A “vertical tasting” of R&B classic “You Left The Water Running”
“You Left The Water Running” is a song with some great mythology around it.
It appears in Nick Hornby’s classic tale of record collecting (oh, well, I suppose there were one or two parts about relationships and stuff as well) Hi-Fidelity. You’ll remember the scene. A disgruntled woman looks to sell off her cheating husband’s record collection worth thousands for fifty pounds….
This is a collection carefully curated to be sold for a fraction of its worth, because the woman knows it is the best way to take revenge on her errant husband who has shacked up with a girl in Spain. “He asked me to sell his singles collection and send him a cheque for whatever I got…” explains the betrayed wife to the book’s “hero”, Rob Fleming. Empathising with the cheating husband / record collector, Fleming refuses to buy the collection, but eventually agrees to buy one record: “You Left The Water Running” by Otis Redding, for £10.
Why was this song in Hornby’s fictional record collection? Well, perhaps because it’s a great tune. Maybe because it flopped when released as a single by another artist. And probably because although Otis Redding recorded it, his version remained unreleased until 1987, and hence it’s a rare single much coveted by collectors.
The song has been released by a number of different singers and bands, some well known and others less so.
In the world of whisky and wine, there’s a thing called a “vertical tasting”. The connoisseurs, bon viveurs and indeed, drunks amongst you will know that a vertical tasting consists of sampling wines of different vintages or, say, a maturing malt whisky after three, five, seven and ten years in the barrel to see how they taste.
So I thought I’d undertake a “vertical tasting” of the song “You Left The Water Running”.
One song, five or six artists, and we’ll see what we find out about each.
But before that, let’s start with why the song was recorded, but never released by Otis Redding…
“You Left The Water Running” was originally to be recorded by Wilson Pickett for his 1967 album The Wicked Pickett. Redding happened to be visiting the FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, when he was asked to lay a vocal down on a demo of the song in preparation for Pickett to begin work on the track.
Redding’s vocal was used to help the production of Pickett’s version, but was never intended for release in itself, and so, with job completed, was forgotten about. When, a decade later, journalist Dave Marsh was sent a promotional copy of the single by Stone Records, his interest was piqued. He discovered the origins of the song and also that the Stone Records release was unauthorised. Redding’s estate requested the single be withdrawn and copies destroyed.
However, Marsh instead bought the remaining copies of the single and won permission to gift them to friends. It wasn’t until 1987 that Otis Redding’s version of “You Left The Water Running” appeared on an officially sanctioned compilation, and thus the general public, beyond a select record collecting population, were able to hear Otis Redding sing the song for the first time.
The single, on Stone Records, is available on Discogs for around £35 nowadays, so Rob Fleming’s £10 wasn’t a bad investment. But you don’t have to shell out that sort of money to hear it: Here’s the song on YouTube….
But here’s the thing. Otis Redding’s version is not, in my view, the best version of the song. So next time, we’ll find another contender and you can judge for yourself….
- Nick Hornby: Hi-Fidelity
- Dave Marsh: The Heart of Rock and Soul