To me, Al Green was almost the forgotten soul great of the 1970s era. Often overlooked, or indeed simply standing in the shadows of the big names that one associates with 70s soul and R&B such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, James Brown and the like. However, if one decided to sit down and listen to Green’s 1972 album Let’s Stay Together, that person would quickly realize that this man deserves to be put alongside his contemporaries in the pantheon of soul.
Let’s Stay Together was the album where (if you would excuse the pun) Al Green got it together musically, releasing a beautifully crafted soul record that would turn out as one of the great vocal albums of the decade. Green’s vocals are the most impressive thing about this record, with the reverend showing off both his dexterity and range as a vocalist. Across the record Green offers to the listener a mixture of crooning, scatting, shouting, falsetto, and some of the funkiest growls you are likely to here. He simply had it all and could change his vocal style depending on the demands of the song and what was commanded by each performance he gave.
In terms of the overall sound of the record, well it was nothing but pure soul – nothing more and nothing less – and aside from Green’s stellar vocals, much of this can be owed to the brilliant session musicians whose playing gave Green a template and base to allow his vocals to shine through. The backing on here musically speaking was mostly in the mold of the southern soul or Stax Records sound of the 60s and 70s, and it would come as no surprise that the musicians themselves were all from Memphis. The players on this record were members of the session band the Hi Rhythm Section, accompanied also by the Memphis Horns, as well as a trio of backing singers. The sound they produced right across the album was very much groove-based with more of a rhythm and blues flavor than say the more pop-oriented sound that came out of Motown. There is a strong rhythmic element to the tracks, while the amazing horn section gave many of the songs a sense of personality to go with Green’s raw voice.
So what of the songs themselves, well the album opens with Green’s most well-known song the title track “Let’s Stay Together”, a beautiful soul ballad which never gets old and is quite different in that it provided a nice gentle start to the album, something that was not often the norm for a southern soul record. The guts of the album really starts on track three with “So You’re Leaving” which is an R&B groove-laden love song, whose infectious drum beat and pounding horns is everything that makes a great soul track. This is definitely one of the more instrumentally pleasing songs on the album. This is followed by another groovy track “What Is This Feeling” which also includes some nice falsetto backing vocals from backing singers Charles Chalmers and the Rhodes Sisters, Donna and Sandra. Side one then comes to an end with “Old Time Lovin”, a soul ballad that brings a bit of gospel to proceedings.
Side two then begins with the funky “I’ve Never Found a Girl”, which as a more up-tempo song is a nice way to break up the slower ballads. I would describe this track as one of the more dance-based tracks on the album that you can really get on down to, while it also features a brilliant horn part. This is followed by a cover of the Bee Gees “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” which stretches to over six minutes and in my opinion betters the original, especially in terms of its arrangement and overall feel. Greens vocal phrasing on this track is superb, while his delivery comes across as heartfelt and right from the soul ensuring this is one of the album highlights. The album then concludes with the bright and breezy “Judy” and finally the southern soulful blues of “It Ain’t No Fun to Me”, showing that Green could sing the up-tempo blues numbers just as well as the ballads.
Let’s Stay Together as an album is a wonderful mix of soul balladry and funky rhythm and blues, blending nicely between these styles throughout. Green’s vocals abilities stand out right across the album, while he is well accompanied by some incredibly talented Memphis session players whose playing give the recordings an authentic southern rhythm and blues feel. Let’s Stay Together is nothing short of being a brilliant soul record and represents to me what good soul music is all about. It projects feelings of joy, sadness and happiness, while connects with the body of the listener whether that be in the form of a foot tap, dance, or an emotional response inside. That to me is what music is all about and so I thank you Reverend Green.