Friday Five: March 1968

5. “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition
Country legend Kenny Rogers’ first hit (it peaked at #5 on the Hot 100) wasn’t a country song, it was a psychedelic song that takes us on the journey of an acid trip. It was supposed to caution people against doing LSD but I doubt that message got across. Check out the band’s “performance” on The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour. I don’t ever recall hearing the song until 1997’s The Big Lebowski, which embraced the comedic potential of the song beautifully.

4. “I Thank You” by Sam & Dave
This Sam and Dave classic barely cracked the Top Ten on the Hot 100 and it peaked at #4 on the R&B charts. Its moderate success hardly begins to capture its endurance. It lives on into our present as a standard for rhythm and blues bands everywhere.

3. “Take Me To Your World” by Tammy Wynette
1968 was an amazing year in rock, pop, and R&B but it was also pretty good in the world of country. Tammy Wynette——the first lady of country——was making her climb through a string of top ten singles that would stretch from 1967 to 1970. After her first #1 in late 1967, she’d hit the top spot three times in ’68, culminating with her classic (and signature tune) “Stand By Your Man.” This song started the #1 streak of that year for her.

2. “Valleri” by the Monkees
From Wikipedia: “Screen Gems president and music supervisor Don Kirshner’s asked [Tommy] Boyce and [Bobby] Hart if they had any “girl’s-name” songs to be used in the Monkees’s television series. After pretending over the telephone that they had a song which was already finished, Boyce and Hart improvised “Valleri” on their way over to Kirshner’s office.” What can you say? It’s written on the ride to work. RIP Peter Tork.

1. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding
It reigned at #1 for March 1968 on both the Hot 100 and R&B charts. Written by Otis Redding and Steve “The Colonel” Cropper, it was recorded in 1967, on November 22 with some additional work on December 7. After Otis died in a plane crash on December 10, Cropper mixed the song (including the addition of the ocean and seagulls) and the rest is history. Not a “finished” song by the Bg O’s standards, the informality worked. It is one of the greatest songs in popular music, and a fitting tribute the one of the greatest voices of soul.

Friday Five: Covering Otis

Who’s the man? Otis Redding is the man.

Proof of this truth lies in the fact that when other musicians listen to Otis they are so moved by what they hear that they become infected with his soul. The only thing they want to do is what Otis does. But most of them also know that they can’t do what Otis does. They’re simply not as good, or as soulful, and so they translate what they felt into something that is true to them.

Here are five great covers of great Otis Redding songs. Each one tries to harness something from the master, but most do so in ways unique to themselves.

5. “Hard to Handle” (Black Crowes)
Chris Robinson and the Black Crowes were young and stupid in 1990, when they released their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker. Lucky they were massively talented, too. The album’s first single “Hard to Handle” and, in some ways, Robinson tries to one-up Otis. Wrapped up in the bluesy, rock style of the band, what could have been a failed impersonation turns into something fantastic.

4. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (Ike & Tina Turner)
If there’s a duo who could give Otis a run for his money when it comes to soul it just might be Ike and Tina Turner. In this cover (and in many ways some of their greatest performances were covers), both Tina and Ike change it up to convert a sweet ballad into something gritty and pained.

3. “Security” (Mavis Staples)
Mavis Staples knows what she can do. Here she takes the original and turns it into something more. Part of that is the guitar lick that drives the cover (and gives us the feel of times) but the rest is Ms. Staples’ powerful vocals elevating us to new heights.

2. “Try A Little Tenderness” (Frank Sinatra)
There are many covers of this song–perhaps the greatest performance Otis ever gave us–but most try to do what Otis did and, in so doing, they fall short. Sinatra takes romantic lyrics and a sweet melody and makes it all his.

1. “Respect” (Aretha Franklin)
Let’s not beat around the bush–this is the greatest cover of all time and one of the greatest things ever recorded. Aretha is the exception to the rule in that she can do what Otis can do…and then some. Here she gives us some of that, converting a song about an upset man into a Muscle Shoals infused feminist and civil rights anthem. It’s nothing short of greatness!

Monday Blues (10.06.14)

Otis Redding’s third album, Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul, was released on September 15, 1965. It took less than 24 hours to record, with Otis and the Stax house band of Booker T. & the M.G.’s (joined by Isaac Hayes on piano and an ensemble of horn players including the Memphis Horns) entering the studio on July 9 and wrapping up on the 10th.

The album contains an assortment of covers, mostly songs written and recorded previously by Sam Cooke. Cooke was Redding’s idol. His death the previous December brought a palpable level of emotion to those songs. The standout from the album, at least in my opinion, would be a song written by Otis and Jerry Butler. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” would be the first big hit for the big ‘O’.