking at 'Tell The Truth', the fifth of the posthumous Redding albums, unusually licensed out by Stax to their soul rivals Atco (a branch of Atlantic, the other biggest soul label of the decade). It is, on the one hand, the weakest collection of 'all new' studio Redding material and easily the weakest of the three late 1967 recording sets, full of the material that you'd have hoped Otis would have been most likely to discard. Oddly it's more barrel-scraping than the unreleased songs from 1992's 'Remember Me'  or the new 'old' material released on 'The Story Of Otis Redding' and the 'Otis!' box set. However, what other artist could provide a third album from six weeks' worth of sessions that was still this listenable? The set still includes a whole seven Redding originals, which brings his total for the sessions up to twenty-five: a ridiculously productive amount. While none of them match the best of the previously released work like 'I've Got Dreams To Remember' or 'Dock Of The Bay', there's still a lot of great stuff here including the emotional 'Give Away None Of My Love' (another great song about the on-off relationship with Zelda), the slow cooking slinky MGs groove 'Just A Little Time' which is even eerier than 'Dreams To Remember' with its talk of something good being over before the narrator was ready to say goodbye and the intriguing 'Johnny's Heartbreak' a one-off collaboration with the only soul/R and B writer who could ever hold a candle to Otis/Cropper's own talents: Arthur Alexander. Of course we also get a lot of Otis on auto-pilot, jams that don't go anywhere and sound like warm-ups for the MGs to rehearse a typical 'Otis' style rhythm and more than this album's fair share of sloppy cover songs (Redding treats outside writer's material more and more hurriedly as he begins to spend more and more time crafting his own work in this period). Most of this relatively rare record can be heard on various Redding compilations nowadays anyway, which is probably how it's best heard, as a few extra sprinkles to go alongside the main Redding course rather than a full meal in its own right. But, seriously, who expected a third album of outtakes from the same period to be even this good or - momentarily - brilliant? Tell the truth, not me. There won't be any more 'new' Otis releases for another twenty years, with fans naturally assuming the four active studio records between them must have captured everything releasable: actually there was a lot better than this waiting in the vaults for another day. For now, though, the first Otis Redding album of the 1970s kept his legacy safe for that little bit longer. 

"The Best Of Otis Redding"

(Atco, '1972')

Shake/Ole Man Trouble/Good To Me/I Can't Turn You Loose/I've Been Lovin' You Too Long/Tell The Truth/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Cigarettes and Coffee/Down In The Valley/These Arms Of Mine/Tramp/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/Try A Little Tenderness/Rock Me Baby/That's How Strong My Love Is/My Girl/Love Man/A Change Is Gonna Come/Just One More Day/Respect/Pain In My Heart/My Lover's Prayer/Chain Gang/You Don't Miss Your Water/(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay

"I've been loving you for a long time - and you're still good to me!"

Released to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Otis' death, this double set is a key compilation in the Otis catalogue. It's the first to be released that isn't just a knee-jerk re-action to Otis' death and as such is the first to look at his career as a 'whole', setting the tone for future sets to come that will largely take their track listing from the selections included here. For the most part you can't fault the 25-song-long track listing, which offers a range of songs a little deeper than previous sets and gives a real flavour to all sides of Otis' canon: the more aggressive stance of 'I Can't Turn You Loose', the happy-go-lucky 'Shake' , the wistful 'Dock Of The Bay' and the desperation of 'Pain In My Heart'. Otis comes across as a far more 'complete' singer than he does from listening to any of his album individually and we more modern fans owe this set a lot for keeping Otis in the public eye into the 1970s. However there are two things that prevent this set from being definitive: firstly the songs are in a complete jumble here, switching from one extreme of Otis' style to another, while the album cover illustration - supposedly a drawing of Otis with a beard made up of collages from newspaper cuttings, though he looks more like the first Master from Dr Who - is appalling. So far this compilation has never been released on CD, which is a surprise actually given how many other Otis sets there are out there and how beloved this set once was: the only Redding compilation to make the charts outside his own lifetime. Astonishingly, it's also the last for fourteen years until a growing interest in Otis from the younger rock and soul communities lead to a sudden burst in releases in the 1980s and 1990s.Not before time.

"The Ultimate Otis Redding"

(**, '1986')

Respect/(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay/These Arms Of Mine/Pain In My Heart/Come To Me/Security/That's How Strong My Love Is/Mr Pitiful/I've Been Loving You Too Long/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/Try A Little Tenderness/Chained and Bound/Shake/Old Man Trouble/Let Me Come On Home/Open The Door/That's What My Heart Needs/Tramp/I Can't Turn You Loose

"Well, we've all been wrong a time in our life..."

Another decade, another compilation with a different twenty track choice to most of the previous LPs. Most of what you need is here though most of what you will want after you hear it is different: no 'Cigarettes and Coffee'  'Day Tripper' or 'Love Man' for instance - but rarer single material like  'Open The Door' and posthumous songs like 'I can't Turn You Loose' are probably a fair substitute actually. The biggest problem with this album, though, is how boring and ugly it looks. Otis was a colourful performer with any number of images that come to mind from his music - a black background with chunky yellow 'n' peach writing was way down my list. Ultimate? Not quite. But at the time it was a cheap and easy way of getting hold of a lot of classic material and on that level at least is a qualified success.
"The Otis Redding Story"

(Atlantic, '1987')

CD One: These Arms Of Mine/What My Heart Needs/Mary's Little Lamb/Pain In My Heart/Something Is Worrying Me/Security/Come To Me/Your One And Only Man/Chained and Bound/That's How Strong My Love Is/Mr Pitiful/Keep Your Arms Around Me/For Your Precious Love/A Woman A Lover A Friend/Home In Your Heart/I've Been Loving You Too Long/A Change Is Gonna Come/Shake/Rock Me Baby/Respect

CD Two: You Don't Miss Your Water/Satisfaction/Ole Man Trouble/Down In The Valley/I Can't Turn You Loose/Just One More Day/Papa's Got A Brand New Bag/Good To Me/Cigarettes and Coffee/Chain Gang/My Lover's Prayer/It's Growing/Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)/I'm Sick Y'all/Sweet Lorene/Try A Little Tenderness/Day Tripper/Ton Of Joy/Hawg For You/Tramp

CD Three: Knock On Wood/Lovey Dovey/New Year's Resolution/Ooh Carla Ooh Otis/Stay In School/You Left The Water Running/The Happy Song (Dum Dum Dum)/Hard To Handle/Amen/I've Got Dreams To Remember/Champagne and Wine/Direct Me/Merry Christmas Baby/White Christmas/Love Man/Free Me/Look At That Girl/The Match Game/Tell The Truth/Dock Of The Bay

"I've got dreams to remember..."

Twenty years on from both Monterey and Otis' death, at last his legacy began to be taken seriously. It's a funny old business early death in the music world: the big acts of the day can soon fade away as new acts come along to stay in the public eye and it takes a special timeless talent to come back into fashion despite the best wishes of the record companies who'd rather get on plugging something or somebody new. But great talent can never really day - there'll always be a murmur, a whisper, a cult movement that refuses to let brilliance be forgotten and Otis remained more than special enough for his music to live on for a new generation of soul and rock fans. Suddenly that album title 'The Immortal Otis Redding' looked like it was coming true. Atlantic, who'd always had close links to Stax, had by now gone their separate ways after an extraordinary clause in the contract between them that the record labels would go their separate ways on Atlantic boss Jerry Wexler's retirement, the bigger label effectively picking and choosing the catalogue they wanted to 'keep'. They decided the time was right to remind the world about Otis' talent and  sanctioned the first proper investigation as to what of Otis' existed in the vaults. They came up with a few surprises too including the first release of Otis' 'Stay In School' rant, an unreleased Christmas single and the demo 'You Left The Water Running' while guesting on a Wilson Pickett session, both later re-released on the 'Remember Me' CD and 'Otis!' box set in the 1990s where they're easier to track down. With 'Ultimate' still selling well even a decade later, Atlantic decided to reach out to the committed collector rather than the casual newcomer and came up with a pricey box set, the first real release of Otis' work on compact disc.

This turned out to be something of a flawed business plan, though. By 1987 Redding's fanbase could be divided into two: the old-timers who owned all the original albums on vinyl still and were deeply suspicious of the digital age, without the equipment to play it on and the newcomers who were curious about Otis after hearing him mentioned and after buying the best-of, but couldn't afford or weren't interested enough to buy a box set that was, it has to be said, rather ridiculously over-priced. Rather austerely packaged, with no real surprises outside the new discoveries and the earliest two exclusive B-sides, there simply wasn't enough of a hook for the newcomer to want to buy it. The set's biggest saving grace wasn't even mentioned anywhere - the fact that it was the first Redding set ever to include a complete set of A and B sides, all in the 'proper' chronological order for the first time ever. Even so, though, this set has been rather wiped from history because so few people bought it - few discographies even mention it, which seems odd for a set that included the first releases of four recordings, one of them rather essential to the Otis canon.


"Dock Of The Bay: The Definitive Collection"

(Atlantic, '1987')

Respect/Mr Pitiful/Love Man/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Security/I Can't Turn You Loose/Shake/Hard To Handle/Tramp/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/My Lover's Prayer/These Arms Of Mine/That's How Strong My Love Is/Cigarettes and Coffee/My Girl/A Change Is Gonna Come/I've Been Loving You Too Long/Try A Little Tenderness/Pain In My Heart/(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay

"It touches your heart, puts you in a groove, and when you sing this song it makes your whole body move"

The 20th anniversary of Otis' death coincided with the rise of the CD, making Redding an obvious candidate for a compact disc-length compilation. The second album in Otis' career to be named after his biggest hit, 'Dock Of The Bay' is rather a good one, extending the usual dozen or so songs into a pretty darn good twenty track retrospective that will set the standard for the next few years until the two and four disc sets start arriving. Newcomers get to enjoy all the hits in one place, collectors get to enjoy semi-rarities like 'Hard To Handle' 'My Lover's Prayer' and 'I Can't Turn  You Loose' alongside the cream of Otis' five-album solo run (plus 'Tramp', annoyingly) and the cover sports perhaps the definitive Otis picture in gold, re-used by many sets since. I'm especially pleased to see highly rated album tracks that never got the attention they deserved in Otis' own career overshadowed by the 'hits' such as 'That's How Strong My Love Is' and 'Security'. Working against this set is the lack of space compared to the better, longer best-ofs out there, the lack of sleevenotes and the rather jumbled chronology, although it's hard to fault a set that starts with 'Respect' and ends with 'Dock Of The Bay'. There are better sets around, then, but for years this was all we had and it was more than good enough, Otis' legacy kept safe for a little longer. The set sold so well that the run of Redding compilations comes to a pause again here for another five years or so.

Remember Me (1992)....................
"Remember Me"

(Stax, '1992')

Trick Or Treat/Loving By The Pound/There Goes My Baby/Remember Me/Send Me Lovin'/She's Alright/Cupid/The Boston Monkey/Don't Be Afraid Of Love/Little Ol' Me/Pounds and Hundreds/You Got Lovin'/Gone Again/I'm Comin' Home/(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay Takes One and Two/Respect (Outtake)/Open The Door (Outtake)/I've Got Dreams To Remember/Come To Me (ALternate)/Try A Little Tenderness (Outtake)/Stay In School

"Remember me, don't you forget me child, we are only here for a little while"

A quarter century after Otis' death and finally his legacy seemed complete. Following on from the four posthumous studio sets released between 1968 and 1970 here is a fifth and final compilation made up of all the outtakes and unreleased songs Otis had never gone round to finishing or releasing. Suddenly, after two decades of being teased with a few unheard live recordings, this was Otis overload with 22 completely unreleased recordings - five unreleased covers, no less than nine unreleased originals (far more than on any of Redding's original albums!), six alternate takes, a rather scrappy live recording of 'Respect' and the 'Stay In School' message Otis rather clumsily gave to high-school dropout wannabes on tour as part of a wider campaign for higher education. Many of these songs had been talked about before but rarely heard even on bootleg - songs like 'I've Got Dreams To Remember', a ballad that's become a sort of retrospective classic that's always appearing on albums and is the only time Otis sang words written by his wife Zelda, or a very different version of 'Try A Little Tenderness' or the two earlier takes of 'Dock Of The Bay' taped three weeks before the final hit version. Even another quarter century on, I'm still in shock that this album actually came out after being a record-collecting myth for so long.

Of course not everything is first-rate. Given that Otis made seven finished albums and the equivalent of another six of unreleased recordings within the space of just three years I'd never expect them to be, but some of the worst excesses are on this album too. There's a run of tracks at the beginning that are pure Sam Cooke and Little Richard pastiches, made before Otis has quite found his voice, while the actual covers of these singer's tracks like 'Send Me Lovin' and 'Cupid' are a little outside Otis' comfort zone. For the most part, though, this is a terrific set that's at least half-full of songs that should never have been shelved. In addition to the much talked about numbers, the under-rated title track 'Remember Me' is the playful side of Otis that's horrifically poignant given the lines about life being too short and making the most of it, 'The Boston Monkey' is a clever Steve Cropper groove with Otis grunting laid on top, 'Don't Be Afraid Of Love' adds a little jazz shuffle to the soul and 'Hundreds and Pounds' is about the closest Redding and Cropper came to making a full-on rock number. There are all sorts of reasons why Otis should never have been forgotten and finally 'Remember Me' gave us all a strong reminder about why Otis was one of the best in his field without resorting to the same old tired song choices. But then with a voice like that, how could any us really forget? Unexpectedly brilliant and perhaps the best of all four posthumous outtakes sets (though 'Love Man' comes close too).

"The Very Best Of Otis Redding Volume One"

(Rhino, November 1992)

These Arms Of Mine/Pain In My Heart/That's How Strong My Love Is/Mr Pitiful/I've Been Lovin' You Too Long/Respect/I Can't Turn You Loose/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/My Lover's Prayer/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/Try A Little Tenderness/Shake/The Happy Song (Dum-Dum-Dee-Dee-Dee-Dum-Dum)/Tramp/(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay/I've Got Dreams To Remember

"With you my life has been so wonderful I can't stop now..."

Our old AAA friends Rhino, who helped turn The Monkees from the runt of the 1960s litter into a band of depth and brilliance with their CD re-issues, took over Otis' canon for the most part in the 1990s (though smaller labels continued to license Otis' songs from his estate occasionally). In keeping with their tradition, they started small, issuing a Redding compilation that's rather small in scale and scope and not all that different to the 'Dock Of The Bay' set from five years earlier ('Dum Dum Dum (The Happy Song)' and the just-issued 'I've Got Dreamt To Remember' are no substitutes for 'That's How Strong My Love Is' 'Security' and 'Cigarettes and Coffee' either). However it's welcome that the 25th anniversary of Otis' passing was noticed by somebody and the set makes a decent stab at putting all of Otis' greatest moments in one place for curious fans intrigued by the fuss around 'Remember Me'. Volume two was released three years later, while Rhino told the story in far more detail the following year with a box set building on the legacy merely hinted at here.
"Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding" (Box Set)

(Rhino, November 1993)

CD One: She's All Right (The Shooters) /Gettin' Hip (The Pinetoppers)/Shout Bamalama (The PInetoppers)/Hey Hey Baby/These Arms Of Mine/That's What My Heart Needs/Mary's Little Lamb/Pain In My Heart/Security/Come To Me/Don't Leave Me This Way/Little Ol' Me/Don't Be Afraid Of Love/Your One and Only Man/Chained and Bound/That's How Strong My Love Is/Mr Pitiful/For Your Precious Love/I've Been Loving You Too Long/I'm Depending On You/Ole Man Trouble/A Change Is Gonna Come/Down In The Valley/Shake

CD Two: Respect/You Don't Miss Your Water/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/I Can't Turn You Loose/Cupid/Just One More Day/Good To Me/Cigarettes and Coffee/Chain Gang/My Lover's Prayer/It's Growing/I'm Comin' Home/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/I'm Sick Y'al/Sweet Lorene/Try A Little Tenderness/Day Tripper/Tramp/Knock On Wood/Lovey Dovey/New Year's Resolution/You Left The Water Running/Trick Or Treat/Merry Christmas Baby/White Christmas/Coca-Cola Commercial (A Man And A Woman)

CD Three: Announcement (Stay In School!)/Glory Of Love/I Love You More Than Words Can Say/Let Me Come On Home/Open The Door/Hucklebuck/The Happy Song (Dum-Dum-Dee-Dee-Dee-Dum-Dum)/Hard To Handle/Amen/Gone Again/I've Got Dreams To Remember/I'm A Changed Man/Direct Me/Love Man/Free Me/Look At The Girl/Pounds and Hundreds/Tell The Truth/Johnny's Heartbreak/The Match Game/A Little Time/Slippin' and Slidin'/(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay
CD Four (Live): Introduction/Shake/Pain In My Heart/These Arms Of Mine/Can't Turn You Loose/I've Been Loving You Too Long/My Girl/Your One and Only Man/Good To Me/Day Tripper/Just One More Day/Mr Pitiful/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/I'm Depending On You/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/Chained and Bound/Ole' Man Trouble/Any Ole Way/Papa's Got A Brand New Bag/Security/A Hard Day's Night/Respect/Try A Little Tenderness

"I'm a changed man, I'm a brand new guy, yeah yeah yeah!"

This is, I think it's fair to say, 'the big one'. Though Otis himself only released round about four CD's worth of material in his lifetime anyway, Rhino have done a good job of weeding out the slightly lesser tracks in favour of the best posthumous releases for a set that tries to give substance and balance back to a story that till now has only really been told via the highlights since Otis' death. Though casual newcomers will be drawn in by the chance to own all the songs they'd been hearing so much about, especially on the hit-packed second disc, this set is really aimed at for collectors who get somewhere around twenty songs making their debut on the three studio CDs. The three pre-fame Otis recordings with Redding's original bands The Shooters and the Pinetoppers are impressive, already sounding much like the Redding to come but in a very different setting with a jazzy backing and female backing singers. Hard to find early B-side 'Mary's Little Lamb' is a stunner too, senselessly missed out of all the zillions of compilations since its release back in 1963.

The latest batch of outtakes from the final 1967 sessions are a slightly more uneven bunch and spreading that last burst of creativity across a whole CD and a bit slightly unbalances the box, but still contains its fair share of surprises. The delightful Isaac Hayes cover 'Trick Or Treat' is my new candidate for best AAA Halloween song (alongside The Kinks' 'Wicked Annabella' and The Hollies' 'Witchy Woman'), 'You Left The Water Running' hints that Otis could do country-soul as well as all his other experiments, 'Merry Christmas Baby' is full of festive cheer and new original 'The Match Game' is as great as any of the flurry of posthumous singles released in the wake of the singer's death. Set against this brilliance it seems almost churlish to record that 'White Christmas', adapted into Otis' usual pleading style, leaves you colder than a snowman with frostbite, that Otis' last cover song by his beloved Little Richard on 'Slippin' and Slidin' is an intense disappointment or that a taped on-stage message from Otis telling his crowd of largely teenage kids to 'stay in school' because leaving is 'not groovy' is preachy and in Otis' case not true at all: Otis never looked back after quitting school at fifteen to earn money for his family and while he may have regretted it on a personal level it's hardly fair to tell his audience that staying in school is the only way to get a career when he himself did pretty well without passing any exams.

Those are only small fry problems, though, because as well as the three studio discs we get perhaps the most substantial and necessary document of the Otis Redding live years on disc four, cobbled together seamlessly from four separate gigs. Taking out the lesser moments and including only definitive performance of each of the 'famous' songs plus a few one-off rarities from The Whisky-A-Go-Go in April 1966, London/Paris in March/April 1967,  Monterey from June 1967 and the rare couple of tracks recorded as early as November 1963 at the Apollo ('These Arms Of Mine' being the one unreleased live recording here) allows you to see just how far Otis took his style and how much it changed. Though purists will no doubt argue that you still need to buy each of these concerts separately to get the real sense of the drama and passion of an Otis Redding gig, collecting the best of these shows together for one definitive CD makes sense in the context of the box set and is the perfect end, a reminder that much of Otis' magic came on-stage rather than off. Starting with a gruff-voiced 'Shake' with a terrific drum solo, the disc moves on to a terrific and smoky  'Just One More Day', a punchy horn driven 'I'm Counting On You', a sneaky cover of The Beatles' 'A Hard Day's Night' in the same line as 'Day Tripper' and 'Satisfaction' that works better than either and a final pair of classic breathless pieces from the Monterey show, classics all. Of course, it would have been better yet had the Monterey show been included in full (it's such an integral part of the Redding story after all) and the set leans a little too heavily for me towards the 1966 set, when Otis was still only part of the way towards forming his trademark live style, but this is still the single best live Otis Redding CD out there and makes for a memorable conclusion to a memorable set.

Chosen with care, with the tracks largely included in order and exquisitely packaged, 'Otis!' is perhaps the best single purchase Redding sets and deserves to be at least on the shortlist of the very best AAA box sets out there. Containing almost everything of Otis' you'd ever need including lesser known greats like 'That's How Strong My Love Is' and 'Your One and Only Man' (although as always it's not perfect: the playful side of Otis' art such as 'Louie Louie' 'I'm A Hawg For Yer' and 'Soulsville 6-3-4-9-7-8-9'  all deserve to be here), 'Otis!' gets away with its 'Definitive' tag for once, because there's very little ground this set doesn't cover, from the first stirrings of soul purity in 1963 to the wiser, more wistful recordings made at the very end. Otis' career and life were short and you can't help but feel that this box set is cut off too soon - that what we have here should be the middle 'peak' rather than the whole of a life in music. But Otis' short life was highly fruitful, with more classics amongst his releases than many people realize after decades of the same old lazy compilations. 'Otis!' puts that right at last with care, with love and with all the right source materials in place. The only negative point to make really is how quickly this set disappeared, before it was given its proper dues and it now sadly fetches ridiculous prices on the second-hand market. A re-issue soon, preferably at a cheaper price than the original, would be highly valuable and help restore Otis to where he belongs - as the King of soul with a voice, talent, charisma and songs like no other. Stunning.

"The Very Best Of Otis Redding Volume Two"

(Rhino, April 1995)

That's What My Heart Needs/Come To Me/Security/Chained and Bound/I'm Depending On You/My Girl/A Change Is Gonna Come/Day Tripper/I Love You More Than Words Can Say/The Glory Of Love/Knock On Wood/Lovey Dovey/Hard To Handle/Amen/Look At That Girl/Papa's Got A Brand New Bag

"I don't want to lose this good thing that I've got, 'cause if I do I will surely lose a lot"

An intriguing collection of lesser known recordings for those who didn't get enough with Rhino's volume one, this is another well planned and chosen collection that mainly rounds up the lesser-singles from Otis' own lifetime and the posthumous releases taken from the vaults. Some of these are as wonderful as anything on volume one: the urgency of 'That's What This Heart Needs', the drama of 'Chained and Bound', the slow-burning groove of 'The Glory Of Love' and the influential funk of 'Hard To Handle'. Though the set falls apart a little at the end when Stax got a little bit desperate and greedy for material from the vaults, with a few too many covers of songs made famous by others, this is a highly impressive set for a 'volume two' and recommended for those who've already bought the original five solo albums (you can probably miss 'King and Queen'...) who don't yet want to splash out on the pricey box sets and who can't even flipping find most of the posthumous compilations...
"Love Songs"

(Elektra, January 1998)

These Arms Of Mine/That's What My Heart Needs/Pain In My Heart/That's How Strong My Love Is/For Your Precious Love/Nothing Can Change This Love/I've Been Loving You Too Long/My Girl/Just Once More/My Lover's Prayer/Try A Little Tenderness/Lovey Dovey/I Love You More Than Words Can Say/A Lover's Question/Love Man/(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher

"I'll be the breeze after the storm is gone, to dry your eyes and love you all warm!"

A slightly different tack now for the latest Redding compilation, outsourced to the label Elektra for the first time. This is the first of two 'themed' Redding compilations, this one based around the theme of 'love' and released in time for Valentine's Day, although it rather begs the question 'weren't most of Otis' songs about love?' The new 'rules' mean there's no 'Dock Of The Bay' 'Mr Pitiful' 'Sad Song' 'Respect' or 'Shake' for once although most everything else is here from the heartbreak of 'Pain In My Heart' though to the posthumous covers of 'Love Man' and 'Higher and Higher'. Full marks for including these songs in the right order (this is I think only the second Redding set to do this out of about flipping twenty-five so well done Elektra!) and for including some rarer but equally remarkable songs along the way: 'That's How Strong My Love Is' 'Just Once More' and 'Your Precious Love' among them. This set could still have been better though: there's no 'Your One and Only Man' which I'd have said was a shoe-horn for the intense romantic drama the record label are clearly going for here, not to mention 'A Woman A Lover A Friend' 'Keep Your Arms Around Me' 'Wonderful World' 'Treat Her Right'  and 'You're Still My Baby', although I'm relieved to see the anthology keeping clear of 'King and Queen' with the exception of 'Lovey Dovey' (which is, at least, an improvement on 'Tramp'!) 'Love Man' too is pushing it a bit for entry too - 'Lust Man' would be a more fitting title! Not the most obvious Redding compilation to purchase and not exactly made for easy romantic listening, but if you have a dramatic soulful  love life then you might just have found your perfect soundtrack.

"Dreams To Remember: The Otis Redding Anthology"

(Rhino, August 1998)

CD One: Shout Bamalama (The Pinetoppers)/These Arms Of Mine/What My Heart Needs/Pain In My Heart/Come To Me/Security/Chained and Bound/Mr Pitiful/That's How Strong My Love Is/I've Been Lovin' You Too Long/Respect/Ole Man Trouble/A Change Is Gonna Come/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Down In The Valley/Shake/My Girl/You Don't Miss Your Water/Cupid/I Can't Turn You Loose/Just One More Day/My Lover's Prayer/Cigarettes and Coffee/It's Growing/Fa-Fa-Faq-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/Try A Little Tenderness

CD Two: You Left The Water Running/Trick Or Treat/Tramp/Lovey Dovey/Let Me Come On Home/I Love You More Than Words Can Say/Merry Christmas Baby/The Glory Of Love/Tell The Truth/I've Got Dreams To Remember/The Happy Song (Dum-Dum-Dee-Dee-Dee-Dum-Dum)/Hard To Handle/Amen/Direct Me/Love Man/Look At That Girl/I'm A Changed Man/The Match Game/(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay/Shake (Live)/Respect (Live)/I've Been Loving You Too Long (Live)/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (Live)/Try A Little Tenderness (Live)

 "I just could not wait for another day, I love you more than words can say"

The first of several two-disc Otis Redding sets, Rhino released this as a sort of cheaper alternative to the pricey box set, sadly without most of the live songs or the detailed packaging but still an impressive amount of the set's exclusive rarities. Starting with Otis' first recorded lead vocal and ending at Monterey, like the box set, there's a different emphasis amongst the album tracks which reduces the main Otis albums to a single disc (not bad, but the 'Volume One' set was better) and a more intriguing second disc that for the most part features the crop of the posthumous releases and the best of the 'new' material. This can be quite a weird mixture - it's the Otis equivalent of releasing 'Sgt Peppers' backed with a disc of outtakes from 'The Beatles Anthology' - but so many of the originally unreleased recordings are so good that many new fans simply didn't realise the second disc was ever meant to be inferior. The box set is clearly the better one to buy if you can but, hey, I'm not made of money either (feel free to buy another seven copies of this book!) so this is a kinder and cheaper way of still getting your hands on the fairly essential Redding rarities. Minus several marks for the packaging thouygh - instead of re-using the same distinctive sleeve as Rhino's best-of and box set this one goes for a drawing that makes Otis look like Lionel Richie with a boxer's nose!

"The Very Best Of Otis Redding"

(**, January 2002)

CD One: Respect/Try A Little Tenderness/Love Man/Shake/Mr Pitiful/I Can't Turn You Loose/Pain In My Heart/You Left The Water Running/My Lover's Prayer/Tramp/Chained and Bound/That's How Strong My Love Is/My Girl/Cigarettes and Coffee/It's Growing/The Match Game/Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out/I'm A Changed Man/Your One and Only Man/(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay

CD Two: I've Been Lovin' You Too Long/These Arms Of Mine/Hard To Handle/That's What My Heart Needs/Security/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/The Happy Song (Dum-Dum-Dee-Dee-Dee-Dum-Dum)/Come To Me/A Change Is Gonna Come/Lovey Dovey/You Don't Miss Your Water/I've Got Dreams To Remember/Dopwn In The Valley/Just One More Day/You Made A Man Out Of Me/Tell The Truth/For Your Precious Love/Free Me/I Love You More Than Words Can Say

"I'm long legged and I'm outta site!"

Another anniversary (amazingly it had now been thirty-five years by now since Monterey and Otis' death), so it's time for another compilation with the usual suspects trotted out to remind the world about Otis' legacy. This set is, however, one up from most courtesy of two fully packed CD length-discs in that this time all the goodies are there and the more unusual track selections - especially the ones released after Otis' death - seem to have been chosen with far more care. After the box set, this is another of those one-off purchase sets that will give you close enough to everything of Otis' everyone should own in their collection and at a pretty good price too. There's a nice selection of songs from 1992's outtakes set   'Remember Me' too, with this the first compilation outside the box set able to include them.  And not many Carla Thomas duets, which is a good thing by the way. Of course it's still not perfect - there has yet to be an Otis Redding set that is - courtesy of another jumbled up track listing that's even worse than normal, thanks to the inexplicable decision to put the four most up-tempo tunes in Otis' canon together - followed by what almost amounts to a CD and three-quarters taken up with ballads. 'I Love You More Than Words Can Say' seems an odd way to end the set too. The packaging too is a little bare bones, with the front cover featuring Otis peering through a big 'O' and not much in the way of sleevenotes, although it's still a stage up from the really cheap and tacky best-ofs from down the years.


"The Definitive Soul Collection"

(Rhino, July 2006)

CD One: These Arms Of Mine/That's What My Heart Needs/Pain In My Heart/Come To Me/Security/Chained and Bound/Mr Pitiful/That's How Strong My Love Is/I've Been Loving You Too Long/I'm Depending On You/Respect/Can't Turn You Loose/A Change Is Gonna Come/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/My Lover's Prayer

CD Two: Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/Try A Little Tenderness/I Love You More Than Words Can Say/Tramp/Shake/Knock On Wood/Glory Of Love/(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay/The Happy Song (Dum-Dum-Dee-Dee-Dee-Dum-Dum)/Lovey Dovey/Amen/Hard To Handle/Look At The Girl/Papa's Got A Brand New Bag/I've Got Dreams To Remember

"Love those peaches, gotta have that tree"

The packaging may be a bit cheap and shoddy and the songs you know might dry up early on in the second disc, but for the cheap price this is a terrific way to get lots of cut price Otis in one go. The first disc is pretty comprehensive as a best-of in its own right and for once amongst these sets includes the songs in the proper chronological order so you can really hear Otis' talents grow track by track. The second is more of a collection of posthumous singles, not many of which would have been chosen by Otis himself had he lived you suspect, but even then there's enough of worth here to add a bit of depth to your understanding of Otis and his art. There's even a handful of the better album tracks too such as 'That's How Strong My Love Is' and 'Chained and Bound' which are the equal of any of the better known songs. Be warned, though, that there are a couple of omissions that make this set fall just short of that 'definitive' title - no 'Love Man' or 'My Girl' - while three songs from the 'King and Queen' duets album with Carla Thomas (the most represented Redding album here after 'Otis Blue') seems decidedly over-generous when there were so many other gems to choose from. Still, if it's price that's always been putting you off Otis' essential works then this is a worthy and credible place to begin.

"Stax Profiles"

(Stax, June 2006)

Security/Happy Song (Dum Dum Dee Dee Dee Dum Dum)/My Lover's Prayer/Shake/Mr Pitiful/Good To Me/A Woman A Lover A Friend/Direct Me/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/A Change Is Gonna Come/Champagne and Wine/I'm Sick Y'all/I've Got Dreams To Remember

"I'm singing' out to you and I hope it reaches you"

 Stax went back through all their old recordings for a 21st century audience, including an impressive array of the obvious (Rufus Thomas, Eddie Floyd and even Booker T and the MGs all got their own albums) and the less obvious (Little Milton, Johhny Taylor, Albert King). Clearly Otis was always going to be a shoe-in for the re-issue series which included around an old vinyl album's worth of songs by each artists and prided itself on offering more than just the hits. Of all the CDs in the series Otis' is the highlight and not just because he's the only one getting his own AAA book: no, this set is Otis' closest music partner Steve Cropper picking his own thirteen favourite Otis tunes for the first time 9and writing some brief sleevenotes). Needless to say, he's got great taste: along with the more obvious tracks are a few of the more overlooked posthumous songs like 'I've Got Dreams To Remember' and 'Happy Song' that more than deserve their turn in the spotlight. 'A Woman A Lover A Friend' and 'A Change Is Gonna Come' are also both tracks from the earlier years that don't get enough attention, while the only slight let down is the surprise choice of the humming and hawing 'I'm Sick Y'all!' which never sat right on 'The Dictionary Of Soul' either never mind here. 'Shake!', by the way, is the oddity here: it comes from the various artists live set 'Stax Volume Three' - Live In Europe' released in 1992 and is hard to find elsewhere. It's a fairly standard performance of the song, though, and rather woolly as a recording. The rest of the songs, though, sound much the same as they do elsewhere - despite some extra collector-appealing notes on the back cover drawing your attention to 'alternate mixes'. Not your average best-of then but a real honest-to-goodness profile from a friend and musician who really knows his stuff.
                                                   

"The Best: See and Hear Otis Redding"

(Shout Factory, January 2009)

DVD: Shake/My Girl/Green Onions (Booker T and the MGs)/When Something Is Wrong With My Baby (Sam and Dave)/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Try A Little Tenderness/(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay/Shake/Respect/I've Been Loving You Too Long/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Try A Little Tenderness

CD: (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay/Try A Little Tenderness/Respect/I've Been Loving You Too Long/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/Tramp/Mr Pitiful/Pain In My Heart/That's How Strong My Love Is/The Happy Song (Dum-Dum-Dee-Dee-Dee-Dum-Dum)/I've Got Dreams To Remember

"Just anticipating things she never possessed"

This time round, Otis' art was collected for DVD as well as CD for an uneasy hybrid that - apart from the obvious talent on display - is actually one of the worst of the period compilations of audio and visuals. The CD, you see, is pristine, a collection of carefully hewn studio recordings that Otis sweated buckets on getting just right and though most of the standards of the Otis best-of sets are here, there's a lot of curios too. Few fans would rate the cute but frivolous 'The Happy Song' or 'Tramp' as more fitting of inclusion than 'These Arms Of Mine' for instance. As for the DVD, it's also good but shows off a quite different side to Otis: recorded at the Stax Volt Revue in 1967 it's a raw, wild show recorded very primitively and though it's one of the better fuller Redding gigs captured on film it's not a natural pairing: the records are powerful for their vulnerability and perfection, but the DVD is more noticeable for the aggression and sweat pouring off Otis' head. The track listing too doesn't include that many of the obvious songs and interrupts it with oddities too (such as Booker T  and the MGs' opening 'Green Onion's inexplicably put partway through and a mocked-up 'Dock Of The Bay' that Otis of course never lived long enough to film a promo for). The result is far from bad and if you don't own any Otis will fill in some CD and DVD holes in your collection nicely, but fans interested in buying the DVD will most likely own the CD contents several times over and the newcomers who get excited by the CD will most likely be put off by the low-fi grunting of the DVD. A little odd.

"100 Hits Legends"

(DMG, July 2010)

CD One: These Arms Of Mine/Pain In My Heart/Mr Pitiful/That's How Strong My Love Is/Security/I Can't Turn You Loose/My Girl/I've Been Loving You Too Long/That's What My Heart Needs/Come To Me/I Need Your Lovin'/Louie Louie/Chained and Bound/Lucille/Walking The Dog/Ole Man Trouble/Just One More Day/Something Is Worrying Me/Stand By Me/You Send Me

CD Two: A Change Gonna Come/A Woman A Lover A Friend/Home In Your Heart/Respect/Satisfaction/I Want To Thank You/Down In The Valley/It's Too Late/Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)/Wonderful World/Keep Your Arms Around Me/Nothing Can Change This Love/You Don't Miss Your Water/Your One And Only Man/Rock Me Baby/6345789 Soulsville USA/She Put The Hurt On Me/Lovey Dovey/For Your Precious Love/My Lover's Prayer

CD Three: Hard To Handle/Shake/Knock On Wood/Tramp/Chain Gang/I'm Sick Y'all/It Takes Two/Scratch My Back/Everybody Makes A Mistake/New Year's Resolution/Are You Lonely For Me Baby?/Good To Me/Sweet Lorene/Ooh Carla Ooh Otis/Any OIe Way/Hawg For You/Love Have Mercy/Tell It Like It Is/Tennessee Waltz/Amen

CD Four: Try A Little Tenderness/Cigarettes and Coffee/Bring It On Home To Me/The Glory Of Love/I've Got Dreams To Remember/I Love You More Than Words Can Say/When Something Is Wrong With My Baby/The Happy Song (Dum Dum Dum)/You Left The Water Running/Treat Her Right/Trick Or Treat/Day Tripper/Don't Mess With Cupid/It's Growing/Let Me Come Home/Ton Of Joy/Let Me Be Good To You/Nobody Knows You/You're Still My Baby/The Dock Of The Bay

CD Five: Love Man/Your Love Has Lifted Me Higher and Higher/Got To Get Myself Together/A Lover's Question/I'm A Changed Man/The Huckle-buck/Groovin' Time/The Match Game/I'm Coming Home To See You/Tell The Truth/Open The Door/Direct Me/Look At That Girl/That's A Good Idea/Your Feeling Is Mine/Champagne and Wine/Nobody's Fault But Mine/I'll Let Nothing Separate Us/A Fool For You/Free Me

"If you would take things under consideration and walk down this hour (or five) with me then I would love it, yeah..."

The '100 Hits Legends' series gets a bit sniffed at by purist collectors, containing as it does a rather randomised set of recordings all linked to a particular label, but they offer a cheap way for curious fans to get more than just the hit singles by a favoured artists without breaking the bank and thanks to the consistency and the fact that Otis only ever recorded songs for one label his is one of the best entries in the series. Considering that Otis only ever released ** songs in his lifetime, this low budget 100 track set is awfully good value for money and represents the best value means of getting hold of around 90% of the studio material in this book, currently selling for a little under a tenner. You even get an impressive run of the best of the posthumous albums on the last disc which is as good as any other Otis set for separating the wheat from the chaff. Of course what you don't get is a sense of history - the packaging is as minimal as it gets - or the scope and size of Redding's canon, with the CDs roughly in the right order but with oddities from other years suddenly turning up in the middle of other eras. Still, if you don't mind cheap and cheerful and have time on your hands you can always re-programme this set using the 'intended' running order featured in this book. I still have my problems with the title of this series though: even Elvis never had 100 hit singles so claiming that someone who only ever had one #1 hit and indeed no other top ten hits in his homeland has '100 hits' in this set is exaggerating just a tad.

"Soul Legend: The Best Of Otis Redding"

(Music Club Deluxe, June 2011)

CD One: (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay/Hard To Handle/Happy Song (Dum-Dum-Dee-Dee-Dee-Dum-Dum)/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/Tramp/Knock On Wood/Day Tripper/Try A Little Tenderness/My Lover's Prayer/Let Me Come On Home/Pain In My Heart/These Arms Of Mine/That's How Strong My Love Is/I've Been Loving You Too Long/Just One More Day/Security/Chained and Bound/Ole Man Trouble/Cigarettes and Coffee/She Put The Hurt On Me

CD Two: Shake (Live)/My Girl/I Can't Turn You Loose/Mr Pitiful/Respect/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/The Glory Of Love/I Love You More Than Words Can Say/I've Got Dreams To Remember/Open The Door/I'm Coming Home To See About You/Nobody's Fault But Mine/Champagne and Wine/A Lover's Question/Love Man/Free Me/Direct Me/Amen

"She was a day tripper, sunday driver yeah, it took me so long to find out - but I found out!"

If you can't afford the box set - and at current prices who can? - this two-disc set is probably your best bet in getting the flavour of Otis' career and catalogue without having to track down each and every album. To be honest most of the songs from the five solo albums are here anyway, in a jam packed 38 track collection that sensibly leaves out the Carla Thomas duets album 'King and Queen' but does find space for more of the posthumous singles than I was expecting. Do be wary of a couple of things though - the 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' is the single version so it runs a shade shorter than the 'Otis Blue' version and the album also substitutes an (admittedly rather good) live version of 'Shake!' for the real thing. The ordering system seems to go a bit awol too, starting at the end and suddenly jumping to the start about midway through the first disc (though to be fair debut single 'Pain In My Heart' was never a natural album opener). Of course there's still lots of good stuff missing and as a collector it's my natural bent, nay my duty to tell you to buy it all anyway, but for 'Sunday Drivers' this is an excellent and affordable introduction. Overall, though, pretty good and for the price nicely packaged with a rare cover shot of Otis out in a forest (was he a day tripper?)

"Lonely and Blue: The Definitive Soul Of Otis Redding"

(**, November 2012)

I Love You More Than Words Can Say/Gone Again/Free Me/Open The Door/A Waste Of Time/These Arms Of Mine/I've Been Loving You Too Long/Everybody Makes A Mistake/Little Ol' Me/I've Got Dreams To Remember/Send Me Some Loving/My Lover's Prayer

"My love is growing stronger as you become a habit to me"

By 2012 the run of Otis sets out there recycling the same songs over and over from the same three year period was getting silly. However 'Lonely and Blue' works better than most by taking away the happy-go-lucky and dancing sides of Otis' nature and giving us twelve songs that come from the aching and longing side of Otis' art. It is, after all, the style he felt most comfortable with and the one that became his trademark and heard en masse without the Little Richard covers or the joyful songs about family life to interrupt it you can see why: Otis was rarely better than here. You could of course argue that this set could be longer: the similarly slow-burning 'Cigarettes and Coffee' feels like it ought to be here, while compilation regular 'Pain In My Heart' really ought to be here given that this is where Otis first discovered this 'voice'. No matter though - this compilation offers something a little bit different you can't find as pure anywhere else and is a testament to the powers of a singer who died a full forty-five years before this album's release and yet lives and breathes again on every word. The packaging too is rather special - it's laid out like all the original Stax albums of the 160s and looks like 'Otis Blue' should have done, with a blue tint over a shot of Otis looking into the distance. The sleevenotes, too, are written in the present tense and in the 1960s vernacular as if the singer was still around - which could have been awful but instead comes across as rather sweet.

"The Complete Stax/Volt Singles Collection"

 (Stax, July 2013)

CD One: These Arms Of Mine/Hey Hey Baby/That's What My Heart Needs/Mary's Little Lamb/Pain In My Heart/Something Is Worrying Me/Come To Me/Don't Leave Me This Way/Security/I Want To Thank You/Chained and Bound/Your One and Only Man/That's How Strong My Love Is/Mr Pitiful/I've Been Loving You Too Long/I'm Depending On You/Respect/Ole Man Trouble/I Can't Turn You Loose/Just One More Day/Satisfaction/Any Ole Way/My Lover's Prayer/Don't Mess With Cupid

CD Two: Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)/Good To Me/Try A Little Tenderness/I'm Sick Y'all/I Love You More Than Words Can Say/Let Me Come On Home/Tramp/Tell It Like It Is/Shake/You Don't Miss Your Water/The Glory Of Love/I'm Coming Homne/Knock On Wood/Let Me Be Good To You/Dock Of The Bay/Sweet Lorene/Lovey Dovey/New Year's Resolution/The Happy Song (Dum Dum Dum)/Open The Door/Amen/Hard To Handle/I've Got Dreams To Remember/Nobody's Fault But Mine

CD Three: White Christmas/Merry Christmas Baby/Papa's Got A Brand New Bag/Direct Me/A Lover's Question/You Made A Man Out Of Me/When Something Is Wrong With My Baby/Ooh Carla Ooh Otis/Love Man/Can't Turn You Loose/Free Me/Your Love Has Lifted Me Higher and Higher/Look At The Girl/That's A Good Idea/Demonstration/Johnny's Heartbreak/Give Away None Of My Love/Snatch A Little Piece/I've Been Loving You Too Long (Live)/Try A Little Tenderness (Live)/My Girl/Good To Me

"Good loving is my occupation, I want to suit you in demonstration"

Back in 2003 Stax release the mother of all soul box sets: every single single released on the label between 1958 and 1969 (when label licensing rights and crossovers with Atlantic made it seem like a good place to stop). Surprisingly the set only ran to nine CDs and only contained the A sides, not the rarer and often more interesting B sides, but even so it was one heck of a collection containing the best of not only Otis' work but also the 'linked' bands of interest to the Redding collector: Booker T and the MGs, The Bar-Keys and Carla Thomas as well as rivals and support act Sam and Dave. Otis doesn't even arrive till disc two! The success of the set encouraged Stax to have a second, cheaper go about a decade later when they collected just Otis' songs into a handy three-disc set, this time re-instating the B-sides and including all the posthumous singles as well as the ones released in Otis' lifetime. The result is a peculiar hybrid, offering all the obvious Redding classics but also some oddities as well including half a dozen non album B-sides (only previously available on the 1993 box set) and pretty much all the songs from 'Immortal' 'Love Man' and 'Tell The Truth' outtakes sets you'll ever need. The result is a set that still skips a few songs that strange as it may seem never were singles ('Cigarettes and Coffee' 'A Change Is Gonna Come' 'Down In The Valley' 'You Don't Miss Your Water' 'Day Tripper' ) and could have done so much more with the packaging than just provide static shots of the actual single labels, with barely a picture of Otis to be found the whole set through. However it's as good a set as any in presenting the Redding canon in the right order with a nice balance of classics and surprises. Recommended.

"The King Of Soul" (Box Set)

(**, February 2014)

CD One: These Arms Of Mine/Hey Hey Baby/That's What My Heart Needs/Mary's Little Lamb/Pain In My Heart/Something Is Worrying Me/Come To Me/Don't Leave Me This Way/Security/Chained and Bound/Your One and Only Man/That's How Strong My Love Is/Mr Pitiful/A Woman A Lover A Friend/Nothing Can Change This Love/It's Too Late/For Your Precious Love/Home In Your Heart/I've Been Loving You Too Long/I'm Depending On You/Respect/Ole Man Trouble/A Change Is Gonna Come

CD Two: Shake/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Down In The Valley/My Girl/Rock Me Baby/You Don't Miss Your Water/I Can't Turn You Loose/Just One More Day/Any Ole' Way/It's Growing/Cigarettes and Coffee/Chain Gang/Nobody Knows (When You're Down and Out)/Good To Me/Everybody Makes A Mistake/Just One More Day (Live)/Mr Pitiful (Live)/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction)/These Arms Of Mine (Live)/Papa's Got A Brand New Bag (Live)/Don't Mess With Cupid/My Lover's Prayer

CD Three: Try A Little Tenderness/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)/I'm Sick Y'all/Tennessee Waltz/Sweet Lorene/Day Tripper/You're Still My Baby/Hawg For You/I Love You More Than Words Can Say/Let Me Come On Home/Open The Door/Tramp/Knock On Wood/Let Me Be Good To You/Lovey Dovey/New Year's Resolution/Ooh Carla Ooh Otis/White Christmas/Merry Christmas Baby/The Glory Of Love/Huckle-Buck/Tell The Truth

CD Four: Respect (Live)/I Can't Turn You Loose (Live)/I've Been Loving You Too Long (Live)/My Girl (Live)/Shake (Live)/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) (Live)/Try A Little Tenderness (Live)/I've Got Dreams To Remember/Nobody's Fault But Mine/Hard To Handle/A Thousand Miles Away/The Happy Song (Dum Dum Dee Dee Dee Dee Dum Dum Dum)/A Waste Of Time/Champagne and Wine/A Fool For You/I'm A Changed Man/Direct Me/Love Man/Look At That Girl/Free Me/The Match Game/A Little Time/Johnny's Heartbreak/Amen/(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay

 "My oh my, I love you any ole way!"

Some twenty years on from the 'Otis!' box set Rhino had another go, with what's very nearly a straight re-issue with just a bit of tweaking going on in the track listing - most notably the addition of a handful of live recordings at the end of the second disc and the start of the fourth disc. This time round there's nothing new here you can't find anywhere else, which makes rather a mockery of the £100+ price tag (you can probably find a second hand copy of 'Otis!' cheaper, which makes the idea of bringing these songs out to the public again slightly misleading). However it's another solid set of songs combining the best of Otis' singles, album tracks, posthumous releases, live recordings and rarities and as such probably offers the best overall range of Otis recordings out there. I do however think that the 'Otis' set just wins, courtesy of the extra room for solo album tracks taken up on this set by a few too many Carla Thomas duets (Five? Seriously?!) and live recordings that, while nice, are less essential than what Otis was making in the studio. What isn't in doubt, though, is the title: there's more than enough here to convince me that Otis was the King of Soul and thanks to the excellent crossover work on the second half of this set also earns the title 'ambassador to rock and roll' too! '