Today Otis Redding may be best known for his solo hits, but he also recorded with his Stax-labelmate Carla Thomas, the Queen of Memphis Soul (and daughter of Rufus "Walkin' the Dog" Thomas). Hoping to replicate the success of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Stax paired two of their greatest stars for the 1967 album King & Queen, which produced the hit "Tramp." The album featured their takes on classics such as "Knock on Wood," "When Something Is Wrong with My Baby," "Bring It on Home to Me," and "It Takes Two" (a further indication of Stax's desire for a hit making duo, as the track is a cover of Gaye and Kim Weston's single). But "New Year's Resolution" features Redding and Thomas at their best, engaging in a meaningful dialogue about resolving to improve their relationship despite mistakes.
"New Year's Resolution" bears all the markings of a classic Stax track: horns galore, a rougher, bluesy sound, and a touch of gospel organ thrown in the mixture. The Memphis sound is all about grit, and this song is no exception. Stax's house band, Booker T & the MGs, provides the backing. Note Booker T's subtle but effective organ lending the tune a spiritual element, while Donald "Duck" Dunn's bass and Steve Cropper's tasteful guitar licks ground the track's rhythm. Pulling the entire song together is the Memphis Horns, their short blasts underscoring key phrases such as "But will you, will you forget the changes / That I put you through."
The true stars of "New Year's Resolution" remain Redding and Thomas' blues and soul-soaked vocals. Redding starts the track with his instantly recognizable voice, declaring that "All I want to do / Is just finish what we started, baby." Both join in the chorus, harmonizing on the lines "Let's turn over a new leaf / And baby let's make promises that we can keep." Next comes Thomas' section, where she admits that "I'm a woman / And a woman makes mistakes too." Instead of her shouldering the blame, Redding reenters the picture to sing lines just before the title phrase: "Let's try it again, just you and me / And baby, let's see how happy, honey, that we can be. In the bridge, the duo trades lyrics, each taking responsibility for hurting one another. "So baby before we fall out / Let's fall on in," Redding sings with a bit of a wink.
Interestingly a mistake is left in the final recording: as they simultaneously sing the line "Let's make promises that we can keep," Thomas sings "that we can" while Redding wails "we both can." Her voice slightly falters, clearly believing they may have to end the take, but Redding forges on. Thus Thomas continues, with the two of them engaging in truly breathtaking ad-libbing. "Otis, let's finish what we started," she cries, with Redding replying "talk to only me!" The pair worked perfectly together, engaging in believable dialogue and displaying their musical and personal chemistry. Indeed, the slight imperfection merely adds to the song's rawness and sincerity.
Unfortunately, Redding and Thomas never recorded another album together, as he would perish in the tragic December 10, 1967 plane crash. However, "New Year's Resolution" as well as the other cuts off King & Queen stands as a record of their vocal gifts: creating emotional dialogues that the listener can experience vicariously.