Otis Redding (born Sept. 9, 1941) is undisputedly one of the greatest soul singers ever to walk the earth. He could certainly work an audience into a lather, something he’d been doing since he was a child, performing gospel songs in church and on the radio. Witness his performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 if you need proof of that.
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But it was arguably on the slow numbers – the soul ballads – on which he truly cemented his legend. Heck, he even put out an album called The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads (1965), and you don’t do that unless you’re pretty good at singing them. In fact, Redding’s career as a national recording artist began with a ballad, and some of his most resonant, best-remembered, best-selling records are the ones with slow tempos. Here are a half dozen of them no music collection should be without:
“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)”: “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” is considered among Redding’s finest performances, and it’s true – after “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” it’s probably his quintessential moment of greatness. In fact, it’s one of the greatest soul ballads ever committed to record, by any artist.
“These Arms of Mine”: Redding’s first national single is also one of his most indelible songs, from the brief a capella opening to the testifying at the song’s end. It’s difficult to put into words how soul-wringing it all is – you just have to listen to find out for yourself.
“That’s How Strong My Love Is”: One of Redding’s signature songs, a paean to strength of the emotional kind, sung in such a manner as to reflect strength of every kind.
“Nothing Can Change This Love”: This is a Sam Cooke tune, which is apparent from the first line of the song, when Redding stretches the word ‘go’ to three syllables, like Cooke did. It’s also a slow-dance classic and one of the best cuts on the Sings Soul Ballads album.
“Cigarettes and Coffee”: Redding spends the entire song singing slightly behind the beat, then occasionally elongating a note to catch up. This is top-level work – a true lesson in soul singing – from a man who understands the gift that is his voice and knows what to do with it.
“The Glory of Love”: The tempo is languid, yet Redding seems set on crashing against it by song’s end, piling on repeated “glory” references as if he were trying to nudge the beat forward and faster. The tension is remarkable.