The Big O

It’s too easy to bash the record business. Yes, they’ve lied to us (“CDs will get cheaper”). Put out inferior product (Dynaflex, need I say more). And been uncaring if not downright larcenous when it comes to artists. But strangest of all, is the seeming disregard that the business has always had for its own future. Planning ahead has never been a strong suit. Like maybe getting ahead of Napster before piracy dried up the cash might have been a good plan?

All this came to mind when Rhino’s new Otis Redding, Soul Manifesto: 1964-1970 boxed set arrived. Here is Redding’s entire official catalog of recordings, originally released by Stax and Atlantic/Atco Records, 12 albums, for less than fifty bucks ($48.57 on Of course there’s still an angle; the inferior sounding but convenient MP3’s are $79.99, which is still a bargain. Sonically superior high resolution 192/24 downloads of the catalog are available on HD Tracks ($25.98) and Acoustic Sounds Super HiRez ($24.98). Original LPs, still my format of choice for this music, have risen in value though not to insane levels. Depending on the title and the condition they can range from $4.99 VG+ to nearly $100 for NM or better.

The riches here are vast and well known. As great as James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and others were, Otis had ahold of something special, both vocally and as a songwriter. And anyone who’s ever seen any of his performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival—where he finally crossed over to the white audience—knows he could bring it during the live experience. While the early records like Sings Soul Ballads and Dictionary of Soul are all classics every one, I’ve always found the posthumously released stuff, his final burst of creativity, to be his finest hours; recordings that filled the studio records, The Immortal Otis Redding, Love Man and Tell the Truth. While they are clearly a collection of leftover or unreleased new tracks, compiled as opposed to a thought through album, listening to all three provides both hugely accomplished performances and tantalizingly, hints as to where he might have gone musically had he lived.

For starters he was becoming a better singer, negotiating the twisting enunciation of “freak out” in “Give Away None of My Love,” or the “Flippity Flip” in “Wholesale Love,” both on Tell The Truth. In “I’m a Changed Man” and “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher” both on Love Man, he experiments with scat singing. On the incomparable The Immortal it’s the songwriting that looks ahead in tunes like his finest ballad, “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember,” a prophetic co-write with his wife Zelma and “Hard To Handle,” a tune he still owns despite the Black Crowes rambunctious cover. In “I Got The Will” from Tell The Truth where he “cain’t find his way,” the rising verses are nothing short of a hit pop tune. The band accompaniment throughout, most by Cropper, Duck Dunn and the rest of the MGs, is masterful and supremely musical. The “what ifs” when it comes to Redding are heartbreaking.

While the music here is some of the most essential in all of American popular music bar none, the packaging is bare bones--no booklet, just simple slip cases. But to anyone interested in getting the entire Redding catalog on CD in one reasonably priced fell swoop, this is a deep and essential slug of old school soul music. Similar Rhino boxes containing the collected works of David Bowie, The Doobie Brothers and Alice Cooper on CD have also been released recently. The question they all beg is why didn’t sets like this appear when CD as a format still had a vital future? It’s not as simple as these records no longer sell and so they can be had cheaper now. Most of the record biz has never learned to play the long game. If there’s any lasting sin to criticize the record business about, it’s the uncanny ability to KO a format just as all the bugs are out, the manufacturing process is cheap and efficient and the buying public all have players and plenty of product. It happened with LPs in the 1980s and now it’s happened to CDs. Are downloads, High Rez or MP3, truly the final way to collect and/or consume music?

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Took a look at the cuts included in this compilation. As per usual for Rhino, the collection is excellent and very complete. Even Hawg for You and Tennessee Waltz are included. I have almost all, but not the live, cuts on separate albums (am not fond of the speeded up tempos used during live performances). Am sure the sound quality is better than those funky Stax/Volt and Atco albums of mine. $50 for all this is paltry; I spent much more than this on the albums and CDs.

Couldn't live without this music. It has gotten me thru some rough patches, esp. the album Soul Ballads. Only Ray Charles sang with more warmth and depth.

Nothing compares to the Stax/Volt musicians. For the original hip hop beat, check out drummer Al Jackson Jr. on Tramp. (And all the sycophants suck up to James Brown as the originator.) Jackson Jr., incidentally, is one of the best, if not THE best, soul drummer.

Never, but never, settle for MP3 for this music. The very idea is ridiculous. The studio sessions were cut live in very few takes, in the converted movie theater that was the Stax/Volt studio, on a 3-track Ampex. The warmth and delay of that room are an integral part of the sound. (Al Jackson Jr. said it led him to play behind the beat the way he does.) MP3 may be fine for processed music, like Taylor Swift, but it would kill the delay, room sound and warmth of this music.

PS. Itch just had to be scratched. Picked this up for $43 on eBay. Had to have it, even if I have all the albums.

PPS. Have gotten the CDs. How is it that no one, not a single person on this supposed "audiophile" site, is screaming out loud about how bad digital is? My funky, old, dusty, scratched Stax/Volt and Atco vinyl sounds 1000% better than these dead CDs. Have compared the analog wav versions of the tunes on my computer to the CDs. The bass on the CDs is a mushy, formless blob, so formless it's hard to pick out the note being played. The highs are muffled and veiled. The midrange is stripped clean of harmonics. Al Jackson's superb drums sound like they're under water -- transients are blunted. They've killed American music. Trust no one, including Stereophile.

billyb's picture

"As per usual for Rhino, the collection is excellent and very complete.. I have almost all, but not the live, cuts on separate albums"

"Even crappy CDs are becoming obsolete, being replaced by what ... Pono, HD downloads, ancient vinyl?"

"am at the moment listening to Schubert, Fantasia in C, streaming on this computer from WHRB, Harvard radio."

"My SME V/Kiseki Purple Heart Sapphire sit collecting dust."

Could you share your recommendations on "audiophile" approved feather dusters for less than say 5 grand please?

So many contradictory statements, hard to sort out what makes you tick besides standing in opposition to what was just said. Your insightful comments become lost when the responses inevitably contradict themselves.

That's hardly a mid fi set up with those ARC monos and SME rig. Bet your system sounds quite fine with most any source. Many would love to afford those things, perhaps a giveaway to a local charity since source material iyo has degraded to such a terrible extent? Why bother with all that dreadful ancient vinyl if it is so frustrating to listen to? Unburden and set yourself free!

One Love,

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

And why did the text of his comment appear in my personal mail, Atkinson? Is that his work or yours?

billyb's picture

the comment lands in your inbox.

I'm just a guy who likes to read the articles here because i love to listen to music. For myself and some others from what i've read your posts tend to detract from the otherwise pleasant exchange of commentary on the articles. I am definitely not "in league" with anyone at Stereophile! It would be better perhaps if you would comment on the points i've made rather than engage in such distraction.

John Atkinson's picture
Osgood Crinkly III wrote:
billyb isn't flaming, Atkinson?

I didn't think so. His comments were of the same level that you make and that I haven't deleted. And I assume you are aware that addressing someone by his surname alone is inappropriate. It implies that the one being addressed is inferior, socially or professionally.

Osgood Crinkly III wrote:
And why did the text of his comment appear in my personal mail, Atkinson? Is that his work or yours?

I have no idea. Your email address is kept confidential on this site unless you request it to be made available. But no, it was nothing to do with me.