A couple of nights ago, I was sitting listening to Al Green, one of my favorite Southern Soul singers, when when I realized that it’s been a while since I wrote about his music. Previously, I’ve written about two of his best albums Let’s Stay Together released in January 1972, and The Belle Album released in. Another time, I wrote about one of my favorite Al Green albums, Al Green Is Love, released in August 1975. This time, I’ve chose another of my favorite Al Green albums to write about, Livin’ For You.

Livin’ For You was Al’s seventh album, released back in August 1973. It’s one of Al‘s most successful albums, reaching number twenty-four in the US Billboard Charts and number one in the US R&B Charts. This was the fourth of six consecutive US R&B number one albums Al had. His run of number one R&B albums started with 1972s’ Let’s Stay Together and I’m Still In Love With You, Call Me and Livin’ For You in 1973, Al Green Explores Your Mind in 1975 and ended with Al Green Is Love. During this period, Al Green was one of the most successful artists in music, never mind soul music. Like his previous albums Let’s Stay Together and Call Me, Livin’ For You was certified gold, but was unable to match the success of I’m Still In Love With You which was certified platinum. After Livin’ For You, only Al Green Explores Your Mind was certified gold. Mind you, a haul of four gold and one platinum records was a pretty good return between 1972 and 1975. 

Two singles were released from Livin’ For You. They were the title track Livin’ For You in December 1973, which reached number nineteen in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. This was Al’s fourth number one single, but the first that didn’t feature Al Jackson Jr., who’d re-joined his old group Booker T and The MG’s. The second single was the joyous Let’s Get Married. Remarkably, it only reached number thirty-two in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B Charts. Looking back, this seems almost unjust, but when you closely examine the chart placings of Al’s singles and albums, I always think that such great music deserved to fare so much better. Having said that, he received eight gold discs for his singles, with six of his singles reaching number one in the US R&B Charts. His only number on the Billboard 100 was Let’s Stay Together, which was also reached number one in the US R&B Charts. There’s certain sense of symmetry with the Let’s Stay Together album and Livin’ For You. Both albums had title tracks that when they were released as singles, were number one R&B hits and both were the opening track of each album. 

Livin’ For You opens with the title track Livin’ For You, co-written by Al with producer and songwriter Willie Mitchell. A combination of gentle horns, Hammond organ, rhythm section and subtle chiming guitars play slowly, as they accompany Al’s raspy vocal. He sounds sad, full of regret and heartache as he asks for forgiveness, while Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes supplying beautiful backing vocals. This is all against an emotive backdrop that has at its heart rasping horns, swirling strings, chiming guitars and Hammond organ. Quite simply, it’s a beautiful opening track, featuring Al’s emotive vocal and Willie Mitchell’s trademark excellent arrangement.

Home Again starts slowly and spaciously, with the rhythm section, percussion, guitars, lush strings and braying horns accompanying Al’s joyous but thoughtful vocal. He’s glad to be home and with someone he loves. Behind him, the arrangement is perfect for his vocal with the tempo slow, horns rasping, while percussion and sweeping strings accompany the rhythm section and guitar as they too, play thoughtfully and with a tenderness. Again, the backing vocalists enter at just the right time, their lush and understated contribution lifting the track. When this is combined with Al’s vocal and the slow, spacious arrangement, it’s a winning combination, resulting in another tender and beautiful track.

Swirling, dramatic strings, chiming guitars and rhythm section combine to produce a slow, lush arrangement before Al’s vocal enters on Free At Last. There’s a sense of relief, yet sadness in his voice, when he sings about being free at last from a relationship that’s gone wrong. Meanwhile, guitars chime and the rhythm section provide the track’s heartbeat. Strings sweep in the background, and a Hammond organ adds an emotive and atmospheric sound, while the backing vocalists cut in, providing a contrast to Al’s powerful and emotive vocal. Of all the tracks on the album, this has long been a favorite of mine, because of the feeling and emotion in Al’s voice. To me, this is one of the album’s best tracks.

Joyful is the word that best describes Let’s Get Married. From the opening bars, when the rasping horns cut in, to be joined by guitars, the rhythm section and wailing, atmospheric Hammond organ, it’s just five and a half joyous music. Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes provide some of their best backing vocals on the album and the Memphis Horns give a masterclass. When the strings sweep, their sound is lush, yet almost serene. Al’s sings the lyrics he wrote himself joyously, turning this song into a pleading paean to love and happiness. The addition of the organ and horns behind his vocal is a masterstroke, multiplying his desire, pleas and longing. When the track ends, you feel that no woman would be able to resist the seductive, pleas and charms of Al Green.

The style changes on So Good To Be Here, which sees Al return home after an absence, caused by an affair. The tempo is slow, the sound understated, with percussion, the rhythm section, sweet, sweeping strings and an atmospheric Hammond organ combining perfectly. Add to this keyboards and chiming guitars, and this is the perfect backdrop for Al’s vocal. His voice is a mixture of joy and hope, tinged with regret and sadness. Again, the arrangement translates all these emotions perfectly, with strings lush and slow designed to tug at your heartstrings and like the Hammond organ, add atmosphere. Meanwhile, the tempo is kept slow, the rhythm section leaving space throughout the track, This too, adds to to a hugely emotive sound, which when combined with Al’s vocal works really well, resulting in a hugely moving track.

Another track written by Al was Sweet Sixteen. In total, Al wrote five tracks on the album and co-wrote three others. Sweet Sixteen is a quicker track, with swirling strings, blazing horns, driving rhythm section and guitars accompanying Al. His voice is strong, as he accentuates some of the notes dramatically. During the track, a smitten Al sings about having fallen for a much younger women. Horns punctuate the track, while the strings swirl and a punchy rhythm section drive the track along. Although the arrangement is faster and fuller, and Al’s voice laden with passion and desire, I’ve always felt that these weren’t Al’s best lyrics. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad song, just one that’s not as good as others on the album.

Only one cover version features on Livin’ For You and that’s Unchained Melody. Al really slows the song down, turning it into an emotive, slice of Southern Soul. A combination of wailing Hammond organ, slow, rhythm section and sweeping, swirling strings combine before Al’s slow and tender vocal enters. Behind him, the band keep the tempo slow and drenched in sadness and emotion. This is accentuated by the slow, strings, Hammond organ and gospel tinged, backing vocals that accompany Al. Together, they totally transform the song, turning it into a hugely emotive, moving and beautiful song, featuring one of Al’s tenderest vocals on the album.

My God Is Real indicates the direction Al’s life and music was heading. By 1976, he was an ordained Pastor, forsaking secular music for gospel music. Having said that, it’s a hugely impassioned vocal from Al, accompanied by an outstanding arrangement. When the track opens, it’s just Al accompanied by a Hammond organ, chiming guitars and rhythm section. Quickly, the arrangement grows, grand strings sweeping in, joined by some lovely backing vocals. Suddenly, rasping horns enter, just as the arrangement sounds hesitant. One of their contributions brings to mind a hook from Let’s Get Married. However, quickly, this dissipates and the they help produce a powerful and passionate gospel tinged sound, with the help of backing vocalists, piano and Hammond Organ. By the end of the track, Al has demonstrated the strength of his faith and what it meant to him back then.

Livin’ For You closes with Beware, another track written by Al. It has a gentle, almost hesitant start, with chiming guitars, keyboards and rhythm section combining. When Al’s tender vocal enters, this changes, with the tempo slow and the sound having a subtlety. It’s just chiming guitars, keyboards, Hammond organ and rhythm section that accompany Al, with the backing vocalists occasionally contributing during an epic track lasting eight and a half minutes. During the track, Al sings about wanting to make someone love him. This he does against a backdrop of acoustic and rhythm guitars, wailing Hammond organ and rhythm section, his vocal transformed to a half spoken plea. He’s desperate for love, lonely, wants and need loving. By now the track is almost a jam, with Al’s voice laden in passion, soaring, with along the arrangement, which now includes blazing horns. Although a lengthy track, it allows Al to improvise, taking his music in another direction, one with a looser, more freeform structure. I really like this track, but many people may not. They may prefer Al’s much more usual style. However, personally, this is a good way to end the album, allowing Al and his band to demonstrate their talent and versatility.

By the time Al released Livin’ For You, he was on a roll. He’d released a number of hugely successful albums, that started Let’s Stay Together, through I’m Still In Love With You and Call Me his previous album. Al had become a talented songwriter writing five and co-writing three other tracks on the album. Of these tracks, only Sweet Sixteen lets the album down slightly. Apart from that, Livin’ For You is an excellent album, with Al at his very best, his voice laden with a combination of everything from emotion and passion, to sadness and regret. As usual, Willie Mitchell produced the album, bring out not only the best in Al, but the best on every musician on the album. Playing on the album, were the creme de la creme of Memphis music. From the rhythm section, Memphis Horns and Memphis Strings, to Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes, the album is a combination of hugely talented people combining brilliantly to produce some of the best Southern Soul of the seventies. If you’ve never heard this album, it’s well worth buying. Along with all of Al’s music between 1971 and 1977, it  deserves its part in any self-respecting record collection. Back then, Hi Records had some hugely talented artists on the label, including O.V. Wright, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson and Ann Peebles. For anyone who loves Southern Soul, Hi Records is a veritable feast just waiting to be devoured. However, the man who put Hi Records on the map is Al Green, with brilliant albums like Livin’ For You. Standout Tracks: Livin’ For You, Home Again, Let’s Get Married and So Good To Be Here.


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