In an interesting week of music, we have one record that I liked quite a bit more with each listen--and another that I couldn't get through the requisite 3 listens. And I'm OK with that.
78: Otis Redding -- Otis Blue (1965)
My first impression of this album, having never heard it in its entirety before, was that Otis Redding has a tendency to over-sing. I found his ad-libs excessive and distracting (e.g. Change Gonna Come--note how few lines go by without some embellishment).
But, upon further repeated listening, I soon got over that minor detail.
What an expressive and rich voice.
This album was Otis' third album. While his previous singles and albums had done rather well with an African American audience, Stax was really hoping to break Otis Redding to a pop audience. So, they decided to no longer put his image on the album cover--choosing instead a mod blonde woman, eyes closed, and head shifted to an ecstatic tilt. What a sad statement about that time.
The documentary below shows how the anglo mod-set in the UK was the first wider (and whiter) audience to embrace Otis Redding. He was understandably overjoyed with the reception he and his band received in London, where his race was a non-issue and, if anything, celebrated. Meanwhile, his hometown back in Georgia was still under the shadow of segregation. Soon the pop crowd in the US followed his experiences in London, especially after his headline spot at the Monterey Pop Festival (which also introduced Jimi Hendrix).
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The album is mostly covers, with just 3 of the tracks penned by Otis Redding. Old Man Trouble, the first original included, kicks off the album with Steve Cropper's cool guitar licks (evoking Jimi Hendrix). Respect (later covered by Aretha on I Never Loved A Man) was actually written by Otis--though I prefer Aretha's historic take. I've Been Loving You Too Long - To Stop Now is also written by Otis Redding (co-written with Jerry Butler of The Impressions). I love the push and pull of the strong and soft on this track, especially with Otis' voice like in the line "You were tired..."
Otis' cover of My Girl, originally by The Temptations, is wonderful. His cover of Sam Cooke's Wonderful World is also a favorite here. The album closes with a cover of You Don't Miss Your Water, originally by Stax label-mate William Bell. Otis had a skill of taking others' songs and adding his own grit and magic.
77: AC/DC -- Back In Black (1980)
For me, it's always difficult to answer the question: What kind of music are you in to? I like a lot of different things (as most people answer), so it's hard to narrow it down to a few talking points. This project is definitely reminding me of the fact that I'm a ballad lover, respecting songwriters and vocals above all, no matter the genre.
Now when I'm asked what kind of music I don't like, I can point to a specific album as a perfect example, "Back In Black".
I've mentioned before how I can't get excited if the vocals aren't there--Brian Johnson, AC/DC's new lead singer after Bon Scott's death, has one of the most annoying voices I've ever heard.
This album came out in 1980. I can't help listening to this album and blaming it entirely for all of the regrettable rock and roll that came out in the decade that followed.
"Back in Black" and "You Shook Me All Night Long" are fine songs...but not for me. At least on "You Shook Me All Night Long" Brian drops into a sub-canine, semi-listenable octave.
This album isn't available on Spotify--so I forked over $10 to download from iTunes. Yeah. I'm bitter about that.
What am I missing? Is it the satan-referencing lyrics that some find alluring? Is it the truly sexy lyrics like "let me cut your cake with my knife".
The deeper I get into this list, the more clear it becomes that the order is completely arbitrary. How AC/DC tops any of the preceding albums blows my mind. Yes it was a huge commercial success (more than 50 million copies sold).
Otis Redding is a vocal and artistic giant--no doubt. I had always meant to explore his music, but never had. I wish he had more time on this earth to produce more of a legacy--to see where his artistry would take him in his thirties and beyond. He died in a plane crash when he was 26.
76: Prince -- Purple Rain (1984) 75: James Brown -- Star Time (1991) -- 71 tracks, almost 5 hours of music. Something tells me I won't hit the required third (or even second) listen.