Conceived as a purely commercial enterprise — Marvin Gay & Tammi Terrell had just had success with a duets album — featuring only a single original song (a throwaway), and recorded in less than a week, the duets album that Otis Redding did with Carla Thomas probably should have been a misfire.
And while it might be the slightest album of his career, it also had some inarguably great moments, the greatest of which was the silly-ass “Tramp,” which is essentially three minutes of Carla Thomas insulting Otis and Otis either defending or denying her insults over an admittedly infectious groove.
That groove — established by Steve Cropper’s chickenscratch guitar, the horns and the insane Al Jackson, Jr / Duck Dunn rhythm section — kicks in after the initial opening round of insults and rides underneath much of the song, only breaking down when Carla tosses yet another round of insults, my favorite of which is near the end.
You know what, Otis?
I don’t care what you say, you’re still a tramp
You haven’t even got a fat bankroll in your pocket
You probably haven’t even got twenty-five cents
(I got six Cadillacs, five Lincolns, four Fords
six Mercuries, three T-Birds, Mustang)
(Oooooh, I’m a lover)
Otis’s “what?!?” there is utterly priceless, and throughout the song his best defense — no way he has all of those cars — was “oooooh, I’m a lover,” which is basically the only thing he cares about. And quite possibly her, otherwise she probably wouldn’t stay around insulting him.
Oh, and for some reason, coming out of the breakdown into the groove, Steve Cropper decides to play the riff from The Temptations’ “I Know I’m Losing You” as I guess a meta commentary or maybe an inside joke. Twice.
All things considered, “Tramp” is a deeply weird song, but also fun as hell. So fun that it broke the pop top thirty and was #2 R&B — overall, one of his best-performing singles during his lifetime.
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