"I've Been Loving You Too Long" / Otis Redding
I saw a fabulous documentary on PBS last night about the history of Stax Records, which got me to thinking Otis Redding thoughts. Every shot of him in that film showed an exuberant smiling face glowing with life and love of the music; all over again I felt sad that he died so young, just when his big crossover success was about to happen.
The Stax sound was tougher, sweatier, and just plain funkier than the Motown I was raised on; the AM radio stations I listened to in Indianapolis were willing to play Stevie Wonder and the Supremes but I sincerely doubt I ever heard this track as a kid. We got nothing, really, until "Sitting On the Dock of the Bay," and by then Otis had already gone down in that tragic plane crash. Ah, well, I wouldn't have known what to do with this song then anyway. It's absolutely drenched with desire and pain and a whole lot of other things that Otis Redding's shivery grit-edged voice could express better than anybody else.
The title's a little misleading -- "I've been loving you too long" sounds like he's bored and ready to give it up, but in fact the full line says "I've been loving you too long / To stop now." This is guy hooked on his woman, hooked bad, and the way Otis's voice pauses, then trembles in agony, you know he's not simply amortizing his investment. There's something almost dreadful about that weary tempo, those hammering piano chords, the dogged shifts from major to minor keys. He CAN'T stop loving her; she's become a "habit" to him, and I'm guessing more like a drug addiction than a Henry Higgins "I've grown accustomed to her face" sort of habit.
And now comes the hard part: she's NOT in love the same way. "You are tired and you want to be free...You are tired and your love is growing cold" -- he can see it all too well. It's killing him. So he's here, putting EVERYTHING on the line to hold onto her. If this doesn't justify a crescendo of Memphis horns, I don't know what would.
I love how Otis backs off some of those lyrics, as if he's in too much pain to face it (even the guitar seems to flinch and get tentative). He wails full force on "My love is growing stronger" then chokes his way through "as our affair, affair, grows old." I absolutely believe him when he testifies "Don't make me stop now / No baby / I'm down on my knees / Please, don't make me stop now / I love you, I love you, I love you with all of my heart." This is not a song with tight clever lyrics; it's almost like improv, and I picture Otis Redding literally dropping onto his knees, swaying and swooning, getting all worked up the way Sam & Dave or James Brown used to do. God, I wish I'd been lucky enough to see this man perform live.
This song is simply the essence of soul -- an artist's heart and naked essence laid out on stage, no holding back. Even though Stax had a stable of excellent songwriters -- Isaac Hayes among them, before he made it as an artist -- Otis Redding was one of those rare soul artists who wrote his own material (this song he co-wrote with Jerry Butler) and I suspect that helped him pour that extra throb of passion into his songs. Who else could pull this off? I could never buy the Stones' cover, though Chris Farlowe's is suprisingly close to the mark.
It's an undeniably great track, and I'm VERY happy to have it in my head today.
I've Been Loving You Too Long sample