On Thursday evening, January 19, 2012, President Barack Obama surprised and wowed the audience with a few opening bars of Al Green’s classic recording of ‘ Let’s Stay Together’ during a campaign fundraiser, at the world-famous Apollo Theater, in New York City. His viewership on You Tube became increasingly popular, generating 16,000 digital downloads of Green’s famous song by a whopping 490%, by a new generation of music lovers. ‘He nailed it’ Green told TMZ. He was elated that the President even mentioned his name.
Released in November 1971 on Hi Records, this was Green’s second million-seller that brought him international fame. Albert Greene was discovered at a club, in Midland, Texas by legendary Memphis songwriter/producer musician, Willie Mitchell in 1968. While performing his latest hit ‘Back Up Train’ Mitchell was mesmerized by the silky texture of his voice. He contacted Joe Cuoghi, owner of Hi Records, and told Cuoghi he wanted to bring Al back to Memphis with him. Greene came to Memphis with Mitchell but had to suddenly leave to take care of business but promised to return back a week later. With a no-show from Greene, Mitchell continued to gig and promoted his then current hit single, ‘Soul Serenade’ (originally written and recorded by King Curtis in 1964 on Capitol Records). Months later, Al Greene returns.
The two collaborated on setting a new musical direction for Greene. Mitchell, a former jazz musician, established the Hi Rhythm section by cross-fertilizing jazz and R&B with a distinctive bass bottom. Hi’s famous Rhythm Section incorporate by Willie Mitchell included outstanding musicians like Al Jackson Jr. (legendary drummer of Booker T. & The MG’s fame) and Howard Grimes (both on drums), the Hodges brothers consisted of Teenie (on guitar), Leroy (on bass), and Charles (on organ). The Memphis Horns, (legendary for their work with Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave etc;) provided the horn section with Wayne Jackson (on trumpet), Andrew Love and Ed Logan (on tenor sax) and Jack Hale (on trombone). James Mitchell (member of the Detroit Emeralds) would make his contribution on trombone. Background vocals provided by Donna Rhodes, Charles Chalmers & Sandra Rhodes and Al Green. Chalmers handled the string arrangements.
After a few uncharted singles, it wasn’t until a remake of a 1969 Temptations hit, ‘I Can’t Get Next To You’ (Al heard the song on the radio while driving in his car and decided to recorded a slow bluesy version) released in July 1970, that established Green’s (now dropping the ‘e’ from his last name) genesis in the music industry as a hit maker. In 1971, his self-penned hit ‘Tired of Being Alone’ (based loosely on his relationship with R&B singer Laura Lee) sold a million copies, earning Green his first gold record.
While Al Green was on tour in England, Willie Mitchell and Al Jackson Jr, recorded a demo featuring only piano and drums. Mitchell envisioned Al Green’s vocals and music in a lower register, for a crossover appeal. When Green returned from the tour, Willie gave him the demo and asked him ‘do you hear anything?’ Al said ‘give me 15 minutes’, composing the lyrics and christening the title ‘Let’s Stay Together’, a two folded story based on a broken love affair whether good or bad desperately working its way into a forever lasting relationship, guessing his on and off relationship with Laura Lee.
During the session at Royal Recording Studios in Memphis, Mitchell asked Green to sing soft and not so loud. In a heated argument, Al said that he sounded too thin and didn’t want the song to be released that way. Willie was adamant and told him that’s the way the song is going out. ‘Let’s Stay Together’ zoomed into the No. 1 position on both the R&B and Pop charts the week of January 8, 1972. His self-titled LP ‘Let’s Stay Together’ released in February 1972 landed the No. 1 spot, (March 18, 1972) on the Soul LP chart, (No. 8 Pop), for 10 weeks, including its longevity on the charts for an astonishing 38 weeks. Billboard Magazine deleted the Soul LP chart from Aug 26-Oct 7, 1972, meaning 6 weeks were unfortunately subtracted from the LP’s entity. With 8 skillfully chosen songs (5 written or co-written by Al Green) including 2 soulful renditions of Eddie Floyd’s classic hit of 1968 ‘I‘ve Never Found A Girl’ and his own heartfelt interpretation of the Bee Gees’ ‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart’ captivating the listeners with his own sanctified and testimonial delivery. Another cover selection from the album ‘Judy’ was composed by Lawrence Lee and originally recorded by Frank Howard, on the Excello imprint in 1967. Lee was the band director and lead guitarist for Al Green’s touring band in the mid 60’s. Frank Howard was the lead singer of the Commanders and was hired by legendary Dallas radio personality, Hoss Allen for his 1966 syndicated television ‘The!!! Beat’
The single/LP earned Al Green his first No. 1 gold and platinum award worldwide, solidifying his status as the predecessor of Memphis soul in the dawning era of the 1970’s. The legacy of ‘Let’s Stay Together’ continued to grow as tall as a beanstalk, as many of Green’s colleagues such as Roberta Flack, Donny Osmond, Boys II Men, Michael Bolton, Shirley Bassey, Jimmy Smith, Isaac Hayes, Robin Thicke, Margie Joseph among many others, recorded the song. It also appeared in dozens of television commercials and movie trailers and featured on contemporary popular shows such as ‘American Idol’ and ‘The Voice’, sung by its contestants. Tina Turner covered the song as her comeback single and reestablished her worldwide career in 1984.
‘Let’s Stay Together’ was selected by the Library of Congress in 2010 as an addition to the National Recording Registry, selecting recordings that are annually, ‘culturally, historically, and esthetically significant.It was also the No. 1 song on Billboard’s Top 50 Soul Singles year ending chart of 1972.
As ‘Let’s Stay Together’ (single and LP) celebrates its 40th anniversary, there many accolades to praise this timeless classic but to commend the great artistry of the Rev. Al Green and his creativity who still continues to stamp his musical imprint on the minds of music lovers all over the world, whether times are good or bad, happy or sad.
(Chancellor of Soul)