Records Revisited – Al Green – Let’s Stay Together (1972)

He is the master of »baby-making-music« Al Green said a few years ago. The earliest proof? His fourth album, »Let’s Stay Together«, including the velvety smooth title track from 1972. It marks the beginning of Green’s most successful period as a soul artist. And a milestone of the genre.

As if there wasn’t enough going on: Stax tipped into trouble with a distribution deal with Atlantic Records and re-sorted once again. Meanwhile, Motown released Marvin Gaye’s »What’s Going On«, the definitive masterpiece of soul. A modern, a political sound that conquered the world. Barely half a year later, Al Green’s »Let’s Stay Together« was released, an album that couldn’t be further from this approach – and still holds its place in the genre’s best list.

Recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis, Al Green and producer Willie Mitchell shaped an album for the bedrooms of the world. Green’s voice revels, screams, sings and croons its way through rumpled bedspreads. The climax of soul? Close. Over time, the title track has been covered not only by Tina Turner, Isaac Hayes and Shirley Bassey. In various casting shows the track was part of the candidates’ repertoire. However, nobody got this song as smooth as Al Green.

The fact that Green’s voice stands out so much is largely due to Willie Mitchell’s production. The trumpeter was to shape Green’s sound for a long time. Also, because Mitchell was a pedant. Green said of it in the book »Soul Survivor«: »This man will not let you remove the cobwebs in the corner.« Because it adds to the sound. Al Green benefited from his producer like few artists. Although it escalated several times during the creation of the album. For example during the recording of the title track.

In late 1971, Green entered the studio. There Mitchell and drummer Al Jackson Jr. sat and tried out a few tunes and rhythms. What was it? Nothing yet, Mitchell and Jackson Jr. returned, according to »Soul Survivor«. Green grabbed a pen and paper and disappeared for fifteen minutes – only to return with the lyrics of »Let’s Stay Together«. (Later, Green stated that the song had nothing to do with a lover. Rather, he said, it was about the civil rights movement, the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1968 protests. Hard to believe. Exhibit A: Groove straight from the mattress core. Exhibit B: Lines like: »Let me say that since, baby, since we’ve been together loving you forever is what I need.«) Song done, then? Not really.

For eight days, Mitchell and Green worked on the vocals of the track. Mitchell wanted it softer. Green wanted it more sounding like sang by a man. Almost the end of the song: Green cried while Mitchell told him that the vocals sounded like anyone else’s, but that he wanted to hear Al Green. Green ran out of the studio and headed for the country in his Corvette. (Started the engine with tires spinning so Mitchell would hear it).

When he returned to the studio, Green promised: No roar, just whisper. Mitchell should be right: he had half a million units of the single pressed. On Monday the record appeared, on Thursday it went gold, Mitchell said afterwards. It’s one of the many stories of the draining work around the nine songs that later found themselves on »Let’s Stay Together«.

Al Green
Let's Stay Together
Fat Possum • 2009 • from 37.99€
Green, the band and Mitchell also sought new paths with the instrumentation. The horns in »Old Time Lovin« almost pop out of the speakers. The strings in »How Can You Mend a Broken Heart« just barely scrape by the big drama. And in »Ain’t No Fun To Me« the drums relentlessly drive the song forward. Many bands of the soul revival still try to pull off a production like this today. Everything about this album sounds organic, mature and just delightfully open. Many parts of the songs from »Let’s Stay Together« ended up as samples on tracks, for example by Little Brother and Lil’ Wayne. And even if this record only reflects its time in a cryptic way, this is its greatest quality. Love just goes all the time. Especially when someone like Al Green sings about it. There’s enough going on. So, 35 minutes of soul from the today 75 years old master of »baby-making-music« will do you good for relaxation.