This song is a standard recorded by many artists, including crooners Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme and Bing Crosby. It was written by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly and Harry Woods, and first published in 1933. Campbell and Connelly were a British songwriting team who often collaborated with a third composer, which in this case was the American Harry Woods.
In 1962, Aretha Franklin recorded the song, charting at #100 in the US at a time when most of her singles failed to get much higher. Her arrangement was similar to that of the previous crooner versions and her vocal relatively restrained; it was Otis Redding who did the definitive soulful version of the song, complete with horns, organ, and an uninhibited vocal that builds in intensity as the song progresses.
Redding did not want to record this song, but Stax Records executives and his friends wore him down with a constant barrage of requests. When he finally recorded it, he did it with a pleading vocal that he was "sure" would not be released. The ploy didn't work. Redding's version of "Try a Little Tenderness" became his signature song and the biggest-selling of the records released before his death.
Sam Cooke's version of this was a big influence on Redding. It was never released as a single but was one of high points of his live "Sam Cooke at the Copa" LP (1964) as part of a medley that started with "Tenderness" (followed by "Sentimental Reasons" and "You Send Me"). Redding idolized the man, particularly after Cooke's death, but he did not want to record "Tenderness." He caved in after tremendous pressure from his friends and (according to one source) a family member - but he didn't want to record it like Cooke (in fact, he considered his version a "joke" to quiet the people who wanted him to record it). The rest is history.
Redding recorded for Stax Records in Memphis, whose house band - Booker T. & the M.G.'s - backed him on this track. According to their drummer Al Jackson, this was the only song he ever played soft on (at least for the first part of the song), since they typically went for a hard-driving sound.
Three Dog Night recorded this as a tribute to the late Otis Redding. Their version became their first Top 40 hit in 1968. Their first Top 10 hit, "One," written and originally recorded by Harry Nilsson, soon followed.
For Three Dog Night, it was a staple of their live shows throughout the 1980s. They would often stretch the song to the 15-20 minute mark.
In the movie Bull Durham, erratic young pitcher Nuke LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins, sings this on the team bus but butchers the lyrics, much to the dismay of Crash Davis, the veteran catcher played by Kevin Costner. Instead of "Young girls they do get wearied" he sang "Young girls they do get wooly."
This was one of two songs Aretha Franklin performed when she made her TV debut on American Bandstand August 2, 1962. A cover by her peaked at #100 on the Hot 100 the same year.
Jon Cryer's character Duckie lip-synchs this to Molly Ringwald's character Andie in the 1986 movie Pretty In Pink. The film's director Howard Deutch chose the song because he wanted something that would express the heartbreak Duckie feels as he tries to make inroads with Andie.
In 2015, Cryer re-created the scene on The Late Late Show with James Corden.
This was covered by Florence and the Machine for their 2012, MTV Unplugged – A Live Album. Speaking with Nicole Alvarez of LA radio station 106.7 KROQ, Florence Welch said it was hard choosing an acoustic cover for the show. "I almost didn't do 'Try A Little Tenderness' because it's my favorite song and I thought, 'I can't do this,'" she admitted. "I didn't know how to do it the same, but I just thought, 'I've got to slow it down.'"
The Otis Redding version was used in 2015 commercials for McDonald's Chicken Select Tenders. Because, you know, "tender" is in the song title.