Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 28: Otis Redding, "I've Been Loving You Too Long"

Artist: Otis Redding
Song: "I've Been Loving You Too Long"
Album: Otis Blue
Year: 1965

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While there are a large number of artists and voices that have persevered for a number of years, there are only a select few that are worthy of being termed as "timeless."  Within this group of unforgettable, unmistakable voices, there is really no single common thread, as it is largely the uniqueness of the performers in question that sets them so far apart from their peers.  Among these elite performers, there are few that can outshine the powerful, beautiful voice of the great Otis Redding, and his name alone brings with it a wide array of assumptions and expectations.  Redding possessed one of the strongest yet most gentle voices in all of music history, and in many ways, he represented everything that it meant to sing in the soul style.  Rarely holding anything back, Otis Redding also displayed a wide range in his ability to convey his emotions, and from slow, swaying numbers to more fast-paced songs, there is not an "off" moment anywhere in his catalog.  While one can argue that he is best known for his posthumous hit single, "(Sitting On) Dock Of The Bay," in many ways, that song does not do justice to his talents, as it is one of his more restrained vocal performances.  To fully understand and appreciate the unique genius that was Otis Redding, one need look no further than his timeless 1965 love song, "I've Been Loving You Too Long."

Truth be told, there are actually two very distinctive recordings of "I've Been Loving You Too Long," as the song is one of a handful that Otis Redding tried before and after his working with the great Booker T. Jones.  The first version was recorded with a smaller arrangement, and by all popular accounts, the pianist on this mono take is none other than Isaac Hayes.  On this version, Redding's vocals are far more prominent, as there is little more than the piano in support, and it is this take that is the most common.  Strangely enough, this was the version released on Otis Blue, and yet it was done so with the three minute plus time noted on the record standing as completely incorrect, as the mono version is about twenty seconds shorter.  However, the listed time is the length of the second, stereo version of "I've Been Loving You Too Long," and yet this take is far more of a rarity.  Though it would be released on box sets of Redding's music, most remain unfamiliar with this version, and yet it has a tone all its own.  The band is led by Booker T. Jones, and there is a more "classic soul" sound to be heard on this version.  There are a few more instruments on the stereo take, and yet they still do their best to not interfere with Redding's superb vocals.  The addition of the horn section works perfectly, and one can find a similar mood and power in both studio takes.

The fact that both versions of "I've Been Loving You Too Long" are so captivating and moving is a testament to the true power of Redding's vocals, and it is in this song that one can fully realize how unique he was even amongst his peers.  As is the case in nearly every song Redding recorded, it is as much in his seemingly unlimited vocal range as it is the fluctuation in the power of his voice that is so captivating, and even after more than forty years, his performance still remain completely unmatched.  Throughout both takes of "I've Been Loving You Too Long," Redding clearly gives himself completely to the power of the music, and it is often the interplay between his vocals and the piano that is perfect in a way unlike any other song in history.  The emotion that he conveys is second to none, and one can easily argue that it is the most beautiful love song ever recorded.  The way with which Redding delicately deploys every word, filling each syllable completely gives a clear sense of the painful, yet caring feelings he has, and there has never been another song that so perfectly displayed this juxtaposition.  It is a frustration to which one can easily relate, and it is very much this "every man" sound and emotion that Redding displayed throughout his entire career that enabled so many to find such enjoyment in his music.  The true impact of Otis Redding's performance on "I've Been Loving You Too Long" is solidified int he fact that all these decades later, the song retains all of the power and emotion that it did when it was first recorded.

Almost immediately after its release in April of 1965, other artists began covering the song, and this fact alone is yet another way in which one can appreciate just how significant a performance lives within "I've Been Loving You Too Long."  Both The Rolling Stones and Ike and Tina Turner recorded covers of the song, and the latter was a hit onto itself.  In the year that have passed, everyone from Seal to Aretha Franklin to Joe Cocker have placed their own spin on the song, and yet there is no question that none come even remotely close to the original by Otis Redding.  There is something so pure, so raw within his singing on the track that has never been matched, and it is this aspect that has enabled the song to remain such a powerful voice across the decades.  It is also the fact that his voice is so phenomenal that both of his own studio versions are able to be equally captivating, and this reality proves just how much more powerful a vocalist can be when they are truly an elite singer.  That is not to discount the efforts of either of the backing groups, as they set the fantastic mood into motion; yet there is never any question on either recording that it is Redding that controls the song.  While it would be somewhat overshadowed by the success of his posthumous singles, almost fifty years later, there are few songs that can compare to the power and sheer beauty that one can experience on Otis Redding's unparalleled 1965 single, "I've Been Loving You Too Long."

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