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Let's Stay Together
Al Green

Hi 32070
Released: January 1972
Chart Peak: #8
Weeks Charted: 56
Certified Gold: 4/28/72

Al GreenAl Green, from Forrest City, Arkansas, has risen from obscurity to fame with a rapidity that is astonishing even by the standards of the mercurial music industry. His unusually expressive voice, and the simple, spare arrangements of producer Willie Mitchell, fit together with the kind of seamless perfection that characterized the Redding/Cropper collaboration. Green's records sound like they were bound to happen; for the listener who digs soul music, the fact that two-and-a-half million people have bought the single version of "Let's Stay Together" can only be the icing on a very tasty cake.

The flexibility of Green's voice is something to marvel at. He can croon, shout, scat, rise to the smoothest of falsettos, and throw in the funkiest growls, all in the course of a single tune. A debt to Sam Cooke, and to Otis Redding, is evident from time to time, but Green's overall approach, his particular sound, is consistently his own. The fact that he writes or co-writes most of his material, and gets such sympathetic backing from the Memphis musicians who work at Hi, helps explain the flow and unified feeling of both his albums, but still one suspects that only Green could have pulled it off.

Al Green - Let's Stay Together
Original album advertising art.
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Al Green Gets Next To You is a damn-near perfect LP, a funky LP, and for all its diversity a consistent LP. The new album is even more homogeneous, somewhat mellower; and the title tune dominates it in the same way "Satisfaction" dominated Out of Our Heads. The comparison is made even more apt by the fact that London Records, Hi's parent company, has sold as many copies of "Let's Stay Together" as they sold of "Satisfaction."

The only problem with making a single that achieves the status of an instant classic is making an album that doesn't sound shallow by comparison. The Let's Stay Together LP fares far better than the majority of albums built around single hits. In fact, the first side, which begins with the Monster, manages to maintain a steady groove to maintain a steady groove and a high level right on through to the last cut, "Old Time Lovin'," which has a warm, enveloping vocal and some of the best chop-rhythm guitar this side of heaven.

The second side has one of the album's very best songs, Green's "It Ain't No Fun To Me," which starts out like a funky blues and builds into a steamrolling shouter that won't quit. It also has the album's only disappointing cut, a six-minutes-plus version of the Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart." Green sings it beautifully, and the string arrangement is tasteful and as minimal in its way as the understated playing of the Hi studio band. But the song is extended to the point where its mellowness becomes a kind of slow nod into unconsciousness and what started out sounding like sweet soul music leaves a burnt metal aftertaste of muzak. This in itself isn't so bad; what's scary is that the press release accompanying the album plays the song up as if it were the highlight of the set.

If this song is the beginning of a trend in Al Green's music, away from the soulfully mellow and into the laid-back banal, then it's an instance of a trend that seems particularly endemic to the Memphis scene. Both Sun and Stax built their reputations on a series of country-simple records that sold precisely because they were so much more vital, visceral and pure than anything the competition had to offer. In both cases, the companies went downhill when they adapted the excesses of the competition they had so recently superseded. In order to keep their essentially simple formulas from starting to sound like the same old thing, they added strings, brass arrangements, and vapid material from the hit parade, and expanded their operations to the point where a distinctive one-studio, one-band sound could no longer be maintained. The point is that it was not only the connoisseur listeners and hard-core fans who suffered; the companies and their artists suffered economically as well.

Happily, it hasn't happened to Al Green and to Hi Records, at least not yet. Their position in the vanguard of a new resurgence of Memphis music is both enviable and almost frighteningly exposed. The world will be watching to see whether the Green/Mitchell team can deliver new treasures, and go on to even greater successes, without sacrificing the just-right balance, the purity, the unity of Green's first two albums. Meanwhile, Let's Stay Together is, like its predecessor, an indispensable treat.

- Bob Palmer, Rolling Stone, 3/30/72.

Bonus Reviews!

For a time it seemed that the trend setters in soul music were willing to settle for saccharin in the form of high harmony groups like the Stylistics and Chi-Lites. Now, Al Green is on the top of the whole heap and, as it happens, he can be as funky as they come. This is not to say that he's just into screaming and riffing -- the man has the best sense of balance in the business.

This album had the potential to be a cop-out of filler and cover versions but, happily for us, it is more than likely going to be a classic by the time you read this. The single, "Let's Stay Together," found Green in a mellower bag from his previous big one, "Tired of Being Alone." It was a monster hit, deservedly so, but many felt Green was on his way to becoming strictly a smoothie. He hasn't drowned his talent in slickness and this album is proof that he's still one of the people. For some reason, much attention has been focused on his over six minute version of the Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" which he transforms into his own vehicle. The cut is really too long and the tension takes quite a while to build while the other new material (almost all of it penned by Green himself) is top notch. Al Green has brightened the r&b scene.

Special mention of the musicians Green surrounds himself with on this LP should be made; these people are the cream of the Memphis music community: Wayne Jackson's fantastic horn section with Andrew Love, M.G.'s drummer Al Jackson, the Willie Mitchell band (featuring the Hodges brothers), and Charlie Chalmers and Sandy and Donna Rhodes are names we've been seeing on honest records for years. Everything about this album says "quality and perfection." Goddamn, this is a great record! If you don't pick up a copy, you'll be cheating yourself out of some powerfully authentic rhythm and blues music that affects your ears and body.

- Bob Moore Merlis, Words & Music, 6/72.

Right on the heels of his million selling single "Let's Stay Together" comes the album by the same title, filled with so many fine songs. This package undoubtedly will follow the golden path. There are sparkling self-penned tunes like "So You're Leaving," and "La La For You" plus the Gibb brothers' "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart." A true winner.

- Billboard, 1972.

Maybe it's just that I'm so tired of the title single, but this is disappointing. 1970's Al Green Gets Next to You shows real emotional range -- like Marvin Gaye, Green comes on both passive and active. The popularity of his romantic disappointment, however, has induced him to narrow his persona. Item: The most impressive cut on the LP is "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" Green's version is far superior to the Bee Gees' original, the the original is pure glop. Item: The album doesn't include one piece of real funk. Green is still the most intelligent male sould singer to emerge in years, and in the context of three or four more albums this one may sound fine. Right now, it's much too much of a good thing. A-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Green's surface vocal sheen can seem like a be-all, end-all because it's so smooth and easy. But, beneath that surface is a man who knows and respects his roots. This is best illustrated by the more emotive vocals and rougher instrumentation reflected on Let's Stay Together. Soundwise, Let's Stay Together generally evidences a detailed open clarity which is very appealing, but on a few cuts (e.g., "Judy") the sound is compressed, muddy, and noisy. A

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

Green's third album for Hi and the first of a string of brilliant releases. The title song was the big hit but an extended version of the Bee Gees "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" remained a staple for years. * * * *

- Rob Bowman, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

In 1969, producer Willy Mitchell signed a 23-year-old singer named Al Green to Memphis-based Hi Records. Green was originally from Forrest City, AR, just across the Mississippi River from Memphis, and that year he was performing in the R&B group the Soul Mates, with middling success. Mitchell and Green soon began collaborating on records, and they triumphed with Green's 1972 album release, Let's Stay Together, the title track of which sat atop the singles chart for nine weeks.

Mitchell, a bandleader from Ashland, MS, had joined Hi Records in 1959, and there perfected the Hi sound, a dense sonic wash that featured growling organs, and tight horn and string arrangements. Mitchell's production techniques had some of their clearest expression on Green's records, thanks in no small part to Green's voice, a startling and supple instrument capable of leaping, with no advance notice, from a scratchy growl to an aching falsetto.

Let's Stay Together takes remarkable musical risks -- the title track, for example, has a melody that ascends and descends unpredictably, in a manner rather unorthodox for a top-selling pop record; meanwhile, another track, "La-La For You," explores a dissonant minor key. Elsewhere, Green takes a pleasant if undistinguished Bee Gees tune, "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?," and turns it into a devastating lament, epic in its scope. In the mid-1970s, Green began devoting more of his time to preaching. In retrospect, the change seems not altogether unsurprising -- sensuous, soulful and transcendent, Let's Stay Together is hearty spiritual food indeed.

- Kenneth Burns, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

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