I have to admit to being a little bit torn about this one. Our friends at Shout Factory generally do a great job in bringing us the best of pop culture, music, television, and film from an earlier time. Otis Redding: The Best See & Hear feels at best non-essential, and at worst, just a little bit cynical.
The package consists of two discs – an audio CD, and a DVD. The CD contains 12 of Redding’s greatest hits. These are timeless songs and performances, every one of them was a top 20 hit on the R&B charts, and of course “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was a number one smash on the pop charts as well. Sadly, it was a posthumous hit for Redding. I am a big Otis Redding fan, and you’ll never hear a bad word from me about any of these songs. The thing is, you have them already, don’t you? Do we really need a new release of these songs? They haven’t been remastered, or remixed, and we already own them. They’ve just been … collected.
The good folks at Shout Factory might answer that the songs have been paired here with video from two crucial moments in Redding’s performing career from 1967. True enough, and the video of the Stax Volt Revue Live in Oslo from that year also features performances from Redding labelmates Booker T. and the MG’s (who perform an absolutely torrid version of “Green Onions,” and serve as the backup band for the other artists), and the frenetic soul men Sam & Dave. Redding himself contributes one of his typically classic performances of “Try A Little Tenderness.”
The other Redding video performances come from D.A. Pennebaker’s Shake! Otis at Monterey. This was, of course, the critical performance of Redding’s career, the first time he crossed over to a largely white audience. It was the beginning of a bright new day for the soul master. It all came crashing down in Lake Monona, just outside of Madison, W.I. a few months later.
There was nothing artful about Otis Redding as a performer. He wasn’t slick, he couldn’t really dance, and he often changed the lyrics around. He performed at tempos nearly twice what they were on the records. Despite all of that, or maybe because of it, he was one of the greatest performers the world has ever seen. He was all raw soul intensity, and all the better for it. He worked hard to please, and never disappointed as a performer.
If you don’t have any of the songs, there are better places to start. An excellent choice would be last year’s beautiful reissue of Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul from Rhino. If you crave the video, get Criterion’s 2006 doubleheader of Jimi (Hendrix) Plays Monterey / Shake! Otis At Monterey. Otis Redding – The Best See & Hear feels a little thrown together to me.