Since his start in the 1960s, Al Green has grown into not just an R&B legend but an all-time musical legend. Built on the kind of songs that aren’t just hits because they’re catchy or matched the times, Green created a body of work that encapsulates sincerity, romance, heartbreak, longing, hope, and faith, in ways far more transcendent than his contemporaries. Here are 10 songs to give a glimpse into the beautifully romantic mind of this living legend.
Coming out in the beginning of his lengthy career, this song still stands as one of the most musically and lyrically engaging Green has ever penned. Practically free styling over a gritty rhythm and blues number, Al Green lists off all of the things he can do (fly like a bird, live forever), but he just can’t get next to this untouchable love interest of his. That person must have been something extraordinary!
The second that vocal hook blasts into the gentle stride of his backing band, you know this song embodies longing in a way that few songs could. The backing vocals usher in a moody energy that sounds equally pulled by love at it is by heartbreak, and the ache in Green’s falsetto seals that pain in totally, but never leaves out that feeling that something wonderful can come along yet again.
While his songs mostly explore love and all of its ups and downs, “Take Me to the River” changes course dramatically for the singer – it revolves around the difficult emotions that accompany strained familial relationships. Contrary to his desperate rasp, this time around Green sounds more postured in his reminiscence.
Sure, it’s not his song. But when a rendition is this good, it’s hard not to include it on this list. The musical end follows the same formula well, but the experimentation Green utilizes for the vocals is something so fascinating that he practically makes the song all his own. And then the horns spike in to replace the strings’ melody and the song sounds like its been turned on its head.
After all of his laments on heartbreak and longing, Al Green flips the script on this tune and offers himself as support for a loved one venturing off into the unknown, and at the same time offers one of his most complicated, yet engaging vocal hooks of his career.
The harrowing stir of strings, the bluesy drift of guitar, the warm yet distant glow of the organ – every possible element of this song humbly gives to the feeling of heartbreak, and the Al Green’s scattered moans seem to embody desolation and loneliness. Only the greatest can make such dark emotions sounds so beautiful.
Where “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” is the sound of being at the bottom, “I’m Still In Love with You” is something like those first steps to recovery. The ache in his voice is still very much present, yet the tone of the entire song feels like an honest and hopeful effort.
This track is seminal Al Green, but this one stands out in particular because of its harder musical punch. The horns blast proudly, and the drums drive the song harder than ever before. Lastly, Al Green himself sounds especially urgent, and the romance of this song feels like a bright burning fire.
Despite the heartwarming title, the song actually is one of the grittiest, bluesiest numbers in Green’s entire catalog. More than doting over a lover or lamenting a breakup, this song is operating on a much more sensitive level, where love and happiness are more tempered by reconciliation than blind emotion. Songs with this kind of emotional and musical maturity simply cement Al Green’s standing as one of the greatest musicians of all time.
So much than a great song or an era-defining hit, “Let’s Stay Together” is a love song so beautiful, it transcends years and generations. By virtue of his unrivaled tenderness, Al Green captured something truly magical in this song, and still perfectly emotes for all us lovers out in the world to this day.