01 August 2006

Al Green: Greatest Hits (Vol. 1 and 2)

Al Green is, hands down, my favorite R&B vocalist, topping Aretha and Otis and Marvin and Stevie. A tough crowd to beat, but beat them he does. His voice defines soul. It’s filled with joy and pain, the most evocative of any R&B singer, living or dead. When his voice soars, your soul soars. His pain, his joy become yours. And nobody, nobody can pull off the soul screech like the Reverend. If he can’t send one tiny shiver down your spine, you have some serious soul issues. And, damn, doesn't he look cool on that album cover?

I grew up listening to his radio classics — “Let’s Stay Together,” “Tired of Being Alone,” “Call Me (Come Back Home)” — never switched the station, but the full-on passion wasn’t there yet. It wasn’t until 1980 that I discovered the virtuosity of Al Green — and it was a local blues singer who opened up that world for me. A white blues singer.

Bill Sheffield and his band, The XLs, played all over town every week, usually at the Harvest Moon or the Moonshadow (two great clubs now long gone; many deliriously happy hours spent dancing and singing and drinking in those two joints). He was good friends with that year’s beau (one of the few jerks I ever dated, but that has nothing to do with this story), so we went to hear him at least once a week. Bill had an R&B voice better than any white boy I’ve ever heard. And he used that voice to sing a lot of Al Green, the truly soulful ones — “Love and Happiness,” “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” and “Take Me to the River.” I didn’t know the Talking Heads had covered Al Green until Bill sang it. Bill could hit Al’s high notes, and could even deliver a darn good Al Green soul screech. To hear that live, in a room filled with smoke and the smell of beer … well, there’s no better way for soul to reach your soul.

I was an instant Al Green fanatic. Within a day of hearing Bill for the first time, I owned both of the Reverend’s greatest-hits packages. And from the moment the needle hit the vinyl, “Love and Happiness” and “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” have been on my Top 100 list. Al Green is one of those must-listens for me; I must listen to his songs at least every two or three days. My soul demands it. Feeds off it. As Al Green sings at the end of “Love and Happiness,” Make you wanna dance …

There are several greatest-hits packages available. If you’re off to Amazon a disc, be sure to select one with “Love and Happiness,” “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” and “Take Me to the River”; not every one includes all three gems. Or better yet, go to your favorite used CD store and look for the two pictured here. Then you can branch out and try some of his classic albums of the 1970s or his later gospel albums. Al Green released his first secular album in years, I Can’t Stop It, in 2003, and it found the Reverend still in fine soulful form.

And Bill Sheffield? He’s still around, performing regularly at Northside Tavern. I haven’t seen him in years; maybe I’ll take Dan there for his birthday.

The Pilgrimage: Simeon took this photo of me at Rev. Green's Memphis church in August 1991 ... damn, 15 years ago this month. I took a broom out of the church's trash, and have it to this day. It's a prized possession, sitting guard over my writing desk.

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At 8/01/2006 07:59:00 AM, Anonymous HollyC said...

I bought the first greatest hits years ago because of your recommendation and it is wonderful, think I'll put it on in the car today...

At 8/01/2006 08:29:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

The Reverend is great for the car, because you can screech and hey along with him, and not scare dogs or neighbors or Marine-looking husbands.

At 8/01/2006 11:28:00 AM, Blogger haahnster said...

I'll have to look for some Al Green. I was never that big into "soul" music when I was still really collecting (i.e. buying everything I put my hands on) albums. Now, I hardly ever buy anything any more. I could use some more "soul" these days.

At 8/01/2006 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

"Love and Happiness" is just what you need for a quiet night with the missus, Haahnster ... if y'all ever get quiet nights these days.

I wish I could find one of those blog MP3 players so that I could upload samples with these posts ... but every one I check out has too many members ... I'm on a bunch of waiting lists ...

At 8/01/2006 06:13:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

I know a little Al and he is great, I'm going to check out more. I need to find one of those hosting sites so I can put audio on the blog occasionally too. If I find anything suitable in my occasional and half asses searches, I'll let you know Beth.

At 8/02/2006 09:45:00 AM, Blogger Scrivener said...

There's a "great" in this post. It doesn't bother me at all, but you asked us to point your lazy words out to you.

At 8/02/2006 08:33:00 PM, Blogger Beth said...

DALE: I'll let you know, too.

SCRIVENER: Damn! Can never pull one over you professors ...

At 8/05/2006 03:17:00 AM, Blogger Writeprocrastinator said...

"“Love and Happiness,” “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” and “Take Me to the River”"

Don't forget "Wait Here," few songs are so...erotic. I have "Al Green: The Love Songs Collections" and that has all the aforementioned songs, plus some other goodies.

It amazes me how people make it a point to change their versions of Al Green covers, out of respect to him. "The Talking Heads" version of "Take Me To The River" and UB40's version of "Here I Am" are such complete departures of the originals.

At 8/05/2006 04:49:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

Nice to have a fellow Al lover on the page. The UB40 cover always p*ssed me off because it was so far off the Reverend's version. But UB40 bored me after "Red, Red Wine," so ........

At 6/11/2007 12:25:00 AM, Blogger T-Bird said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6/11/2007 12:26:00 AM, Blogger T-Bird said...

He is on my cd buying hit list. His song "I Can't Get Next to You" is one of the all time masterpieces of soul. Years ago I saw him do this live on TV (1972). I still remember it.

oh I,
can turn a gray sky blue,
you see, I can make it rain when I want it to
oh I,
can build a castle from a single grain of sand
you see, I can make a ship sail on dry land.
Ain't happy am I with all the powers that I possess,
girl, you're the key to my happiness,
and I can't get next to you, babe
can't get next to you.
I've been trying a long time
I don't know what to do
Let me say,
I can fly like a bird in the sky
I can buy anything that money can buy
Oh I,
can turn a river into a raging flood
I can live forever if I so decide
Ain't happy am I with all the powers that I possess,
oh, you're the key, 'cause
I can't get next to you, babe
can't get next to you.
I've been trying for such a long time
Let me tell you that
I can turn back the hands of time
you better believe I can
Oh I, you see, I can make the seasons change
just by waving my hand
Let me say,
I can change anything from old to new, girl,
oh I, all the things I want to do the most,
you see, I'm unable to do
unimportant, all these things that I'm trying to do the other day, girl,
you see, I can't get next to you, baby
can't get next to you
I've been tryin a long time...
oh if somebody'd only help me...
oh, let me, let me go...
I've been working on it baby
I've been thinking about it you see,
I've been trying to call you all day long but, you see,
I don't have your phone number, honey
I've been thinking about you baby something awful,
you see, sometime I feel like I want to moan about it
and I just don't know what to say
and I say


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