AL GREEN-LET’S STAY TOGETHER.
AL GREEN-LET’S STAY TOGETHER.
I’ve always loved soul music, and have done for many years. Unlike many people, I don’t just focus on one style of soul music. Some people just like Northern Soul, others Motown or deep soul, while other people love the sound of Chicago, Stax or Atlantic. One other type of soul music that many people love, is Southern soul, and today, I’m going to write about one of the greatest Southern soul’s exponents, Al Green, and his 1972 album Let’s Stay Together. This album Green’s third album, released in January 1972, and is one of his finest albums. In this my second article on Al Green, I will tell you just why Let’s Stay Together is such a great album.
My previous article on Al Green was about his 1975, Is Love, which was released when his career was perceived as being in decline. When Let’s Stay Together was released, Al Green’s career was very much in the ascendancy. He was by 1972 very much one of the stars of soul music. However, his previous album Al Green Gets Next To You hadn’t been a huge success, it had sold only moderately. All would change with the release of Let’s Stay Together, an album that was critically acclaimed. It saw Green’s style range from crooning to scatting, and veer from the smoothest falsetto to the deepest, funkiest, of growls. On its release, the album was a huge success and the title track, released as a single, sold over two million copies. This album, and the single Let’s Stay Together, firmly cemented Al Green’s reputation as a one of soul music’s biggest stars. It’s an album containing nine wonderful songs, produced by the legendary Willie Mitchell, and features some of Memphis’ greatest musicians, including The Memphis Horns.
Having told you about the background to Let’s Stay Together, I’ll now tell you just what makes this such a great album. Let’s Stay Together opens with the title track Let’s Stay Together, the single that sold over two million copies. If you’ve never heard the song, it only takes one listen to realize why it’s such a great track. It opens with the Memphis Horns playing, Al almost whispers in the background Let’s Stay Together. Straight away, you’re hooked, even before he starts to sing. When he does sing, his vocal is smooth yet strong, and the way he delivers the song, it’s as if he means every word. What you’re listening to, is vintage Al Green, and it’s one of the best songs he ever recorded. He’s accompanied by Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes on backing vocals, who provided backing vocals on so many Hi Records albums. Their performance and contribution on backing vocals are subtle, a perfect foil for Al’s voice. The rhythm section’s contribution is important, as they provide the song’s heartbeat, and Green was lucky to have such talented musicians backing him on this album. Anyone who has ever heard this wonderful track, will be forced to agree with me, when I say that this is one of Al Green’s greatest songs.
After starting the album with such a fantastic track, it was always going to be difficult for Al Green to follow that up. What he did was put a very different sounding track next on the album. La-La For You has a very dramatic start, the Memphis Horns and Charles Hodges on piano play, they’re accompanied by drums. The tempo is much slower, and when Al sings, it’s a very different Al Green we hear. He sings the song slow, real slow, leaving space within the song that has the effect of heightening the dramatic atmosphere. His vocal is heartfelt, dramatic at times, he sounds insecure, sometimes he’s almost pleading, as he sings the songs beautiful lyrics. It’s a song that’s very different from the opening track, the piano has a gospel influence, the vocals are double tracked, and Teenie Hodges’ fantastic rhythm guitar solo is one of the highlights of the track. Overall, La-La For You is a heartfelt and passionate song, delivered brilliantly by Al Green.
The Memphis Horns play at the start of So You’re Leaving, producing an almost rasping sound. A guitar accompanies them, they’ve set the scene for Al. When he appears, his vocal is quicker, as he sings to his lover that’s leaving him. In the song he attempts to get her to stay, even offering to marry her. During the song, his vocal style is quicker and stronger. He sometimes sounds defiant, but changes, and almost pleads, desperation not far away. Midway through the song, Al scats, this improvisation effective. Behind him, the Memphis Horns and the rhythm section, especially the drums, are the stars of the track, their contributions playing a huge part in the track’s success, especially during the song’s chorus. The success of this track is not just because of Al’s sometimes strident vocal alone. Quite the opposite. It’s success is partly because of the wonderful musicians assembled by Willie Mitchell, especially the magnificent Memphis Horns.
What Is This Feeling begins again with the Memphis Horns, but this time, they don’t sound so harsh. Al carries the song wonderfully, his vocal strong, happiness etched deep in his voice. Here, he’s singing about being in love, and it’s obvious he’s glad to be in love. Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes backing vocals have an understated quality, they sing quietly in the background, never once threatening to overpower Al. The way the Memphis Horns play, their sound much sweeter, they too, sound pleased that Al’s in love. Their playing adds to the joyous sound on what’s one of the album’s highlights.
As Old Time Lovin’ begins drums play, accompanied by a Hammond organ, the Memphis Horns join in setting the mood. This sets the atmosphere. The tempo is slow and moody. Straight away, you feel a gorgeous slice of Southern soul is about to emerge. When Al sings, his vocal is quieter, much softer. However, sometimes he let’s go, his voice soaring, yet still singing within himself. His delivery of the lyrics is moving, you feel as if he means them. Willie Mitchell’s arrangement is perfect, the rhythm section and Memphis Horns combining masterfully, and the backing vocalists adding the finishing touches to a beautiful slice of the finest Southern soul.
On the next track, I’ve Never Found A Girl, Al Green covers a song made famous by Eddie Floyd in July 1968. Personally, I much prefer Al’s version. This is the first of two cover versions on the album. The track starts brightly, the Memphis Horns playing as if announcing the introduction of Al Green. When Al sings, he continues the much more restrained delivery of Old Time Lovin’. Here, his voice sounds strong and confident, but when he sings, he again, sings well within himself. Instead, he leaves Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes to sing the louder parts, only really letting his voice briefly, soar, towards the end of the song. The interplay between Green and his backing vocalists is highly effective, and they’re allowed to demonstrate just how talented they are. Al isn’t afraid to let them shine, and they make a huge contribution towards the track’s success.
How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is the second cover version on Let’s Stay Together, and sees Al cover a Bee Gees song. Like the cover version of Eddie Floyd track I’ve Never Found A Girl, Al’s version of How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is the definitive version, and will never be surpassed. The track begins with guitar and drums playing, they’re then joined by a Hammond organ, moodily playing in the background. Even before Al’s softly sung vocal enters, the mood is set. The mood is sad, it’s a track that can’t fail to pull at your heartstrings. Al’s delivery is heartfelt, as if he recognizes the emotions described in the lyrics. It’s one of his best vocal performances, and highlights how a softer, quieter and more restrained delivery can be much more moving. For six and a half spell binding minutes, you’re enthralled at Al’s heartfelt rendition this song. Before Al Green and Willie Mitchell worked their magic with this song, it was a mediocre song at best. It just goes to show how by drenching the song in soul, adding horns, backing singers, strings and a little of Al Green’s midas touch, a song can be transformed from the equivalent of a pauper to a Prince. Quite simply, Al’s version of How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is one of the most gut-wrenchingly beautiful songs, you’ll ever be privileged to hear.
After the magnificence of How Can You Mend A Broken Heart, which is an almost impossible act to follow, comes Judy. It starts with the rhythm section and strings combining. Compared to the emotional roller coaster of the previous track, this is much more laid back. Al’s performance lacks the emotional intensity of How Can You Mend A Broken Heart, and here, he seems happy, at peace with the world. As he sings his voice is light, it has a brightness as he sings the song slowly, with an understated quality. Even the arrangement is subtle, the band seem to have caught Al’s vibe, and play within themselves. This is highly effective, and works, and what they produce is gorgeous track, one that has a lovely laid back vibe, and benefits from an understated arrangement.
Let’s Stay Together closes with Ain’t No Fun For Me. It has a similar tempo to the previous track, and begins with drums playing really slowly, accompanied by a guitar. Shortly afterwards, the Memphis Horns play, announcing the presence boldly, their playing of the highest standard. They play around Al’s vocal, and behind it. On this track, they’re playing is louder, which suits the arrangement. Al’s voice is louder and stronger. During the song he sings, shrieks, and hollers, his passion almost overflowing. There is nothing understated about this track, it beautifully bold, and is a perfect way to end such a wonderful album, an album which saw Al Green at the top of his game.
Let’s Stay Together although only Al Green’s third album, is highly mature album. It features nine great songs. There are no bad songs on the album, and definitely no filler. This was one of the highlights of Al Green’s career, he’d made the transition from R&B singer, albeit a highly successful one, to a singer who’d just sold two million copies of his single Let’s Stay Together. The album was in the top ten in the Billboard Hot 100 and the UK album charts. He had a legion of fans worldwide who loved his music. During this period he was fortunate to be recording for Hi Records, and be produced by Willie Mitchell, and have such a wonderful group of musicians playing on his album. Everything was going right for Al Green, his star was very much in the ascendency. During the 1970s’ he sold over twenty-million records, and some of the albums he recorded during this time, are among some of the greatest soul albums of all time. Since the release of Let’s Stay Together, the album has been critically acclaimed, and is now perceived as one of the best albums ever recorded. Should you never have heard the album, or any of Al Green’s music, it’s an album that’s well worth buying. It’s one of the best records he ever recorded, and features some wonderful songs. Standout Tracks: Let’s Stay Together, Old Time Lovin’, How Can You Mend A Broken Heart and Ain’t No Fun For Me.
AL GREEN-LET’S STAY TOGETHER.