Funk Friday: “Down In The Valley,” Otis Redding

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I have been saving this song for a very special day.  Today is such a day.  It doesn’t matter why today is special – who really cares – but let’s dig into the song.

This is one of those songs that I would consider to be absolutely perfectly constructed.  What is a song composed of?  I would posit (because I love to posit) three things: tempo, melody, and rhythm.  First of all: the tempo.  The tempo is absolutely right on the money.  It’s slow enough to give it a real sultry groove, but it’s fast enough that you want to get out of your chair and dance to it.  Secondly: melody.  This song has a simple enough melody that you can remember it after you hear it once, and then sing along with it the next time it comes on.  It’s also just intoxicatingly bluesy.  And third: rhythm.  The rhythm of this song is straight up four-square, meat-and-two-vegetables, staple-diet stuff.  It musical bedrock.

So why in the world is such a song, with such simple bones, so extraordinary?  Obviously part of it is Redding’s voice, that manages to be so gritty and on pitch at the same time.  Another part is the strategic use of – yeah, you guessed it – horns.  But for me, it’s how everything drops away before the next verse.  What do I mean?  I mean that the song starts with Redding singing alone.  He sings a verse.  Before he asks us whether we’ve ever been lonely (lo-oh-oh-oh-ohnly), it’s just him and the drums – and then the horns come it.  And god help me when Redding can’t help himself at 1:03 (“ooh yeah”) – he knows it’s cooking.  It just keeps building until we can’t take it.  And then what happens?  The guitar lick at 1:58, straight out of a Temptations song – and then song slips into minor.

It’s just…man.  I just can’t even.  This is like the Hope Diamond of songs for me.

 

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