Otis Redding was not found playing on the streets of Memphis, or in a nightclub on the chitlin’ circuit. While working in Johnny Jenkins’ band, he accompanied him to a recording session and persuaded them to let him lay down his own. He was signed to Stax almost immediately. Raised in middle Georgia in Macon, the town Little Richard put on the music map, he had a short yet astonishingly prolific career before joining the 27 Club after dying in a plane crash. While it is easy to idolize musicians taken during their prime, especially one who produced five albums in the five true years of his recording, Otis deserves the rampant praise.
He left behind a huge discography, and it is easy to get lost in his style which granted him a place as one of the true kings of soul, carrying on in the genre’s tradition of collaboration and sharing of work, as evidenced by the vast amount of covers in his repertoire. If everything he ever recorded with his undeniable Southern-charged soul and raw voice could be on this list, it would be. But instead, we bring you Paste’s favorite Otis Redding songs of all time.
10. “Cigarettes and Coffee” – The Soul Album
A standout from his fourth studio album, The Soul Album, “Cigarettes and Coffee” is a crooning ballad about one simple thing: staying up late hanging out with his baby. Following along with Redding’s habit of beautiful melodic abnormalities, horns swell as Redding becomes more and more insistent.
9. ”(Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay” – The Dock of The Bay
Probably the song that Redding is still the most well-known for, “Sitting On A Dock Of The Bay” was co-written by legendary soul man Steve Cropper and recorded mere days before Redding’s death, released posthumously. It became his only No. 1 single. A simple tune, not full of the vocal theatrics that he so often performed, it could easily start conversations about the Otis Redding that could have come. It stands alone as a nostalgic ode to home, one of his truly universal themes.
8. “That’s How Strong My Love Is” – The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads
Originally the b-side to “Mr. Pitiful,” it became one of the most popular tracks off of The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads. The original version was written by O.V. Wright, but Redding’s came out just days after the first was released, opening the album.
7. “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” – Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul
This one is the lead track off The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul, a record that has been called the greatest album to ever come out of Memphis, Tenn. Supposedly one of Redding’s favorites, it’s a mid-tempo track featuring a call-and-response between Redding and his horn section that he would amp up to perform live, like for the famous Live In Europe.
6. “Tramp” – King & Queen
“Tramp” appears on Redding’s last studio album with accompaniment from Stax darling Carla Thomas in an attempt to bring together his vocal rawness with her refinement and sophistication. “Tramp” captures this chemistry at its peak in a track that is more verbal sparring than anything else, highlighting their duality. As Otis almost breaks into “Love Man” again and again in an attempt to win her heart, Thomas dismantles any possible way he could be thought of as an upstanding gentleman.
5. “Mr. Pitiful” – The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads
Redding’s first collaboration with Cropper, the song was supposedly recorded in only 10 minutes as a play on how pitiful he manages to make his voice while singing ballads. True to intention, “Mr. Pitiful” is Redding at a groveling peak, but he sheds the ballad form to create a horn-crazed, upbeat dance number that holds the same sulking emotion.
4. “Shake” – Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul
His own rambling take on Sam Cooke’s track, “Shake” became seminal when he opened his set at the Monterey Pop Festival with it in 1967. A crowd-rousing tune, it instantly conjures images of Redding’s disjointed dancing as his vocals match the same pattern. Although it was not his original, Redding’s version was one of three of his songs that were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, alongside “Try a Little Tenderness” and ”(Sittin’ On) A Dock of the Bay.”
3.”These Arms of Mine” – Pain In My Heart
This classic track is one of the two songs Redding sang on his Stax audition. Jim Stewart was so taken with “These Arms of Mine,” Redding was immediately given a contract. It went on to become his first single, and one of his most definitive tracks, which he wrote himself—a soulful, emotional ballad just rough enough right around the edges.
2. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” – Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul
His upbeat songs are great in their own right, but no one can do a sad, soulful ballad quite like Otis Redding, and his impassioned vocals on “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” are absolutely unparalleled. It’s Otis doing what he does best, pleading for a long-lost lover to return to him as the horns swell and we all desperately scan the room for someone to slow-dance with.—Bonnie Stiernberg
1. “Try A Little Tenderness” – Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul
Before Kanye and Jay-Z ever took hold of it, “Try a Little Tenderness” always stood out as the pinnacle of Redding’s short-lived body of work. Largely considered his best song, it is deserving of that praise, slowly building from a ballad of sorts, with only a few piano strokes and Redding’s soul-soaked warble, to a dancing imperative of a song that captures your attention.