You need this album. Otis Redding’s career-defining masterpiece, from 1965, is a classic soul album, practically a greatest-hits collection on its own—it includes “My Girl,” “Respect,” “Wonderful World,” Redding’s funky take on the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” a melancholy reworking of Sam Cooke’s “Change Gonna Come” and a jubilant version of Cooke’s “Wonderful World.” Redding delivers a command performance, emotional, imaginative, and virtuosic. It’s the album that introduced him to the world, the apotheosis of mid-’60s soul and a harbinger of the rock-influenced direction Redding would take just before his death in 1967. (It’s also convincing evidence that, as much as Redding admired Cooke, Cooke was ultimately a better and more subtle vocalist.) And he recorded all but one track (“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” taped earlier) in a single 24-hour session with the Stax house band, which included members of Booker T. and the MGs and Isaac Hayes.
Whether you need everything that’s included in Rhino’s deluxe collector’s edition of Blue is another story. The two-disc set presents the original 11-track album from 1965 in both mono and stereo mixes, with live versions of six tracks recorded in Los Angeles in 1966 and five more from a 1967 European tour, an alternate take of “Respect,” and a handful of B-sides and alternate mixes. That’s a lot of Blue, and the divergent mixes will matter most only to strict audiophiles. The differences are inconsequential for the casual listener. And the number of versions of “Respect” and “Satisfaction” don’t provide much insight into or improvement on the originals.
But you do need this disc, and better to spend twice as much for a loving and well-crafted package (with excellent liner notes by Rob Bowman, the author of Soulsville U.S.A.: The Stax Records Story) than a bargain-bin discount.