I was 19 years old in 1971, and my music tastes were becoming more varied. Deep down though, I was still a Soul Boy at heart, and that year I heard a wonderful Soul singer with his great new song. I bought this record the same day, then went on to buy his other records for the next four years.
By 1976 Al Green had decided to become a Gospel Minister, and changed his musical direction to Christian music. For me, that was a great loss to the genre of Soul Music.
He still performs today.
From the first time I ever heard an Al Green record, I was hooked on his smooth soul voice, and excellent vocal range. I don’t think he has ever released a song I didn’t like, and some of his recordings have remained favourites of mine throughout my life.
The lyrics of this song have always resonated with me ever since I first heard it at the age of 23. He co-wrote the song, which was released in 1975 as a single from his latest album at the time. Here are the words I always like to hear.
In the early 1970s, I heard a new song from the Australian group, The Bee Gees. It was a plaintive love song, delivered in their usual style, with high-pitched voices, and distinctive falsetto. I thought it was a good song, but the Bee Gees were not very high up my list of favoured recording artists at the time, so I more or less forgot about it.
About a year later, I bought the new long player from Al Green, titled ‘Let’s Stay Together’, after his big hit single of the time. On this record, he did a cover version of the Bee Gees song, and it was obvious from the moment I heard it, that it was also the definitive version. It suited his voice perfectly, and he didn’t mess around with the structure too much, just letting his own vocal skills, and the song’s mournful mood, steal the show completely.
Although it was not released as a single in the UK, it was later used extensively on film soundtracks, always at the saddest moments, naturally. You may well know it from the hugely successful film, ‘Notting Hill’, or one of the other films it featured in. I was already a fan of the soulful vocals of Al Green, from previous hits such as ‘Tired Of Being Alone,’ which was later successfully covered by the British band, Texas. This particular song remains one of his best, in my opinion, and I can happily listen to it over and over again.
Since 1981, Green has worked as a preacher. He is now known as The Reverend Al Green, and continues to preach in Tennessee. Here is the version from that album.
For over fifty years, since I have seriously been listening to all kinds of music, the subject of different versions of the same song has caused much debate, and often fierce argument. There are just too many to even attempt a comprehensive listing, or even a rough appraisal, for that matter. However, I would like to offer some here for consideration. I will include two versions of songs known to me, and let you, dear reader, compare them and decide on your favourite. I know that there may have well been numerous versions, but I only have space to compare two, on a reasonable blog post.
Stoney End. The late singer-songwriter, Laura Nyro, had some commercial success during her short life. My personal favourite recording of hers is this song, from 1966. It is probably better known, from the later recording by Barbra Striesand, in 1971. She hardly changed the original, though she certainly gave it the benefit of her bigger vocal range, and her reputation also earned it much higher production values!
A Song For You. Written by Leon Russell, in 1970, this heartbreaking love song is one of my all-time favourites. This song is so good, it is almost impossible to do a bad cover version. Perhaps my favourite ‘other version’, is by Joe Cocker, but for a different vocal style, I will include here the recording by The Carpenters, from 1972.
La Mer/ Beyond the Sea. La Mer is a French song composed and recorded by Charles Trenet, in 1946. It was a huge hit in parts of Europe, becoming one of the most popular post-war songs. It was later recorded with English lyrics, and a slightly catchier beat, with arguably the best version released by Bobby Darin, in 1959. I have always loved both songs, and though not strictly the same, as the lyrics are different, I hope that you will agree that they both have merit.
Anyone Who Had a Heart. In 1964, the UK pop charts had two versions of this song, by both these artists, competing for honours. Written by the wonderful team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, specifically for the vocal talents of Dionne Warwick, it came as a great shock, when the English vocalist, Cilla Black, scored the biggest hit here. I have to express surprise, even now, that we did not appreciate the American version more.
If You Don’t Know Me By Now. In 1972, I bought this Philly Soul record, by Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. I admired it greatly at the time, and still do. In 1989, it was covered by the English group, Simply Red, with a standout performance by the lead vocalist, Mick Hucknall. It is the same song, with no alteration, and sounds little different. I like them both, see what you think.
Let’s Stay Together. In 1971, I was overwhelmed by this emotional ballad from the wonderful Al Green. Forty-two years later, and it still holds the same power for me, whenever I hear it. In 1982, Tina Turner, in collaboration with the English group Heaven 17, released an equally powerful cover of the song. Even though I still prefer the original, Tina’s later version has much to commend it.
(You make me feel) Like A Natural Woman. Written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, this was a huge hit for Aretha Franklin, in 1967. This emotional power ballad is as relevant today as it was then, and remains a wonderful song for any female vocalist with the voice to carry it. In 1971, Carole King included the song on her worldwide hit album, ‘Tapestry’. When I heard this track, with all the heart of the actual songwriter behind it, I felt it actually overshadowed Aretha’s version, despite her having a stronger voice. They are both wonderful though, because the song is simply divine.
I will leave it there for now. There are lots of clips to watch or listen to, so I don’t wish to overload your tolerance! There are so many others to explore, I am sure I will be back another day, with part two.