Song 133: Otis Redding, “Try a Little Tenderness” (1966)Posted: May 14, 2013
Every time I hear “Try a Little Tenderness,” I wonder who came up with that little trumpet-and-saxophone introduction, that little requiem for … what? Past happiness? Happiness that never was? Either way, it’s a hell of an intro, one that laments the state between these two people. Otis Redding, like a sexy marriage counselor (like Hitch!) is here to help: try a little tenderness.
This song is the ultimate example of a slow burn: it starts quiet and sad, and then the cylinders begin firing. It’s also an example of the greatness of Stax/Volt, the Memphis-based record label that was home to Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, Wilson Pickett, and Albert King. I don’t know if they were perceived this way at the time, but I tend to think of Stax as Motown’s denser, more funky cousin. Both labels had superstars, but Stax’s artists were seemingly less concerned about broad appeal. They were more concerned about being great.
What I didn’t know until today is that “Try a Little Tenderness” wasn’t written in 1966, when Redding recorded his version—it’s from 1933. 1933! It was first recorded by the Ray Noble Orchestra, and a rendition by Bing Crosby (Bing Crosby!) came soon after. Unbelievable.
Then, of course, there’s Jay-Z’s and Kanye West’s contribution to the song’s history, but I think that’s another post altogether.