Soul singing legend Al Green has been given many descriptions –”Green Machine,” the “Soul Messiah” to the “Soul Crooner”–all of which fit him perfectly. By 1972, Green was the most popular male soul singer of the time, having hit after hit. He was indeed the “green giant” of soul music. His most popular tune, “Let’s Stay Together,” spent an amazing nine weeks at number one on the soul charts and was also a number one pop hit. He was undeniably the prince of soul.
Women have swooned at his concerts and have admittedly cried while listening to Al Green records on their turntables. A Right On! magazine article stated that an overzealous fan ran on stage during one of his concerts and ripped off his pants! The power of Green!
His fifth solo album, I’m Still In Love With You, was released at the height of his ever-soaring popularity. The album cover showed Green looking cool and smooth, dressed in white and sitting with his leg crossed in a white high-back chair. Green recalled the album cover in his autobiography, Take Me to the River, stating, “In my white turtleneck, white patent leather shoes with the stacked heels and just a touch of diamond and gold, I was as cool and in control as the music between that cover.”
The album opens with the title track, which was described in The Billboard Book of Number One R&B Hits as “the archetypal smooth Al Green record.” Indeed, it is laid back soul with Green effortlessly singing its lyrics. Written by Green, Al Jackson, and his producer Willie Mitchell, Green described it as “a sweet, sentimental song of pure surrender set like a jewel in (producer) Willie Mitchell’s gorgeous arrangement, seamlessly blending horns, strings and backing vocals until the whole thing sounded like it might float away on a pink and gold cloud.”
Many record buyers felt that way, too. When “I’m Still in Love With You” was released as a single in the summer of 1972, it went to number one for two weeks on the soul charts in August and number three on the pop charts for two weeks.
The second track on the album is the funky mid-tempo track “I’m Glad You’re Mine.” It starts off with a ferocious drum intro which leads to the horns and organs coming in with Green delivering some soul- stirring vocals.
The third track is perhaps best described as quintessential Al Green and, next to “Let’s Stay Together,” is his most popular track: the classic “Love and Happiness.”
Here is what Green said about the song he co-wrote: “I wouldn’t say it was a return to the old style soul of my early days, but I definitely pulled it from the the same source of raw and gritty need. The result was like a slow fever, building on the beat, pushing up the temperature with each breath of the staccato horns and pushing through to delirium as we came up on the fade.”
Green further stated that recording “Love and Happiness” was like mixing explosive chemicals. “Everything had to be added at just the right time and at just the right close,” Green said. “The tempo was the most important thing to Willie and, if you listen close, you can hear Teenie Hodges counting it off with his foot on a cardboard box for the take that nailed it.”
“Love and Happiness” is definitely in the top five of one of the greatest soul songs of all time. Its churchy feel, with that organ and Green’s stylized way of singing in different ranges, make the song timeless.
Considering that it was never released as a single when the album was initially released, it was extremely popular due to its airplay on radio stations and people taking the album to play at house parties. In fact, an edited version of the song was released in 1977 but did not fare better than 92 and 103 on the soul and pop charts. By that time, many people knew the song already and its single release was pretty much an afterthought. (By 1977, Green’s record sales were not like they once were and hence, the release of this track was an attempt to help boost his sales).
The fourth track on the album is the outstanding romantic ballad, “What A Wonderful Thing Love Is.” A part of the rhythm section was sampled on Teena Marie’s 2004 hit “Still In Love.”
The last track on side one is the steamy and sensual “Simply Beautiful,” which, as its title states, simply is.
Side two opens with Green’s remake of the Roy Orbison tune “Oh Pretty Woman.” Green put his own trademark stamp on it, laying a soul feel on Orbison’s country hit.
The next track is one of the prettiest and most beautiful songs Green ever recorded, his classic remake of the Kris Kristofferson tune “For The Good Times.” The slow track is anchored by Green’s impassioned and heartfelt singing. When one does a cover of someone else’s tune, it should be at least equal to or even better than the original. Here, Green tops Kristofferson’s version a million times over. Green’s dreamy reading and handling of this tune more than likely helped to produce a lot of babies over the years.
Next up is the uptempo “Look What You’ve Done For Me,” which has a sound similar to Green’s smash “Let’s Stay Together.” It was the first single release from the album and zoomed to number two for four weeks on the soul charts–kept out of the top spot by the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There”–and number four on the pop charts.
The album ends with the optimistic and lush track “One of These Good Old Days.”
I’m Still in Love With You was an absolute smash, going to number one for five weeks on the soul charts and number four on the pop charts, becoming Green’s first platinum album.
Green continued to make hit albums and records until 1975, during a time when he began concentrating more on the church and gospel music, every now and then returning to secular music. His last album, 2008′s Lay It Down for which he won a Grammy, is a throwback to Green’s early seventies sound and is a must for anyone who is into soul music.
Green’s music is timeless soul and it will continue to spread plenty of “love and happiness” for many years to come.
- Stephen McMillian
Stephen McMillian is a journalist, writer, actor, filmmaker, former Soul Train dancer, Soul Train historian and soul music historian.