For an entire score of classic soul stars, there were ways to learn how to sing that didn’t involve paying a voice teacher. For a number of southern singers, including a large number of African-Americans, the church provided essential guidance on how to use your voice to its greatest potential. Figures like Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke grew up as the children of ministers, and the full-throated gospel vocals that were an essential part of their upbringing helped mould them into the legendary singers that they became.
Al Green had a more circuitous path to the church. The son of a religiously devout sharecropper, Green was kicked out of his home and began to live within the seedier side of America that dealt in prostitution and drugs. As a result, Green’s voice was shaped by sex and sin, eventually taking on the smooth and tender tones that became his signature sound. Everything Green sang sounded like a come on, and he wrung every last bit of perversity and lasciviousness out of each word he belted.
But Green wasn’t singing explicit songs: he was singing about getting married, staying loyal, and building a life. The palpable longing in his voice reflected the life he wanted to live, seeking comfort, security, and love in a more pure form than he was used to. Tracks like ‘Tired of Being Alone’, ‘Call Me Back Home’, and ‘Love and Happiness’ were pleas from the heart, with Green wishing for something more wholesome and long-lasting.
Eventually, it would take a traumatic event, a career downturn, and a thorough amount of reflection for Green to realise that his home was in the church. That’s where he would find his salvation, and so he dedicated himself to non-secular music exclusively. His turn towards gospel didn’t stop him from making great songs, as ‘The Lord Will Make a Way’ and ‘Look at the Things That God Made’ had the same magnetic that made Green such an exciting singer in the first place. He was just channelling his energy in new ways.
To honour Green on his birthday, we’ve stripped away all of the background noise on some of his greatest recordings and left just the man himself, hollering out some of his best vocals ever put to record. Whether he’s pleading to settle down and stop fooling around on ‘Let’s Get Married’ or whispering out his desires on ‘Simply Beautiful’, Green pulls you in with his wide range and impassioned soulfulness. Of course, there’s always room for Green’s signature track, ‘Let’s Stay Together’, which bridges his soft cooing and loud belting into one perfect vocal track.
Check out the isolated vocals for ‘Let’s Get Married’, ‘Simply Beautiful’, and ‘Let’s Stay Together’ down below.