Otis Redding defined authenticity.
I have been inspired by the music of Otis Redding for a long time. I consider him one of my primary influences as a singer, alongside Ray Charles and Jim Morrison. I have also lived in Madison, the city where Redding met his tragic end, for most of my life. Yet until about a year ago, I hadn’t heard of the Monona Terrace memorial that bears his name. Once I learned of its existence, I naturally had to go see it for myself, to pay my respects and to grasp this thin connection I had to one of the greatest singers that ever lived. So I took the bus down to the Capitol one afternoon, wandered around aimlessly until I found the Terrace, and searched for quite a while around the area, not exactly sure what the memorial looked like or where it would be. I was about to give up my manhood and actually ask someone where it was when finally I found it, on a stone tucked away on the left side of the rooftop, overlooking the waters where the plane crashed and Redding took his last breath.
When he wrote “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay,” Redding predicted it would be his first #1 hit, despite his bandmates’ disapproval of the song. Redding was right: the song went to the top of the US charts after his death, becoming the first posthumous single to do so. The song’s lyrics are also chillingly prophetic, describing a dismayed concession to fate at the water’s edge. Three days after Redding finished recording it, he was gone, disappearing into the waters of Lake Monona. He was 26 years old.
Here are five of Redding’s most enduring hits:
Redding surprised the head of Stax Records with this original ballad during a recording session for Redding’s friend Johnny Jenkins. The song got Redding signed to the Stax label.
It might come as a surprise to some that Redding wrote this song as a man’s plea for recognition two years before Aretha Franklin flipped the perspective and turned it into a feminist anthem.
Redding took this traditional pop standard and gave it the “Stairway to Heaven” treatment, with a slow beginning that picks up speed until it hits a frenzied climax.
Redding was inspired by the Beatles when he wrote his signature song, as evidenced by its unusual melody and maritime sound effects. Recorded three days before his death, it provides a glimpse into the direction that Redding might have gone had he lived.
This Redding original is probably best known for the Black Crowes’ cover, which is a shame, as Redding’s version is a fiery funk-soul classic. The intro also lent itself to one of the best samples of all time in Marley Marl’s “The Symphony.”
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