Back in the middle ages, when I was young free and single, say in my late 20s, I often ended up round a mates flat before, during or after many a Saturday night. Depending on how much was in our pockets a few of us would often spend the evening playing the others in the room, the vinyl (ask your dad) we had heard, found and purchased during the previous 7 days.
I was buying 5-10 albums a week back then, from right across the genres, with soul, jazz and 60s pop, high on the buying agenda.
However without fail the one record that was always in my bag as my safety net, say if the others didn’t approve of my latest selections would be a copy of the 1975 version of Al Green’s Greatest Hits.
Every track on that was simply a killer. One song after the other hit home and worked in to the various levels of your moods depending if you were happy, sad, dumped or skint.
So for this album of the month, I’ll be kneeling in the church of the Reverend Al and sending praise to God for his voice.
Opening up on side one is ‘Tired of Being Alone.’ Bang, straight out of the box and in your ears. I mean, any album with this belter on it, wouldn’t have try too hard to do much else in all honesty. It is an Al Green composition and is of course a bona fide classic that never fails to get me singing along. It has that distinctive ‘Hi Records’ sound, conjured up by producer and label owner Willie Mitchell. Elegant brass stabs and the crisp, clean drumming of Al Jackson, lead into Al’s wondrous voice, as he laments going through the night alone. Something we all can identify there with brother Green.
Overall, it sounds such an effortless arrangement, that it reminds me of a musical version of Franz Beckenbauer strutting around a football pitch in the mid 1970s. That seemingly lack of effort being the mark of pure genius at work.
‘Call Me’ is next up, and it is collaboration between Green, Jackson and Mitchell. It shuffles along beautifully with strings and a mellow organ sound backing up the strident drumming. Superb vocals once again that define the word soul in my book. It contains an heart breaking refrain of ‘Come back to me’ which gets me every time and just before two minutes 30 seconds in, Al hits a ridiculous note and then the whole band shuffle to the finishing line causing an outbreak of head nodding of the highest two step variety. Class, with a capital C.
The quality of this record never lets up for one second and next up we have ‘I’m Still in Love with You’ with Green, Jackson and Mitchell once again mining another fine seam. The drumming of Jackson on this is wizardry basically. Not sure how he cuts in like that, but he never misses the groove. Once again, the fine string work compliments the combination of vocal excellence, both up front with
Al emoting like he means every word of what he is singing about and the backing vocals hitting the sweet spot over and over again.
Lost love never sounded so painful and joyous at the same time. Sublime.
Al teams up with rhythm guitarist Teenie Hodges next and they lay ‘Here I Am’ at your front door. It is is nailed to that door by the drumming which gets hold of you and then rinses you dry. If you aint nodding when listening to this within ten seconds, I’d see a doctor as soon as, as I fear you may be dead.
Al has got a bad case of love here and he is desperate to give it to you the listener. I seem to remember that UB40 covered this many years later. I have to ask the question why? I mean they were never going to compete with the original were they? Personally, I think it should have had a ‘protected song’ status put on it so no one can mess with it again.
I’ve always loved the next tune, though it has been painful to listen to at times. I won’t go into the details now, but my heart was properly on the floor for the first time 30 years back or so and this just summed up that episode.
I didn’t find out for a few years that it was actually written by Barry and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees. Of course those boys could turn a tune out for sure and they certainly hit the spot with this one. A wonderful arrangement that just has to be acknowledged.
The aching pain is there for all to hear. In Al’s voice first and foremost of course, but the strings and the BVs then just pile on the heartache.
When Al breaks into ‘I just wanna, I just wanna, I just wanna’ I nearly had to stop listening to it back then. Pure agony and joy in equal measure.
Flip over to side two and the sound of those unforgettable and timeless brass stabs tell you we are entering the world of the ‘classic standard’ it is as simple as that. ‘Lets Stay Together’ is tune that will live on till the end of time.
Yes it has been be heard on countless compilations, adverts and what have you, and such repetition should weaken its effect, but listening to it in isolation and with a bit of distance since the last time I heard it, proves a timely reminder of just how good it is. A Gem.
We enter the funkier edge of Al next with ‘I Can’t Get Next To You.’ Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Storing this was originally a 1969 number one single for The Temptations. This version is turned down a notch or two from that belter, and we have a greasier Southern feel going on here. To me, it’s the horns on this define the difference. It also proves a good song in the hands of those who ‘know’ will stand up no matter how you kick it around. This one cannot be denied.
Mitchell, Green and Jackson then slip back into the groove with ‘You Ought To Be With Me’. Lyrics such as ‘I’m trying to realise, you being with some other guy, I don’t know the reason why, you ought to be with me until I die’ – will get a nod from many who have been there.
There is some beautiful drum work on this. The distinctive Al Jackson ‘kick’ at the end of verses always brings a smile, and the organ sound swirls around weaving in an out of the string arrangement. One of Al’s lesser known tunes perhaps, but certainly up there for me.
‘Look What You Done For Me’ is next and there are love songs and then there is this. ‘The best of my years will go to you;
It’s the only thing that I can do. But these things don’t come overnight.’ Pure poetry.
Such heartfelt words that slot into a beautiful refrain that then rolls along so sweetly. Everyone involved with his, hit a purple patch in terms of writing, performing and arranging. In truth it meant that these guys were just out on their own for a few years.
We’re off to the altar next up as Al starts to consider his options. As he says himself ‘might as well.’ Ok, it’s time to stop fooling around and put it down for life. Again when listening to this way back then, the thought of getting married and settling down was a long way from my thinking, but in the back of your mind you hoped that one day like Al, you’d find the right girl.
A few of us lucky ones did.
And there my brethren lies the tale of life’s rich tapestry, which is, weaved into many of these great tunes. Al Green was certainly the guvnor for a few years in the early / mid 70s, and of course enjoyed many other hits with tunes like ‘Love and Happiness’ and ‘Take Me to the River.’
And then, he then turned his back on it all after a ‘personal incident’ in 1974. He recognised his off stage life was spiralling out of control and he decided to make changes.
In truth, he continued to be a troubled soul even though he was now known as the Reverend Al Green and he kept his singing solely in the church for a few years.
Those of us on the outside still had all of this.
And this was the soundtrack to my late 20s in many ways and I thank him for it.
The Mumper of SE5