Within the pantheon of 1970s soul singers, who is the first that comes to mind? Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder? Whatever the name, that list would be pitifully incomplete without the addition of the incomparable Al Green.
The great thing about Al Green is that he’s a versatile singer. When it comes to soft balladry, Green can apply a gentle touch on tracks like ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart’ and ‘Look What You’ve Done For Me’. For strident shout alongs, look no further than the joyous howls he unleashes on ‘Tired of Being Alone’ and ‘I Can’t Get Next To You’. He likes to stay in between those modes quite a bit, and tracks like ‘Take Me to the River’ and ‘Here I Am (Come and Take Me)’ finds him riding those lines with expertise.
But Green is at his absolute best when he’s pledging his life to being true. ‘Let’s Get Married’, ‘Love and Happiness’, and even his cover of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ are great examples of the master being a gentleman first, but if there’s one tune that epitomises his pleading faith, and his career as a whole, it has to be ‘Let’s Stay Together’.
Green’s vocal gymnastics on the song rank somewhere between “criminally underrated” and “otherworldly”. His ability to go from soft pleas to long sustained notes at the top of his register is unmatched, even by contemporaries like Gaye and Wonder. Even more importantly, it never sounded like Green was ever trying too hard, even on notes that would easily blow out the voice of a lesser singer.
Radiating cool, experience, love, and joy, Green was about as natural a singer as they came. He doesn’t even need any music backing him up for his to translate, and that’s exactly what you find out when listening to the a cappella version of ‘Let’s Stay Together’. Any time he effortlessly switches over to his falsetto, it plays like divine intervention. No wonder Green eventually left to enter the church and sing gospel: it’s hard to chalk up that voice up to anything other than a higher power.
Check out the isolated vocals for ‘Let’s Stay Together’ down below.