Sunday, November 23, 2008

Number 23: Otis Redding

Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)(Atlantic 584 049)

Chart debut: 24 November 1966

Writers: Otis Redding, Steve Cropper

I tend to have mixed feelings about very dramatic introductions in pop - the kind that don't just kick into the song but have a life of their own. Sometimes they seem like a showy trick on the part of the writers or producers boasting about their melodic and arrangement abilities. Sometimes they sound a little bit like one of those exercises from school where they'd show you how the same notes sound so different in different keys. And sometimes I just want them to get on with it.
The start of 'Sad Song' is a bit different, though - it opens with a literal fanfare, as if to poke a bit of fun at itself. Self-mockery isn't something many of us instantly associate with soul music, but Otis always seemed to have enough awareness of himself to get away with it - even the title of this cut combines Steve Cropper's pastiche of Otis's attempts to communicate arrangement ideas with a slight dig at his gloomy image. It's natural to bracket him with other "tragic rock stars" but he's not like the ones who died because they were drinking to get over the pain.
The joy of the song is the way he turns it into a communal experience. Perhaps that makes it the ultimate sad song. Incidentally, there is also a 'Happy Song', released only posthumously. It doesn't work as well as this one.

YouTube if you want to: It's part of a live medley from Norway where he's certainly enjoying himself. There's a homebrew video to the studio track too.