Nearly half a century after Otis Redding’s death, it’s likely that many people know him only for “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” his 1968 chart topper, and that some people don’t know him at all. Such folks should join the rest of us in grabbing a copy of Soul Manifesto 1964–1970, which collects the eight studio and live LPs he recorded before his death, plus four albums that came out posthumously. Some of the titles of these discs—such as The Immortal Otis Redding and The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul: Complete and Unbelievable—sound like hype, but only until you hear the music. Redding was a one-of-a-kind soul singer whose vocal phrasing and rhythmic, horn-heavy music defined the modern Memphis sound and impacted all of popular music. Here’s a look at what’s included in the box:
Pain in My Heart. Though covers from artists Redding admired dominate this debut album, his originality and talent are already on display in his superb vocals and innovative use of horns. Highlights include the title track and the single “These Arms of Mine,” both gorgeous ballads, and a reading of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me.” A rollicking rendition of Little Richard’s “Lucille” leaves no doubt of Redding’s versatility.
The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads. The artist’s ability to put an original stamp on a song is in full flower on this second collection, which includes ballads like “Nothing Can Change This Love” and “That’s How Strong My Love Is.”
Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul. Redding’s third album, which is widely and justifiably regarded as a classic, appeals to rock, soul, and blues audiences with emotion-drenched performances of songs like “Respect” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” Redding also remakes the Stones’ “Satisfaction” and the Temptations’ “My Girl,” and returns to one of his idols, Sam Cooke, for “Wonderful World,” “Shake,” and the great civil-rights ballad “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
The Soul Album. The melancholy “Cigarettes and Coffee (Blues)” highlights this fine record, which also includes another excellent Sam Cooke cover (“Chain Gang”) and a reading of “634-5789” that’s as funky as the Wilson Picket original.
The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul: Complete and Unbelievable. Redding’s fifth studio album features the ballad “My Lover’s Prayer,” which combines spectacular horns with one of the artist’s best vocals ever. Also here: “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song),” “Try a Little Tenderness,” “Day Tripper,” and Redding’s strong reading of the pop/country evergreen “Tennessee Waltz.”
King and Queen. The “queen” in the title is Carla Thomas, who is often referred to as the Queen of Memphis Soul. Her simmering duets with Redding on this album—the last he recorded before his death—include “Knock on Wood,” “Tramp,” “It Takes Two,” and “Bring It on Home to Me.”
Live in Europe. As you know if you saw Monterey Pop, Redding could be a mesmerizing live performer. Here he proves it with a program that ranges from Motown (“My Girl”) to rock (“Day Tripper” and “Satisfaction”) to soul (“These Arms of Mine”). The vocals and horns on “Respect” are a standout.
The Dock of the Bay. Along with his landmark appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival, it was the title cut on this excellent album that gave Redding his biggest shot of mainstream success. Unfortunately, the song wasn’t recorded until three days before his death and didn’t ride up the charts until a couple of months later, when it became his sole number-one hit (and to my knowledge, the only posthumous number one by any artist).
The Immortal Otis Redding. Another posthumous collection of studio tracks, this would be indispensable if only for “Dreams to Remember,” the haunting ballad that opens the program.
In Person at the Whisky a Go Go. This second live set finds Redding in fine form on high-energy numbers like “I Can’t Turn You Loose” and “Respect,” as well as on ballads like “Pain in My Heart” and “These Arms of Mine.”
Love Man. Redding injects soul into Clyde McPhatter’s 1958 R&B hit, “A Lover’s Question” and offers a cover of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher” that arguably outshines the fine original.
Tell the Truth. The last of the posthumous releases included here, this suggests that the well was running dry. Still, there are great moments, both instrumental and vocal, interspersed throughout the set.
All of this mostly terrific music notwithstanding, Soul Manifesto 1964–1970 could have been better if the compilers done more than simply box the original releases. Though the sound is good throughout, the recordings have apparently not been remastered, which would have likely made a notable difference with material this old. Moreover, the set includes no bonus tracks or new liner notes. Instead, like too many recent boxes, this one simply reproduces the original LP covers at CD size, which means that you’ll likely need a magnifying glass to read their liner notes.
That said, I’m not inclined to complain too loudly, as the package is selling on Amazon for less than $49—or about $4 per disc. That’s an insanely low price for music that ranges in quality mostly just from great to even greater. As Otis Redding admirer Janis Joplin once sang, “Get It While You Can.”