The Only Way Is Up – Otis Clay (1980)

This re-issue of the 1980 single was released in 2020 by Outta Sight

For many, they know this stomper as the 1988 global chart topper that introduced the world to Yasmin Evans from Shepherd’s Bush – aka Yazz (and in this instance The Plastic Population) as her debut single having previously provided guest vocals to Coldcut‘s “Doctorin’ The House” earlier that year (who also produced “The Only Way Is Up”).

The song was was written by George Jackson and Johnny Henderson and originally recorded by Otis Clay in 1980 on his own ‘Echo’ imprint. But at the time of release, towards end of his career (it was his last single released), it garnered zero chart action and would be relegated to the annals of ‘rare groove’ had The Plastic Population not got involved. Not that the 1988 cover did much of anything for the original (except, of course deliver royalties to the songwriters).

But I love this original version as much as, if not more, than Yazz’s, and today, over forty years later it still resonates with hope that things can only get better – despite that not necessarily being the case thus far!

In the late fifties-early sixties Otis performed in a string of gospel vocal groups including the Golden Jubilaires, the Famous Blue Jay Singers, the Holy Wonders, and the Pilgrim Harmonizers. In 1965 he signed with One-derful! Records in Chicago and two years later he had his first hit with “That’s How It Is (When You’re In Love)”.

In 1968 Otis would have his biggest pop hit “She’s About A Mover” – a cover of the Sir Douglas Quintet hit followed by a number of label moves. Despite being a popular live act Otis never really saw that success translate to record sales.

His 1972 single “Trying To Live My Life Without You” peaked at 102 in the US hottest 100 (and number 24 in the R&B chart) and he performed the song on episode 20 of season 2 of Soul Train on 17 Feb 1973. In 1981 Bob Seger would cover it and take the song to number 5 in the billboard charts.

But Otis remained a popular live act in the US, Europe and in Japan and recorded several live albums in the eighties, two soul albums in the nineties and returned to gospel roots in 2007 with his album Walk a Mile in My Shoes, which earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. In 2013 he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. On January 8, 2016, Clay died in Chicago, Illinois, at the age of 73 of a heart attack and he’s buried at the Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago – the same cemetery that ‘the father of gospel music Thomas A Dorsey, creator of the first nuclear reactor, Enrico Fermi and Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik (Al Capone’s accountant and financial and legal advisor to The Chicago Outfit) are all laid to rest.

2020 Reissue 7″ single available here.