Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Certain Songs #1412: Otis Redding – “Try a Little Tenderness (Monterey Pop)” | Medialoper

Album: Monterey Pop
Year: 1967

I dunno when I first saw or heard the magnificent version of “Try a Little Tenderness” that Otis Redding laid on what he called “the love crowd” at the Monterey Pop Festival. I only know that it was the musical highlight of the whole festival. By a zillion miles.

Yes, The Who smashing their equipment and Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire were spectacular pieces of showmanship, but when was the last time you just listened to them minus the visuals? Hell, there isn’t any point when you can dial up either one on YouTube and get blown away all over again.

Meanwhile, for whatever reason, “Try a Little Tenderness” didn’t even make the first cut of the Monterey Pop film, D.A. Pennebaker deciding to go with “Shake” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” — great, natch — and when they put out a full film of Otis at Monterey in the mid-1980s, Pennebaker made the decision to spend the first three minutes of the performance showing various women (who are now all seniors if they’re even alive) in the audience before cutting to Otis and the MGs in full flight.

Oh she may be weary
Them young girls they do get wearied
Wearing that same old miniskirt dress, yeah, yeah
But when she gets weary
You try a little tenderness, yeah, yeah, yeah

Like a lot of Otis Redding’s greatest songs, “Try a Little Tenderness” was a cover, but unlike a lot of them, it wasn’t a cover of a recently-written song. “Try a Little Tenderness” goes back to 1932, and was recorded by such folks like Mel Torme and Bing Crosby, as a straight-up big band ballad with no real tempo shifts.

And, of course, when Otis & the MGs went to record it for The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul, they started it out as a slow one, but eventually got it up to a nice mid-tempo stomp before the fade — enough for it to chart at #25 pop and #4 soul — but still a total patch on what they worked up for Monterey.

And honestly, I think that might have been an accident of circumstance: the version of “Try a Little Tenderness” on Live in Europe — recorded just three months prior — is definitely rougher and more exciting than the studio version, but it never even comes close to getting unhinged.

I think it starts with Al Jackson, Jr. After the first verse, which is just Otis singing over random Duck Dunn bass notes, Jackson comes in with a tapping of his snare drum, and even just that feels lit, while Otis sings the second verse.

You know she’s waiting
Just anticipating
The thing that you’ll never, never, never
Never possess, yeah, yeah
But while she’s there waiting
Without them try a little tenderness
That’s all you got to do

Things are building throughout that second verse, and building even more during the third verse, whereupon Jackson switches from his rims to a double-time on his snare proper, and the whole band comes in and the whole world just fucking explodes, the horns continually adding tension as Otis gets more and more and more excited about how tender you need to be.

All you got to do is know how to love her
You got to hold her, squeeze her, never leave her
Get to her, got to got to try a little tenderness
Yeah, yeah, lord have mercy now
All you got to do is take my advice
You got to hold her, don’t squeeze her
Never leave her
You got to hold her, love her
So got to try a little tenderness
A little tenderness
A little tenderness
You got to you got to you got to
You got to hold her, don’t squeeze her
Never leave her
You got to got to got to now now now
Got to got to try a little tenderness
Yeah yeah
A tenderness
A tenderness
You got to you got to you got to
You got to hold her, squeeze her, never leave her
Got got got got got got got got got got got

By this time, “Try a Little Tenderness” is absolutely frenzy of crazed stop-times, Booker T organ swirls, Steve Cropper guitar licks and the horns doing their best to keep up. There’s even a false ending as Otis stomps offstage like he’s got nothing more to say, only to return for even more exhortations about tenderness, getting more and more insane until he finally (and in retrospective, chillingly) screams “I gotta go now, and I don’t wanna go” after which the band somehow brakes the damn thing to a halt.

“Try a Little Tenderness (Monterey Pop)”

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