‘Try A Little Tenderness’: Story Behind The ‘Glee’ Song

Amber Riley covers the tune made famous by Otis Redding.

While there is, no doubt, a bevy of talent on the immensely popular “Glee,” the big numbers tend to fall to a select few of the show’s castmembers. Like her co-stars Lea Michele and Chris Colfer, actress Amber Riley, who plays big-voiced, big personality Mercedes, is one of those standouts.

And she proved it once again during Tuesday night’s episode of Glee, titled “Funeral,” in which she took a swing at the classic “Try a Little Tenderness” and knocked it out of the park.

Of course, this is a song that has been giving people goose bumps for nearly 80 years and made its mark on pop culture in that time. Written by Harry M. Woods, James Campbell and Reginald Connelly (a songwriting team better known as “Irving King”), the first incarnation of the love song was recorded in 1932 by the Ray Noble Orchestra. A year later, Bing Crosby lent his trademark voice to the track with a noticeably different sound.

In fact, “Try a Little Tenderness” is now one of the most frequently covered songs in music. Take your pick as everyone from Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Tina Turner, Three Dog Night and Michael Buble have crooned the tune.

But there may be no version more popular (or influential) of “Try a Little Tenderness” than Otis Redding’s 1966 cover. When it was released as a single that November, Redding had given the track an entirely new spin, beginning with a slow, smooth R&B vibe and building into a furious rock and roll conclusion. His version has become the one most people know and love. And while the song wasn’t as big a chart-topper as his hit “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” (“Try a Little Tenderness” peaked at #25 on the Billboard charts), it has had the same amount of staying power.

Music critics have certainly loved Redding’s ode to making the moment sweet for your lady. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted the musician in 1989, named his version of “Try a Little Tenderness” one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock, while Rolling Stone placed it at #204 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, just edging out another R&B classic, Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.”

And there may be no greater tribute to Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” than Duckie, Jon Cryer’s lovelorn character in John Hughes’ 1986 classic high school flick “Pretty in Pink.” In a memorable scene, Cryer’s eccentric Duckie sings and dances along to the song in a record store, putting an emphasis on the tune’s dramatic end. Most fans of the film would agree, Molly Ringwald’s Andie should have picked Duckie for his spirited lip-synch serenade alone.

Hughes wasn’t the only one to use the song onscreen. The tune has popped up in various movies and pop cultural facets. Films like “Bull Durham,” “Shrek,” “Duets,” and the 2007 dramedy “This Christmas” (in which Chris Brown performed the classic) have all paid tribute to Redding’s timeless version.

Meanwhile, TV shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and now “Glee,” use the song as a source of inspiration in their storytelling. Those movies and shows also serve as a helpful reminder of why this is a song that should be played at full volume and to the one you love.

What did you think of Amber Riley’s rendition of “Try a Little Tenderness”? Leave a comment in the section below!