Certain Songs #1414: Otis Redding – “Hard to Handle”

Album: The Immortal Otis Redding
Year: 1968

Like “I Can’t Turn You Loose“, I first heard the song “Hard to Handle” via a cover version by a band with which I had a complicated relationship.

I’m talking, of course, about The Black Crowes, whose first album I really didn’t like at all, as signified by my “meh” reaction to their mannered cover of “Hard To Handle,” (somewhere, there’s a Sedan Delivery practice tape where I drunkenly go off on how much I thought they sucked) one of the centerpieces of the second posthumous record that Steve Cropper compiled from Otis Redding’s vault, The Immortal Otis Redding.

But I knew none of this in the early 1990s, when — after repeated exposure to it from Don’s band Rapid Transit — I finally decided to dip my toes in the world of Stax-Volt’s take on soul music, getting myself a copy of of a Stax-Volt sampler and Eddie Floyd’s Knock on Wood album from Ragin’ and most crucially, the three-disc The Otis Redding Story box set from either BMG or Columbia House. That last one was my gateway drug, not just to Otis, but to soul music in general.

As far as “Hard to Handle” itself goes, I actually think its an example of Otis experimenting with James Brown-style funk — leading off with a Booker T Jones piano riff, anchored by percussive horns and driven by a groovy Duck Dunn bass part — which shows Otis being incredibly playful throughout as he chats someone up.

Baby, here I am
I’m a man on the scene
I can give you what you want
But you got to go home with me
I’ve got some good old loving
And I got some in store
When I get through throwing it on you
You got to come back for more

In the second verse, he brags even harder about his sexual prowess and experience — claiming that he’s definitely a better fuck that whoever you’re hitting right now — and willing to prove it to you right this second. Or hours, I guess. It all leads up to the end of each chorus, where everybody just stops on a dime while Otis tries to seal the deal all by himself.

Pretty little thing, let me light your candle
Cause mama, I’m sure hard to handle, now, yessir’am

A song like “Hard to Handle,” upbeat uptempo Otis having fun singing about having fun might have been somewhat off-brand from the self-proclaimed “Mr. Pitiful,” but it now also feels like the beginning of a direction that he never fully got to explore. Not to mention how much fun this song would have been performed in front of an audience.

“Hard to Handle”

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