Although his life was tragically cut short, Otis Redding left behind a legacy that remains in a class of its own. Throughout the 1960s, he was responsible for some of the most iconic additions to American soul music. As we approach the 50th anniversary of his passing, let’s take a look back at a handful of unforgettable moments in his music.
“Gettin’ Hip” (1960)
In his early songs, it was easy to trace Otis Redding’s musical influences, from Jackie Wilson (“She’s All Right”) to Little Richard (“Shout Bamalama”). On “Gettin’ Hip” – released when he was still a teenager – worlds collided as Redding combined the sounds of his idols with a spark of his own signature style, proving that he was anything but your average sawdust bar act.
“These Arms of Mine” (1962)
The first in a long line of successful singles, “These Arms of Mine” saw him break away from groups like The Shooters and The Pinetoppers, in order to command the track all on his own. Truly a pivotal moment in his career, the song left audiences in awe, guiding rhythm and blues music forward in the process.
“Stand By Me” (1964)
Redding was as gifted a writer as he was a performer, but in his covers, you can truly hear his distinctive voice come through. One of his earliest recorded cover songs, his take on Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” proved that he could take one of the most popular songs in the world at the time and make it entirely his own. The true magic of the song lies in his pauses during the song’s chorus, saying just as much in his silences as he does in the lyrics.
“A Woman, a Lover, a Friend” (1965)
Also a cover song, “A Woman, a Lover, a Friend” was another very successful R&B tune in the early 1960s. Still, Redding breathed new life into it. Much of his striking humanity came from moments of heartache and yearning, and this song further demonstrated his ability to paint with the entire spectrum of emotions, conveying them skillfully through the notes he chose to linger on.
Like many of his songs, “Respect” demands to be played live, with its funky groove that puts Redding’s charisma on full display. As an artist, he was beginning to pen tunes that were becoming engraved in the American soul catalog. Two years later, Aretha Franklin would record the iteration of the song that would forever stay in the hearts of music lovers, but the original is every bit as masterful.
“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” (1965)
Otis Redding was only twenty-three when he recorded “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now),” but his voice is filled with the understanding and longing of a man who has experienced the trials of a lengthy romance. It’s not hard to see why this was the highest charting single of his lifetime. No one does a soulful ballad quite like Otis Redding.
“Just One More Day” (1966)
The Memphis sound of the Stax crowd was rubbing off on him, here in the form of a brassy, heartfelt plea. “Just One More Day” basks in the hopelessly unattainable, holding onto a fleeting moment in a doomed romance. One of Otis Redding’s crowning achievements was building a song around desperation that never felt pathetic.
“Cigarettes and Coffee” (1966)
From its opening horns, “Cigarettes and Coffee” knocks the listener back, forcing them to drop what they’re doing and tune in. This sultry ballad focuses on the magical simplicity of a late night conversation with a loved one. It is Otis Redding’s love letter to sentimentality, and his impassioned delivery is sure to induce goosebumps.
“Try a Little Tenderness” (1966)
It’s no wonder that “Try a Little Tenderness” would become Redding’s signature set closer. In roughly three and a half minutes, he goes from a sensual whisper into an uncontrollable frenzy, expertly constructing a bridge between the two. It’s the perfect song for striking a romantic mood, while also focusing on a deeper connection.
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” (1968)
It’s doubtful that he realized it at the time, but with “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” Otis Redding was gifting the world his own eulogy. The first of his posthumously released work, the song was recorded just a few days before his untimely death. Surprisingly stripped down, it didn’t pack any of the theatrical flair he had built his career around. Still, it would become his only chart-topper, and the track that would fully encompass his legacy.