Al Green loves and cherishes the bootyMay 17, 2002
This is the ninth in a series of articles called “The Record Bin” exploring classic albums from the past: pop music for people who like pop music.
Indeed, Al Green’s “Greatest Hits” is music to love your old lady by. Those of you who choose lesser gods such as Barry White, Tom Jones or even Usher to pop into the old record player have lost the way. Al Green is it.
Now why is that? Barry White can sing his booty anthems all he wants, but my first love is Al Green.
His achingly sweet, ghostly-smooth delivery is understated and just right. Green did not belong to the sweaty, loud and powerful band of soul and R&B singers. Although he could certainly make a joyful noise, he never seemed to work at it.
Green has had a messy life, perfect for some intrusive TV biopic. After the first successes of his career, when the gorgeous “Let’s Stay Together” became a hit, he encountered a crazy-ass woman. His girlfriend Mary Woodson became enraged when he refused marriage (although she was already married), poured boiling grits on him, and shot herself. In front of him.
Thus Green found religion and a church in Memphis and became a minister. He still released R&B albums, until he fell off a stage during a performance. He decided that meant he should only record gospel albums. He is currently a pastor, but still records albums and duets with other famous artists. His Web site, www.algreen.com, is heavy on the G-O-D, but there is a nice picture of him smiling.
But one is inclined to forget all of that when listening to “Greatest Hits”. The album focuses on his R&B work done before Green made a shift towards gospel and spiritual music. And it is beautiful.
“Greatest Hits” showcases the hybridic tone Green created by combining the Memphis-based Stax-Volt sound with the more sweet, slick sound of Motown. In “Let’s Stay Together,” one of his biggest hits (for a reason, damn you!), his voice conveys huge pain and longing with a sparse delicacy. For a while when I was a moderately pimply high-school student, I lived on this album because it conveyed that same sort of romantic hurt and joy that my little adolescent heart gravitated towards.
The sound he conveys comes closer to that of a smoother Billie Holliday than James Brown or Aretha Franklin, his contemporaries. What I mean to say is, it doesn’t sweat, it sighs. When he slides up to those high notes in “Let’s Stay Together”, it feels postively ghostly. How can anyone have that much sweet funk? Sensitive funk, at that?
Green is all about love, love, love and he approaches this much wailed upon topic with sensuality and sensitivity. That’s right: it is not all about the booty. It is certainly to be inferred that booty is desired and enjoyed by all, but that’s not all he’s after! There’s a conversational quality to his work, even when he is doing his best to seduce you: “When I’m down I can always call you / For a helpin’ hand / I know you’ll do the best you can / But it don’t take much from me, just my cup of joe.” Sigh.
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