These arms of mine
They are lonely, lonely and feeling blue
These arms of mine
They are yearning, yearning from wanting you
For most of my life, if anyone has ever enquired as to whom my favourite singer is, the answer has without fail, always been the same, the great soul singer, Otis Redding. Perhaps that’s a slightly unusual choice so please let me introduce you to the sort of feeling that this man’s memory evokes in people.
Around four years ago I was sitting in a Cognitive Psychology seminar at Nottingham Trent university as our new (to us) lecturer and personal supervisor-to-be introduced himself to the class. He marched in to the room and pointed to a couple of large images on an overhead viewer behind him. I could almost hear a sharp intake of breath as he first pointed to a picture of comedian, Peter Kaye who reputedly had something of a resemblance to the lecturer who maintained that he was indeed not Peter Kaye. His opening words further, went something like this:
There are only two things in life that are unarguable. One is that everything can be argued; the other is that These Arms of Mine by Otis Redding is the greatest love song of all time. Everything else is arguable…
The class looked slightly nonplussed. I knew what he meant.
I was feeling in an emotional mood one evening recently and thinking in particular of those words and that song. I drew it out and played it and sure enough, I don’t mind admitting, I ‘had a little grit in my eye’. The feeling and emotion in that song is simply overwhelming. Only Otis Redding could sing a song that way.
And if you would let them hold you
Oh, how grateful I will be
These arms of mine
They are burning, burning from wanting you
In my humble view, amongst many great, great singers down through the decades, no one can remotely put the feeling into a song that Otis was able to. His voice has a profound and plaintive yearning that came from deep, deep in his soul. This distinguishes him from most ‘soul’ singers.
Many only know Otis from his classic sixties hit ‘Dock of a Bay’ which history tells us became his first major hit, sadly just one month after his sad passing at just twenty-six years old. In some ways it is a fine legacy to him but I believe to Otis it was just another song, one that he had a little fun with even when we hear his casual, whistled refrain during the recording.
My first introduction to his music was through my older sister who would bring home all the latest ‘hits’ from her job in the record department of a large department store in Nottingham. Many of those titles are memorable but I really can’t tell you how exciting it was to hear the classic album ‘Otis Blue’ for the first time. Even at that fairly tender age I knew these songs would stay with me forever.
Otis remained ‘my man’ and upon growing up, entering work and earning my own money I found the album ‘Monterey Pop’ in the famed Selectadisc store in Nottingham. The vinyl album was an unusual one in that a live performance of Otis featured on one side and a live display of guitar pyrotechnics by Jimi Hendrix filled the flip side. The Monterey festival in California was a landmark pop festival in many ways but it’s Otis’s performance that I will remark upon. Otis strode out onto the stage backed by the fabulous, and on the night, frenetic Booker T and The MG’s and threw himself into a version of Shake which blew the stadium almost in two with it’s unstoppable energy. As a rock critic memorably coined on the night ‘Fifteen stones of soul in a mohair suite’. Perhaps the most poignant aspect, especially after Otis left us, was his portrayal of his ‘Love crowd’ as he immortalised them from the stage that night. Utterly unforgettable. It should be said that this was perhaps the first major live performance by a black artist to a young white American audience of such proportions. It was groundbreaking and it was all about love.
The years go on and still I have a deep feeling for this man’s memory and all that he stood for. His voice is the sound of my own soul. This I have come to understand. The next time you want to tell the special person in your life how much you care, play her (or him) These Arms of Mine by Otis Redding. She’ll be yours forever.
Rest in peace, Otis. Love from Stu.