Al Green: The Voice of Love

All about the very personification of '70s soul

Al Green
Al Green. Getty Images

Who was Al Green?

If you've heard "Let's Stay Together," and you almost certainly have, you're already familiar with the angelic yet sensual power of the Rev. Al Green's voice -- there may be no soul singer in history who's ever been torn so hard between the music's secular and spiritual side. Fortunately, he perfected a hit formula, along with his legendary producer and rhythm section, that seemed to have resolved the issue for all time -- musically, anyway.

Al Green's best known songs:

  • "Let's Stay Together"
  • "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)"
  • "I'm Still In Love With You"
  • "Tired of Being Alone"
  • "Call Me (Come Back Home)"
  • "Love and Happiness"
  • "Look What You Done for Me"
  • "You Ought to Be With Me"
  • "Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)"
  • "L-O-V-E (Love)"

Where you might have heard him His giant hit tends to tower over his other songs, but fortunately, he had a ridiculous amount of pop and R&B hits in the '70s with that formula, all equally arresting in their power and beauty. There's even a few universally recognized killer deep cuts. "Love and Happiness," "Take Me to the River," and his epic cover of the Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" weren't even hits, and yet they're well on their way to becoming romantic pop standards.

Born Albert Greene, April 13, 1946, Forrest City, AR

Styles R&B, Soul, Pop-Soul, Funk, Blues, Gospel, Pop

Instruments Vocals

Claims to fame:

  • The most popular soul singer of the Seventies
  • Brought Southern Soul into the smooth R&B era
  • One of rock music's greatest romantics
  • His vocals were a major influence on every R&B singer that followed
  • With the Hi rhythm section and producer Willie Mitchell, created a funky, sweet version of soul that is unmatched in its seductiveness
  • Sang about spiritual love and secular love in a way that made them seem interchangeable
  • Almost singlehandedly brought R&B back into gospel upon his conversion, setting up the template for most modern black religious music

The History of Al Green

Early years

By the age of nine, Al Green was singing professionally, touring with a group of siblings known as The Greene Brothers. But even at an early age, the battle between the secular and the spiritual was raging within him: Al's father kicked him out of the group after catching him listening to Jackie Wilson. Heavily influenced by Wilson and Sam Cooke, Al followed their lead, forming an R&B group called The Creations (later the Soul Mates) in Grand Rapids, MI, where the family had re-located. The group scored a Top Ten R&B hit with 1967's "Back Up Train," but subsequent efforts failed to match that success.

Success

Band leader and head of Memphis' Hi label Willie Mitchell hired Green for a show in Texas in 1969, and was so impressed with the results he signed him as a solo act. Their first collaboration, an LP entitled Green Is Blues, got some notice, but it wasn't until 1971's hit "Tired of Being Alone" that the two hit on the formula they would work for most of the decade: gutbucket soul on the bottom, sweet romanticism on top.

Green went on to score 15 Top Ten R&B hits (including six Number Ones), all of which crossed over to the pop charts.

Later years

In 1974, at the height of his popularity, Green was attacked by his girlfriend, Mary Woodson, while in the bathtub. Upset over the singer's refusal to marry her, she poured hot grits on his naked body, giving him second-degree burns, then killed herself with his gun. That and a bad fall at a 1979 concert encouraged Green to give up secular music and return to gospel, becoming one of the genre's most successful artists in the Eighties. Al dabbled with straight soul for years and returned fulltime in the early 21st century with some acclaimed albums for Blue Note, although he continues to sing gospel at times.

More about Al Green

Other Al Green fun facts and trivia:

  • Has been an ordained minister since 1976 and has maintained a ministry at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis, TN
  • Recorded all of his most famous pop hits at Memphis' Royal Recording Studio, which, like Stax, was a converted movie theater
  • The famous Hi label band that accompanied Green consisted of brothers Mabon "Teenie" Hodges (guitar), Leroy Hodges (bass), Charles Hodges (organ and piano), as well as drummer Howard Grimes
  • Booker T. and the MGs drummer Al Jackson co-wrote and played on many of Green's biggest hits
  • Has claimed that "Let's Stay Together" was written to heal a crisis-torn nation, and not about a woman

Al Green awards and honors Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1995), GRAMMY Awards (1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1994), GRAMMY Hall of Fame (1999), Songwriters Hall of Fame (2004)

Al Green songs, hits, and albums

#1 hits
Pop "Let's Stay Together" (1972)

R&B "Let's Stay Together" (1972), "I'm Still In Love With You" (1972), "You Ought to Be With Me" (1972), "Livin' for You" (1974), "L-O-V-E (Love)" (1975), "Full of Fire" (1975)

Top 10 hits
Pop "Let's Stay Together" (1972), "I'm Still In Love With You" (1972), "Look What You Done for Me" (1972), "You Ought to Be With Me" (1972), "Call Me (Come Back Home)" (1973), "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)" (1973), "Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)" (1974)

R&B "Tired of Being Alone" (1971), "Look What You Done for Me" (1972), "Call Me (Come Back Home)" (1973), "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)" (1973), "Let's Get Married" (1974), "Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)" (1974), "Oh Me, Oh My (Dreams in My Arms)" (1975), "Keep Me Cryin'" (1976), "Belle" (1977)

#1 albums
R&B Let's Stay Together (1972), I'm Still in Love With You (1972), Call Me (1973), Livin' for You (1974), Al Green Explores Your Mind (1975), Al Green Is Love (1975)

Gospel Soul Survivor (1987)

Top 10 albums
Pop Let's Stay Together (1972), I'm Still in Love With You (1972), Call Me (1973)

R&B Green Is Blues (1973), Greatest Hits (1975), Call Me (1973), I Can't Stop (2004)

Gospel I'll Rise Again (1983), Trust in God (1984)

Notable covers Talking Heads somehow mixed New Wave and soul with their Top 20 take on "Take Me to the River" in 1980, a move which got them real national attention for the first time; British pop-reggae group UB40 redeployed their "Red Red Wine" sound with a hit 1989 version of "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)"; Tina Turner's 1984 electropop reworking of "Let's Stay Together," recorded with Heaven 17, jumpstarted her amazing '80s comeback for good

Movies and TV Al makes an early film appearance as a cowboy in Robert Downey Sr.'s racially controversial cult classic film Putney Swope (1969) and as a minister in Beverly Hills Cop III (1994), but has also appeared as himself in the soul documentaries The Gospel According to Al Green (1984) and Soulsville (2003)

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Fontenot, Robert. "Al Green: The Voice of Love." ThoughtCo, Mar. 1, 2016, thoughtco.com/al-green-voice-of-love-2522023. Fontenot, Robert. (2016, March 1). Al Green: The Voice of Love. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/al-green-voice-of-love-2522023 Fontenot, Robert. "Al Green: The Voice of Love." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/al-green-voice-of-love-2522023 (accessed November 18, 2017).