Al Green has become almost as cliche as a Barry White song, play anything by him and it’s just love-making music, damn good love-making music, but I think people rarely venture beyond the first few words of an Al Green song before it becomes background mood music, and it’s a damn shame. Sure “Tired of Being Alone” and “Let’s Stay Together” will go down in history as some of the most sensual songs not sung by a 32 year old man to a 16 year-old girl (see Marvin Gaye, “Let’s Get It On”) but its too short-sighted, and too easy to just say that Mr. Green was probably the soundtrack to 1/3 of the population conceived after 1972.
To be fair, Al Green wasn’t trying to set the world on fire with poetic lyrics, his greatest strength was interpreting a song and filling it with emotion, an ability that can even make the simplest lyrics have deeper meaning. We crave authenticity in art, and Al Green’s delivery had that in spades. That is what turns “Simply Beautiful” from being sap into gold. In essence, that’s what makes Al Green’s I’m Still In Love With You a special album, even the weakest lyrical numbers on here become great songs just because of the emotion put into them.
And yet, I haven’t even mentioned the circumstances surrounding Al Green, he had released Let’s Stay Together months before I’m Still In Love With You came out, an album that meant 1972 was already the year of Al Green with its tremendous title track and an even more stunning interpretation of the Bee Gee’s “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” but there’s a difference between the two releases that makes I’m Still In Love With You the better album for the same reason that Let’s Stay Together has more standout tracks and that is the production.
What makes “Let’s Stay Together” “I’ve Never Found A Girl” and “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” great songs is the fact that they stand out from the rest of the album, their production is on another level, for “Together” you’re instantly drawn to that warm low end, the punch of the horns with the syncopated drums that makes that introduction so productive, the riffing and bright horn play on “Girl”, and “Broken Heart” well I’d be damned if that song doesn’t lay the whole foundation for I’m Still In Love With You with that organ bubbling and smoldering in the background and Al Green’s vocals so intimate that the microphone was probably weeping.
Much like Let’s Stay Together, I’m Still in Love With You starts with the title cut, even aping the intro with the punchy horn and drum shuffle, but Green’s vocal comes out dream like, a drawing of breath “Spending my days, thinking about you girl…” as he trails off, in media res and without a doubt you know the title to be true. Already the arrangement has a different feel from his previous more energetic funk laden album, the organ whirls, the strings are warm, the sharpness is gone from the record. There’s also some great backing vocals here, and even a little funky horn break, but Green’s ability to sound breathless and overcome with emotion makes this an amazing song.
There’s a simple reason why “I’m Glad You’re Mine” is one of my favorites on the album and it’s mostly due to the drumming, more specifically that off-kilter tom hit that sets the pace for the bluesy slow funk groove, but the swooning strings almost steal the show amidst a rising and falling organ and some great harmonizing vocals by Mr. Green.
Then, a sole slow guitar strum beginnings the slow open to “Love and Happiness” one of Al Green’s better known songs, and it’s the closest he gets to universal truths from his lyrics, it’s “something that can make you do wrong/make you do right”. Happiness is “being in love with someone” pure and simple.
“What A Wonderful Thing Love Is” which features one of the best guitar melodies and bass grooves in soul music, unveils itself to the listener, much like the eureka moment of realizing you’re in love with someone, it’s a beautiful shining moment, and Green effortlessly captures it here.
“Simply Beautiful” is Green’s take them to church moment, building from a solitary acoustic guitar and simple drum arrangement, his performance simmers with nuanced emotion as strings and organs bring the song to its climax. But the pure heart and soul of the song is how his pleading vocal and guitar lines intertwine to become one.
“Oh, Pretty Woman” starts the second side of the LP, and it’s a cover of the famous Roy Orbison song done in Green’s soul style and the real highlight is the chorus wherein Green’s multi-tracked harmonies are love personified, warm and inviting, pleasing, soothing. While it may get the back-burner in relation to his beautiful cover that follows this one, it’s by no means a weak track.
“For the Good Times” showcases Green at his best as an interpreter of other’s material. It makes perfect sense in hindsight that a soul singer could take country and make it work. Both are built out of stark heartbreak, but they played to different audiences. Country was the stereotypical genre of the blue-collar southern man while soul was the secular music that came out of the gospel music of the black church. Originally a Kris Kristofferson song, Green transforms the original into a slow waltz, accentuating Kristofferson’s original words with a back and forth vocal performance, echoing the sway of the arrangement.
“Look What You’ve Done For Me” features an incredible groove that would be powerful even without the horn-backed chorus (which surprisingly detracts here), it features some of the better backing organ and guitar work on the album, while the drumming pops out of the pocket like a force to be reckoned with. The lyrics here are also incredibly heartfelt “But now the day has come/ to let you know where I’m coming from/ the best of my years to go to you/ is the only thing I can do” may seem trite but when you really do look at love, that’s one of the most sincere promises one can make, and there’s no sign that Green doesn’t mean it.
“One of These Good Old Days” is the last song on the album and features a quite celebratory arrangement and lyrics that reinforce the title of the album, talking about how much he loves his woman seen through an impending discussion. What’s quite fun is Green’s usage of call and response on here almost turning into a vocal round by the end with his trademark falsetto outcries.
If you love music as much as I do, you should by all means have this record. I’m Still In Love With You would be regarded as phenomenal even if Let’s Stay Together didn’t come out the same year, the fact that it did without a lapse in quality is even better. Furthermore, writing about this record song by song was an even harder task just by the sheer cohesive output. The world that Al Green is able to both create and inhabit in his music is so emotive even within the same basic backing. Yet no one else could sound the same using the simple instrumentation that Green does here. The swirling organ, symphonic strings, slinking guitar lines and downright sexy vocals would never find an equal. The greatest joy of this album is the ability to just sit right down and listen to it straight through, each song distinctive, but still chapters of the same story.