Monday, January 5, 2015
Al Green – “Look What You Done For Me” from Greatest Hits (1975 Hi/Reprise/EMI) & originally appearing on I’m Still in Love with You (1972 Hi)


Here’s the thing about Al Green: All of his songs are pretty much the same, and nobody with any sense is complaining. That might be an oversimplification, and it should be noted is based entirely on a greatest hits compilation that came out eight years into his career; since 1967 Green has put out 29 studio albums — presumably there’s been some variation on the theme in that time.

Still, though, for my purposes here, it’s tempting to invoke Joseph Campbell‘s theory of the monomyth and say that there is but one Al Green song (honestly, listen to the first two seconds of “Call Me” and then the first two seconds of “Let’s Stay Together”), the ingredients for which are pure magic. I listened to this album while driving cross country with my dad in September. Having already begun this blog, I was listening with an eye towards eventually having to write about the songs (no joke, this blog has kind of transformed the way I hear and think about music), and I was mesmerized by how the songs sounded. Sure, maybe it’s the same structure throughout, but with such a sonic depth, who cares?

Green recorded for Hi Records and benefited greatly from the production assistance of Willie Mitchell (not the law school). The Memphis Music Hall of Fame explains:

Green had kept [Otis] Redding’s passion and [Sam] Cooke’s smoothness, but he’d absorbed them into part of his own sound, one that called on his gospel roots. Mitchell framed that voice with choir-style backup singing, punching horns, a slippery guitar part and a relentless groove. That would be the model, not only for Green’s string of Hi classics, but for the other Hi artists Mitchell would produce, turning the label into one of the great hit factories of ‘70s soul.

For my money, though, it’s not the additions as much as how they’re treated. Nothing is overstated in the mix. The horns punch, sure, but not too hard. The guitar is, it turns out, slippery. I don’t even know what the hell that means, really, except that listening now, I totally get it. There are strings, but they are subtle. And that groove, it turns out, is relentless, built upon a solid backbeat. Something about the drum sound gets me every time — there’s a scratchiness to it that almost suggests an AM radio, but there’s nothing tinny or cheap about it, instead it’s almost lush. I wish I could do a better job pinpointing it, because attempting it now I feel like I’m blathering. I’ll stop soon, but first I need to tell you about how the barely-there organ and bass keep the groove moving, too.

And it’s not like I’m not going to mention Al’s voice, but what do you want me to say? You know how the man sounds, and just because he doesn’t have anything super poignant to say in this song doesn’t mean that it didn’t deserve to go gold. It did, because it is, honestly, pure gold.

You may need to have a little dance party with your special someone right now. Look what they done for you. One caveat, though. Shirley Green (nee Kyles), Green’s wife from 1977-1983, accused the Reverend of domestic violence. Please be better than that. Thanks.


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