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He was a true soul man, an electrifying live performer, a talented songwriter, a tireless champion for his style of music, and is rightfully known as the King of Soul. Otis Redding started his career in the early 1960s but received an incredible boost from his historic appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in the summer of love, 1967. He became a worldwide favorite and had many hits to his credit both as a writer and as a performer.
Otis Redding is probably most well-known as the singer of the classic rock tune "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," which he completed the recording of just 3 days before his untimely and tragic demise. Redding and his band the Bar-Kays were traveling from a show in Cleveland to Madison Wisconsin when his private plane crashed into a lake. The exact cause of the accident has never been determined, but the weather was bad and he had been warned not to fly that day. It was December of 1967, and Otis Redding would have been 27 years old in a few months and eligible for membership in that elite group, the forever 27 club.
1. Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay
His posthumous number 1 was one of only 2 number 1 hits after the performer had died (the other is Me and Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin), and it has sold over a million copies. The song was a departure for Redding, written with his guitarist Steve Cropper while vacationing on a houseboat in Sausalito, California. He was inspired by the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and had decided to expand his subject matter and musical style, to the dismay of his colleagues at Stax records. Not a love song, not a blues tune, Dock was an expression of the blues that was modernized and contextualized in a way no one had done before. It expressed the loneliness and despair that the singer felt, and a deep hopelessness as well.
Made famous by his friend Aretha Franklin, Otis' version is not as funky, with a smoother R&B feel. Just as the musical feel of the songs differs, the two versions tell different stories as well. In Aretha's song, she will not do him wrong but she demands his respect in return, while in his version he doesn't care what his woman does as long as she gives him respect. The Queen of Soul added the famous spelling out of the word respect at the end of the song, and the sock it to me refrain.
3. Hard to Handle
This song was written and recorded earlier, but remained unreleased until after Otis' death. Composed by Redding, Bell and Jones, it appeared posthumously in 1968 on the album The Immortal Otis Redding. His version topped at number 38 on the Billboard R&B charts and at number 51 on the pop charts. The most successful cover of the song was by the Black Crowes in 1990. Their version substantially changed the melody of the verses, but kept the funky feel of the tune.
4. I've Been Loving You Too Long
This slow burning, soul drenched ballad was written by Redding and Jerry Butler. It was issued in 1965 as a single, and was on his album Otis Blue. The single was his first actual hit, making it to number 21 on the pop charts at Billboard. It too has been covered numerous times, most notably by the Rollling Stones in 1965, then by Ike and Tina Turner in 1968.
5. Try a Little Tenderness
The song most associated with Otis Redding after Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay is this chestnut, written in 1932 and first made a hit by Bing Crosby in 1933. Otis' version is famous for his histrionic build-up, in which the song goes from a slow tender ballad to a screaming soulfest at tis finest by the end. For some, it was a bit too much Otis, but for others, the frenzy exemplified his energy and showmanship.