Al Green: A Classic Gets Modern
And now, a conversation about love.
Soul singer Al Green has spent his entire career trying to spread the love. Green became famous singing love songs in the 1970s, with hits like "Let's Stay Together" and "Tired of Being Alone." In the '80s, he shifted to gospel and released several religious albums.
Now, Green has shifted back to secular music, as displayed on his latest record, Lay It Down. But instead of working with his old-school Memphis rhythm section, he's teamed up with younger artists. The drummer ?uestlove of hip-hop outfit The Roots co-produced the album, which features guest appearances from contemporary singers John Legend, Corinne Bailey Rae and Anthony Hamilton.
The music, however, is still vintage Al Green. He spoke with Michele Norris about recording the new album.
Laying It Down
Green says that he and his collaborators hardly planned anything before going into the studio — a songwriting process that ended up being a lot of fun.
"You can tell that on the record — just laughing and having fun," he says. "We didn't have anything wrote down when we went in there. We just had an idea and that's all we had, and we just started writing these songs. It's like everybody just jumped in and started making the music — that's what was important."
Part of that spontaneity is captured in Green's unplanned vocal inflections: the cries, hums and yelps that are part of his trademark delivery.
"It's basically to evoke emotion — and love, love, love," he says. "That's what Lay It Down is about."
On Love (and Happiness)
According to Green, Lay It Down is an album unabashedly full of love songs. "Baby, there's love in it, out it, on the side of it, on top of it, on the bottom of it," he says. "There's love everywhere."
Green says it's important to keep the tradition of love songs in today's music — specifically in hip-hop and modern R&B. He's found it lacking in television programs such as, say, MTV's "Spring Break."
"Well, I mean, I also have to say that a lot of times on the spring vacation — I watched that on TV, with the kids out by the beach, kind of like a beach-party setting, the kids all in two-piece bikinis — and it was about the rap and the shirt off, the physical drive of it, which we know is not the most important drive. The physical drive is fine, but still there's a greater drive than that. There's a more soulful, a more emotional inner drive that makes things possible, yeah."
Soul singer Al Green remains the Rev. Al Green of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis, Tenn. But at 62, he says he's comfortable again with his secular music — and that his congregation is, too.
"The people at my church said they hadn't heard anything else — it's the most beautiful thing they've ever heard," Green says. "They like the idea of obeying God. And God said you should love. Now, love may start out primitive, but if you give it a chance and give it time, it'll grow into everlasting love."
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