Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Al Green

"I have found people on both sides of the aisle, white and black, that'll give you the shirt off their back. And I've also found people that won't give you a piece of bread if you're starving to death" - The Reverend Al Green
Back Up Train (1967)

Back Up Train/Hot Wire/Stop And Check Myself/Let Me Help You/I'm Reachin' Out/Don't Hurt Me No More/Don't Leave Me/I'll Be Good To You/Guilty/That's All It Takes/Get Yourself Together/What's It All About/A Lover's Hideaway  

This was Al Green's (credited on the cover as Al Greene) often overlooked debut album. He had not yet taken up with producer Willie Mitchell, so that horn-driven Stax-type sound that so characterised his excellent output on Hi Records was largely absent. The material is often up-tempo at times and Green's voice is younger and livelier. The sumptuous Let's Stay Together/Tired Of Being Alone style slow tempo and soulful delivery of Green's successful early seventies albums was not here yet. It is actually a good soul album, representative of its era, but obviously it pales in comparison with his later work. If this had been his only album, it may have been revered, however.
Back Up Train is a laid-back, slow pace soul song that sounds as if it is from an earlier period than 1967. Green's voice is soft and melodic, however and there is a nice, gentle bass sound on the track. 

Hot Wire is a lively, organ-driven, very sixties number. There is a poppiness to it. It is the sort of track that would have done well on the Northern Soul scene. I am not sure it ever did, but I think it should have done!

Stop And Check Myself is an Otis Redding-influenced slow burner of a soul ballad. It has the first hints of the bassy, Stax-y sound that Green would have such success with a few years later. It is the one track that was written by Green himself. You can hear the roots of what was to come on this one. 

Let Me Help You has one heck of a bass line, some Northern Soul-style backing vocals and some infectious, exhilarating drums. The horns make a welcome appearance too.

I'm Reachin' Out is a joyous, pounding number of the sort Elvis Costello tried to replicate on 1980's Get Happy!. It is a really enjoyable track. Once more, the bass is delicious. There are hints of Lulu's Shout on it too. 

Don't Hurt Me No More is a stately, solid, slow ballad with some great falsetto from Green at times. Now, the thumping beat of Don't Leave Me was definitely a hit on the Northern Soul scene in the late sixties, particularly at Manchester's Twisted Wheel club.

I'll Be Good To You is a punchy number with a very Otis Redding-esque vocal. Guilty is a beautifully orchestrated track, with some great percussion. 

That's All It Takes is a cooking, horn-powered upbeat number, very typical of the soul that was around in 1967. Get Yourself Together is an energetic cut that sounds somewhat dated. Its sound quality is inferior to most of the rest of the album, as if it had been recorded in the late fifties/early sixties. 

What's It All About is a slow burner very typical of early/mid sixties Atlantic/Stax/Volt output. A similar slow, bassy groove backs A Lover's Hideaway. Of course, we all know better was to come from Green but check this pleasing album out if you can.

Green Is Blues (1969)

One Woman/Talk To Me/My Girl/The Letter/I Stand Accused/Gotta Find A New World/What Am I Gonna Do With Myself/Tomorrow's Dream/Get Back Baby/Get Back/Summertime   

This was Al Green's first album for Hi Records and began a run of truly classic Willie Mitchell produced offerings. This was his first work with Mitchell. You can tell instantly. That Al Green sound just hits you right there in your soul. Al Green had arrived.

The sound on the remastered version is just so good, thumping bassily right out of your speakers with one huge soulful punch. This album is true soul heaven. The backing is provided by the Hi Rhythm section and is just lip-smackingly good.
One Woman is an example of everything that Al Green's brand of soul was gong to be about for the next six or seven years - it is in possession of a beautiful, gospelly vocal and that intoxicating Stax-style churchy organ backing. It is perfect slow and dignified soul. When it finally builds up into its horn-powered chorus it is so uplifting. Great stuff. 

Talk To Me is Sam Cooke meets Stax soul. Oh Lordy, that bass line those Memphis horns. Heavenly. Green's cover of The TemptationsMy Girl is sublime. Only in the hands of someone like Green with Mitchell's production can such a cover succeed. It does, superbly. The same applies to a cooking cover of The Box TopsThe Letter that just drips with bubbling soul. Green's ad-libbing vocals are mouth-wateringly good.


A beautiful gospel-influenced organ break introduces I Stand Accused (made famous the following by The Isaac Hayes Movement). The subtle percussion backing is infectious and Green's vocal once again just soars over the stately horns. 

Gotta Find A New World has another wonderful, deep bass line and effortless vocals. The soul here is just so pure, man.

What Am I Going To Do With Myself has an unusually sharp, loud, cymbal sound that threatens to dominate the track, but Green's vocal ensures that doesn't happen. The warm, deep soul sound returns with the sumptuous Tomorrow's Dream. For some reason, though, Green's voice is a little low down in the mix on this one. 

Get Back Baby has Green getting the funk, James Brown-style, for the first time. Continuing the "get back" theme comes a cover of The Beatles' Get Back. It is a rousing, organ-driven pumper, giving the rock track an injection of Southern soul, wonderfully. Ella Fitzgerald'Summertime is given the Memphis treatment as well, with impressive results.

Al Green released many more albums for Hi Records, some truly great ones too, but this is up there with the best. It is a purity and joie de vivre about it that makes it one of soul music's greatest works, for me.

Al Green Gets Next To You (1971)

I Can't Get Next To You/Are You Lonely For Me, Baby/God Is Standing By/Tired Of Being Alone/I'm A Ram/Driving Wheel/Light My Fire/You Say It/Right Now, Right Now/All Because  
The Al Green albums from the early seventies are not albums that can be given detailed, in depth analysis. They are simply great soul albums, showcasing that horn-driven Memphis soul sound to great effect. Green's voice is a smoother Otis Redding, but a gutsier Sam Cooke. He also has the soul strength of James Brown. You can listen to any of the three early seventies works of this album, Let's Stay Together or Call Me as examples. They are all equally as invigorating, energising and uplifting.
On this album producer Willie Mitchell and Green laid down the foundations of their classic sound - big bass lines, thumping drums and those horns punching a hole in the wall. Just check out the first track - the Temptations' erstwhile upbeat I Can't Get Next To You is slowed down to be a down 'n' dirty soul grinder. It almost sounds like a completely different song. 

Are You Lonely For Me Baby is cooking, industrial strength soul. Lord have mercy. You can literally take any of these songs and enjoy them. The bass lines are all sumptuous, the horns so melodic yet powerful, the guitars so infectious and Green's voice is just sublime. The well known song on this album would do fine as an example. 

Tired Of Being Alone is just delicious but even the lesser-known songs like God Is Standing By is of equal top notch soul quality. Green can handle a cover too - The DoorsLight My Fire is given the Mitchell/Green treatment, and how. Slowed down groove and horns all over the place.

The tempo on each track is pretty constant - slow burning, sensual, insistent and steadily pulsating. Green's funky, soulful voice compliments it perfectly. Listen to the muscular funk of I'm A Ram, or the slightly psychedelic organ breaks on the wonderful Driving Wheel. Look, I don't need to go on about each track individually, if you want some copper-bottomed early seventies soul quality, you can't go far wrong with this. The remastered sound is superb as well.

Let's Stay Together (1972)

Let's Stay Together/La-La For You/So You're Leaving/What Is This Feeling/Old Time Lovin'/I've Never Found A Girl/How Can You Mend A Broken Heart/Judy/It Ain't No Fun To Me   

After 1971's Gets Next To You this is another classic Willie Mitchell-produced Al Green album full of those sumptuous Memphis horns driving along a solid soul rhythm and Green's at times husky at others so smooth voice soaring above everything. The sound on these early seventies Memphis-style soul albums is invariably excellent too, vibrant and intoxicating.
The huge hit from the album kicks it off - Let's Stay Together. It really needs no introduction. It is Memphis soul perfection. Green's voice controls the whole thing beautifully. An absolute soul classic.   

The quality continues in the punchy, laid-back but powerful La-La For You, which has beautiful horn passages and Green sounding James Brown-esque in his gruff delivery. Check out the lovely introduction to So You're Leaving. On this one, Green's voice sounds very Curtis Mayfield in its higher pitch. The percussion, drums, bas, horns, backing vocals. They all blend so well on this number, as indeed they do on the whole album. Just as with Gets Next To You and 1973's Call Me you know what you are going to get - honest, grinding soul of the highest quality. Even those who aren't huge soul fans can find themselves respecting this. It really is pretty flawless.


What Is This Feeling follows the same recipe. Most of the songs are pretty similar, to be honest, but it doesn't really matter. It is half an hour or so of a great soul vibe. Green's vocals are effortless, almost improvised at times - sometimes rasping, sometimes honey sweet, sometimes deep, other times growling. He is not often, surprisingly, mentioned as one of the truly great soul singers, but surely he is.

Old Time Lovin' sees Green slowing down things on a gospelly, yearningly soulful number, while I've Never Found A Girl has just the most infectious, soulfully driving rhythm. This one is such a great example of the genre. It is simply a perfect piece of early seventies, cooking Memphis-style soul. The child of the great late sixties Stax material. 

How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is a six minute slice of entrancing soul beauty. It is full of sweeping but subtle strings and an appealing organ underpinning the whole thing, not to mention Green's matchless vocals. Otis Redding, Sam CookeJames BrownCurtis Mayfield - Al Green deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.

Call Me (1973)

Call Me/Have You Been Making Out Ok/Stand Up/I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry/Your Love Is Like The Morning Sun/Here I Am (Come And Take Me)/Funny How Time Slips Away/You Ought To Be With Me/Jesus Is Waiting         
Surprisingly, after two excellent albums in 1971’s Al Green Gets Next To You and 1972’s Lets Stay Together, it is the album, from 1973, considerably later in his career, that is considered Memphis-born Al Green’s classic album.

As with all his albums, the soul delivered is effortlessly good - a Stax-Style punchy horn backing is present and Green’s vocals are sweet, soulful and dripping with honey. You feel that he and his top notch band could put out material like this in their sleep. The sound quality is seriously impressive - bassy, rich, clear and defined.
Songs like the calm but subtly brassy Call Me are representative of Green’s brand of soul - all lush strings and captivating horns. 

Have You Been Making Out Ok slows the tempo for a sweet soul ballad with a vocal very much in the Curtis Mayfield fashion. The uplifting drive of the horns and those solidly insistent drums provide the foundation for Stand Up where, again, Green sounds so much like Mayfield. Or maybe Mayfield sounded like Green. Lyrically, Stand Up is a consciousness, call for awareness and pride, but the song is no tub thumper, Green cannot avoid the nonchalant groove in his delivery, whatever the subject.

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry is a Hank Williams country song, but you would never have known. Here it sounds like an authentic, copper-bottomed slice of pure Memphis soul. The backing is beautiful and Green’s delivery peerless once again. 

Your Love Is Like The Morning Sun has the most addictive cymbals and bass with attendant organ backing. It is slow-paced soul of the highest quality. The bass on this song is just so good. I love big full bass lines like this. They give a song such life. 

Here I Am (Come And Take Me) has been covered by reggae artists Bob Marley & The Wailers and UB40 among others, but this is the original. Its immaculate horn riff suits reggae 1970s style too, so the ensuing covers were not a surprise. It was made for reggae, but made for Memphis soul even more. Just heavenly. When those melodious horn bursts kick in - Lord have mercy!

Funny How Time Slips Away is a Willie Nelson cover but in Green’s hands, yet again he makes it his own. Many artists have covered this one - ElvisThe Supremes and Bryan Ferry to name just a few. This is probably the best of them all. Green is so good he makes even cover versions sound like he is the first person ever to sing the song. 

You Ought To Be With Me is classic Al Green soul. Indeed it was a hit single. It has that confident, insistent groove and, of course, that trademark vocal. It is just a little like Let’s Stay Together, but no matter. 

Jesus Is Waiting is suitably devotional from a future Minister of the church. Slow, punchy and dignified. As indeed is the whole album.

Al Green Explores Your MInd (1974)

Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)/Take Me To The River/God Blessed Our Love/The City/One Nite Stand/I'm Hooked On You/Stay With Me Forever/Hangin' On/School Days   

This was another in the excellent seven album series from Al Green (mainly on the Hi Record label) that were full of Willie Mitchell-produced Southern soul numbers. Expect lots of sumptuous, punchy but melodic and uplifting horns, lilting but funky guitars, rhythmic, insistent soulful drums and, of course, Green's soaring falsetto vocal lifting even the most ordinary songs higher, to another level. Not that many of the songs are ordinary. They are all Stax-y Memphis soul nuggets. This was Al Green at his best. You can't beat Green, in the early/mid-seventies, for delicious soul music.
The album begins with two absolute corkers. Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy) is a tasty, sublime groove with an intoxicating percussion sound and one of those marvellous Green vocals. The horns are just kicking. The whole thing is completely uplifting. Take Me To The River is a copper-bottomed soul classic with a subtle, slightly funky beat that just draws you in. Talking Heads and Bryan Ferry both covered it convincingly, but this is the definitive, original version. Just wonderful stuff. 

God Blessed Our Love is a slow-burning, gospel-tinged soul smoocher. Once more the vocal is just perfect. No wonder Green became a preacher. He was half way to Heaven already on songs like this.

The City is a surprisingly upbeat track for Green, with a jaunty, poppy breezy feel to it. It is a bit of a throwaway, light song, but Green make it more than that. For some reason, it reminds me of Elton John, I'm not quite sure why, it just does. 

One Nite Stand has the same irresistible beat as Take Me To The River. Slow cookin' soul funk groove. Check out those punchy Memphis horns and backing vocals. I'm Hooked On You is slower but with the same addictive sound.

Stay With Me Forever is a light, airy piece of pop soul. Hangin' On brings back the archetypal Green slow soul feeling. School Days is a slushy number to finish off with.

Albums like this were only thirty minutes long back then. What a thirty minutes though. If you love seventies soul, you will devour this.

Al Green Is Love (1975)

L-O-V-E (Love)/Rhymes/The Love Sermon/There Is Love/Could I Be The One?/Love Ritual/I Didn't Know/Oh Me Oh My (Dreams In My Arms)/I Gotta Be More (Take Me Higher)/I Wish You Were Here      

This was the final Al Green album to chart, the final in a series of seven truly superb soul offerings. It is a laid-back, sometimes sad but always soulful album, full of the wonderful backing he always had and Green's voice soaring above whatever melody he has to deal with. It is very much a late-night soul album. It is probably his most sombre and contemplative.
L-O-V-E (Love) is typical, sumptuous, Stax-y horn-driven Al Green fare, of the kind that made his late sixties/early seventies name. You can't go wrong with this, it's great. Superb horns, melodic, rumbling bass rhythmic drums and, of course, Green's soaring vocal. 

Rhymes is a darker, more reflective number but still containing an infectious soul beat. It really reminds me of Take Me To The River. It is a delicious slow burner. 

The six minutes plus of The Love Sermon is even more laid-back, Memphis-y soul with an addictive cymbal part beneath the verses. Green sings gloriously over a gentle strings and bass backing.

There Is Love is once more sad, yearning and slow. Beautiful, though. The mood continues on the even more peaceful Curtis Mayfield-esque soul of Could I Be The One?

Love Ritual completely changes the ambience, though, with an upbeat, funky slice of groove. Green's vocal is underplayed, almost incidental, reduced to just whooping and slurring behind the pounding rhythmic drums and throbbing bass. An unusual tactic, but it works. The track is truly intoxicating and unlike anything else Green did during this period.

I Didn't Know is back to the darker than blue feel of most of the rest of the album. Again, the track is lengthy, reaching nearly eight minutes. Oh Me Oh My (Dreams In My Arms) is like the opening track - a Detroit Spinners-esque Stax-y groover. Classic Al Green. 

I Gotta Be More (Take Me Higher) has an early Parliament-style vibe about it. Funky drums and vocals, punchy horns. 

I Wish You Were Here is a slice of sweet soul to see the album out. It had been eight great years for Green and, although he still carried on putting out albums, they were never as great as these first seven.


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