I grew up in the prime era of gangsta rap. It wasn’t just enough for those cats to not love these bitches. They weren’t even hanging with anyone who would.
Wanna know how full of shit most of them are? Put on “Let’s Stay Together” and see how quickly they start singing along.
Sure, part of that’s the magic of the melody and the almost inimitable voice of Al Green (almost because this guy comes pretty damn close). But the real draw is in the message. There are few things in life more universally appreciated than the feeling of outright, unconditional love. It’s the only good thing I can think of that people fight off with such energy. It’s also the scariest thing going, for nothing makes us more vulnerable. Childhood innocence is replaced by the good sense to look out for yourself, only for you to find out one of the most adult decisions you’ll make will leave you naked and defenseless.
But that moment when you can express it, when you don’t care anymore about how it’ll look or what might happen, when it’s just too selfish to keep it to yourself is liberating. At least after it’s scary.
Standing flat-footed, Al Green effortless making it clear what he wants on “Let’s Stay Together” — forever. There is no other option. There was no real question. They were gonna stay together, and they were gonna do it because there was no good reason not to. Even if just for a moment, there was nothing he could see past what he felt and who he felt that way about. And in that time, it must have been easy to say whatever.
::Receive Bomani’s Blog, Videos, and Podcast. Subscribe to The Email Jones.
That’s the defining characteristic of Al, of course — ease. Even heartbreaking covers of country songs just flowed from him. He barely has to think about these songs. His surprisingly good 2008 LP, Lay It Down, was basically freestyled. He just has it in him, and it comes out just that easily. That’s why there is no reason to ever knock Green for his simplicity. Simplicity is the point, whether in joy or pain. And to him, feeling is simple. Putting it out there is simple.
That, it should be noted, is fairly unique to him.
Part of the allure of love songs, I’ve always thought, was the fearlessness. I certainly envy it. I’ve always been able to say how I felt about women, but rarely with pride. It was usually with trepidation. Maybe it’s too soon, maybe it’s too much, maybe I’ve said it too often, maybe I’m in this alone. Even that one time I proposed, the thought was, “no do-overs, so I hope I don’t fuck this up.” It’s hard to settle into the ideal when it comes with so many consequences, personal and otherwise.
But it sure is easy to sing along to, isn’t it?
That’s what makes this a perfect record. In a book I read on Van Morrison, the job of a singer was described as bridging the gap between the singer and songwriter. You can hear the different ways different singers do that when you compare originals to covers. Listen to how hard Tina Turner — who always does it nice and rough — has to go to carry this track. This is what she does, of course, but it creates such a different quality. This borders on begging, as if the words themselves needed something behind them to mean something. And on most love songs, even from the best singers, this is correct. Words are just words without substance behind them.
::Subscribe to the Bomani & Jones YouTube Channel.
But in the hands of Al Green, the words are enough. They always are. He was simply their vessel, and everyone and everything else was along for the ride.
I’m so in love with you
Whatever you want to do
Is all right with me
With that twang and the candor behind it, what else needed to be said?
It’s so easy to sing along because it’s so easy to remember. Why? Because it’s so easy to relate to. But it’s damn near impossible to say without taking a deep breath, unless Green is holding your hand the whole way.
If only it were that simple. But when listening to “Let’s Stay Together,” it’s so good that it is.