Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Let's Stay Together" (1971)

3. Al Green, "Let's Stay Together" (Dec. 11, 1971, #1)

As far as top 40 fantasies of love go, it doesn't get much better than this—not least because it factors in just enough grit of the real thing, by implication the raw everyday friction and the making up and coming back together, denying and acknowledging them at the same time, that it manages to have its cake and eat it too, as it were, enabling it to resonate powerfully with anyone's experience. It bypasses the frontal lobes and goes directly to the brain stem, and tells it all the things it wants to hear. Then there's the matter of how just plain damn good it sounds. Al Green, of course, is a towering figure in the what-you-may-call-it, rhythm and blues, black, soul, urban fields of pop music. But let's put our cards on the table. There's good, there's towering, and there's this. I can think of few things more uncannily beautiful, understated, simple, and straightforward, driven by an uncomplicated drumkit and soothing bass, touched up by sweet flourishes of horns and strings and backing vocals, textured emotionally by upward bound chord shifts, and topped off with Green's uniquely sultry, laidback vocals, with all their strange sighs and hiccups and pauses, which may sound casual and tossed off but that's the deception of it. They are anything but. It's all focused sharply toward the single point of the lyric, which nevertheless manages to dance around itself artfully even as we know exactly what it's about at every step, and that is the deepest and most meaningful love felt for a lover and companion: " ... baby, since we've been together / Ooo, loving you forever / Is what I need / Let me, be the one you come running to ... Loving you whether, whether / Times are good or bad, happy or sad." I'm willing to wager relationships have survived with just these slender reeds on which to cling.

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