Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and soul fans of
a certain age long ago got bored with seeing this
predictably named as a Top 100 album, the token
soul set in lists compiled by trendies who surely never
bought it at the time.
True believers would say that in his short but
explosive life Otis recorded plenty of material as good
as this, and some might cite, say, his The Soul Album
as a more deeply “soulful” record.
But Otis Blue remains The One, the soul album
that sealed his world reputation as the soul singer. The
one whose title, with hindsight, probably did most to
establish the use of the word “soul” to define the
music previously known as R&B. Listening to it yet
again, now a staggering 43 years after it was made,
even the purest purist would have to say that yes,
Good God Almighty, it’s good.
This Collector’s Edition offers little (how could it?)
that is genuinely new, but is done with Rhino’s typical
thoroughness, presenting the original album in both
mono and stereo versions, plus bonus live tracks (from
Live At The Whisky A Go Go and Live In Europe) as well
as some unissued alternate takes.
Otis Blue was the closest Otis got to making a
“proper” album, in the sense that all but one of the
tracks were laid down, virtually live, in just one session
on 7 July 1965. Man, what would you give to have
been there! To witness Steve Cropper’s stinging licks,
the sweet thunder of Al Jackson’s drums, Duck Dunn’s
fatback bass, the churchy keyboards of Booker T and
Ike Hayes, the holy horns of Andrew Love, Wayne
Jackson, Floyd Newman and Gene Miller.
So spare, so strong, not a note wasted, defining
the very spirit of 60s soul and never sounding better.
And riding it all, that amazing voice, that unique fusion
of pain and pride, of yearning and percussive drive.
The passage of the years, the way that soul/black
music has gone on to conquer the world, the endless
reinvention and repackaging, the rip-offs and the
samples, the sheer stereotyped familiarity of the
concept of the “soul singer”… all this has done
nothing to diminish the fact that Otis was the real
deal, The Man. The voice that reached back, past Sam
Cooke and Little Richard, to the blues and gospel
roots, but infusing them with a fiery, whipcrack
modernity and sense of drama.
The way he could stamp his authority on a song
was awesome, even (as here) on material that had
already been done brilliantly, like Sam Cooke’s A
Change Is Gonna Come, Solomon Burke’s Down In the
Valley, BB King’s Rock Me Baby, The Temptations’ My
Girl, William Bell’s You Don’t Miss Your Water and the
Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction. But it is his own songs
that give this album its extra power: the brooding,
uncompromising opener, Ole Man Trouble; the
agenda-setting, genre-defining Respect; and, most of
all, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long. This song, written
with Jerry Butler (and with echoes of Butler’s earlier
gospel-soul hit For Your Precious Love) is surely one of
the most spine-tingling, cathartic moments in the
whole of popular music.
Like the whole album, it represents a moment in
time when, soul, with its fusion of black and white,
represented a new hope, a new religion. Its power