I know, I know... What can I say? I should probably start off with a lengthy apology, accompanied by a suitably lengthy explanation as to my whereabouts for the past 7 months, but what's the point of wasting time on pointless formalities? Better to get on with it, yes? Yes. To wit...
I love You Tube. I mean I really, really, REALLY love You Tube. For someone who grew up with one TV station that operated from 4:00 pm (2:00 pm on weekends) to 11:00 pm every day, with next to no music on screen save for the odd 30 minute show once a week, You Tube is the MTV I never had. All the songs I grew up with, live in technicolor, all at my fingertips. It's brilliant. Brilliant, I tell you. The only drawback is (and this isn't really a drawback, more my general discontent with all things), these musicians I loved back in the day look nothing like I thought they would. I was watching a Commodores video the other day that pretty much ruined 'Sail On' for me, forever, what with their unseemly groin thrusting in what I thought was a song of romantic longing. Dude...she peers over her glasses...why you gotta hold the mic like that? On the up side, I now have a keen fascination with wind sailing. Yay! I don't, for the record. Now the best part of You Tube is finding a clip of a live performance of a song you absolutely love. See, it's one thing to know the album version, in and out, but it's another thing to see it performed live. Think about the last concert you attended and how you felt hearing, and singing along, to that song you've been obsessed with; the vocals may not have been as perfect as the album cut and the music arrangement may have been different, but still you loved it, maybe even loved it more than the now seemingly sterile version on your player. That's the beauty of live music. All my life I've been sulking over all these great musicians I'll never get to see in person, but no more! I have...wait for it...the interwebs. Cue sound of heavens opening...
What? Don't look at me like that, you cocky youngling, you have no idea what life was like without everything a click away. This shit right here is truly revolutionary. Take it from someone who listened to AM radio, in mono. I wish I was kidding.
So there I was, listening to the aforementioned Commodores song, and the suggestions panel on the right had Al Green. Now you know I have great love for the Rev, and You Tube knows that too, seeing as how he's on almost all my playlists, hence the suggestion. I should have known better, but clearly I don't, I clicked on the link and proceeded to spend an hour watching the same song, in different clips. I haven’t been that happy since I found those Hoda queen cakes at the petrol station a few months ago (don’t judge me, those little cakes are bite sized morsels of joy, soft and fluffy, aaahhhh...). Those clips of Al Green performing 'Let's Stay Together', from Soul Train back in the day through to a talk show in London 5 years ago, those clips became my own little world tour; skipping from a swaying dance floor to a swanky night club, from the glitzy Grammies to the always raucous Apollo; the Rev morphing from bare chested, deliciously sweaty crooner to soul man in requisite shades to three piece suited preacher-man; the song shifting from mellow ballad to raunchy falsetto to gospel call and response to salsa funk and back to mellow ballad. In those 60 minutes, I realised there's a version of this song, and the Rev, for every occasion. It's like I discovered him all over again, bless his truly genius soul.
I'm half tempted to stick in each and every one of these clips here, I've found 14 so far, but I suspect if I do one of you might actually slap me (by way of a harsh comment). What I will do is stick in the ones that struck me most. Bear with me, there is a reason for this music geek moment.
Before we do the live versions, the album recording, for reference purposes.
Laid back, no? It's almost like he's caressing the words as he sings, all gentle like, very mellow, very unlike what's typical in soul music. As it turns out, how he sang the song was very deliberate...
"I'm in here trying to blow the studio top off," Green says, "and Willie kept saying, 'No, just say it.' I'm going, like, 'I think I need to just muscle up and sing it.' He said, 'Don't try to handle the song, Al. Just let the song happen. Just let it happen. Just let it ooze out and let it — that's right.' "
"I wanted this golden voice on it, and he kept giving me somebody else's voice," Mitchell says. "And that's why we just kept going over and over and over and over again. Yeah. When he nailed it, I said, 'That's the one.' "
Now compare that gentle with this live performance, a few years after it's release...
It's a concert performance, he's shirtless and sweaty (hello reverend...), and a bit less restrained, which in turn means the song has a bit less mellow to it and a bit more of the longing/urgency we've come to associate with R&B. And yet he still manages to keep the song quiet.
Fast forward 15 years, the song evolved into funk...
At this point the song had already become a soul anthem, which is what made this my favourite clip of the afternoon...
Do you see/hear how the Apollo reacts? I don’t care what anyone says, there is no way you weren’t getting down when you watched this, not if you love this song, not unless you're a bloody...say it with me...philistine.
Don’t worry, I haven’t been gone from the blog so long that I actually think you buggers play these thingis. I know you're sitting there reading this with one eye and wondering when, or if, I'll get to the point of this little two step down memory lane. Patience, grasshopper, I'm getting there.
Why, oh tell me, why do people break up,
Then turn around and make up,
I just can’t see…
You’ll never do that to me, would you babe,
This song has been on the soundtrack before, way back in 2012. I wrote a post about blogging, more accurately about no longer blogging. I was giving myself a long winded woiyee, such as I do, to mourn what seemed to be the end of blogging by people I loved reading. It was a bit of a bittersweet post, as was the version of the song I used, Ms Tina's (still the most excellent) cover (on the soundtrack). As fate would have it, I ended up in the rut I spoke of, the 'cant blog, won't blog' rut. Now I'd love to tell you there was some brilliant reason behind it, but there wasn’t, not really. I just woke up one day and realised I had nothing to say. No, that's a lie, a shameless one at that. I had lots to say, I just couldn’t be bothered to say it. I was tired, 'I feel it in my bones' kinda tired. See, what they don’t tell you about blogging, ideally before you start, is what happens when you go digging in the recesses of your mind, digging up shit that perhaps shouldn’t be dug up. That shit starts to fuck with your mind, slowly making you even more neurotic than you are (yes, that is in fact possible). It gets to the point where all you want to do is curl up in the foetal position and eat chocolate, without thinking, or over analysing, or picking every little thing apart looking for some godforsaken answer that will in all likelihood never help your life in any way. It becomes a bit much, is all I'm saying, makes it hard to do this blogging thing.
And then I heard a song that reminded me of this my baby, and I read the old post, and now here I am clawing my way out of the strange, self-indulgent rut.
Good personal blogging is, to my mind, honest above all else. Not honest in the sense of 'thou shalt not lie', everybody lies, it's simply a matter of omission or commission. I'm talking about honest in the sense of unvarnished truth. The good, the bad and the ugly. I've always told myself that there is no point to any tale if I'm only telling you the shiny-happy bits and I can only hope I've managed to keep to my word, this in my attempt to be a good blogger. From the conversations I've had about the blog during my time away, conversations with disgruntled readers (these buggers can lecture like you wouldn’t believe, you'd think they'd paid a subscription or such like, greedy so and so's), turns out what I considered 'the ugly' is a large part of why they, and possibly you, kept coming back here, week after week. Well, that and the sex stuff. Fine, mostly the sex stuff, dammit. I'll admit, the not so shiny bits are harder to write, and read, but let's face it, without them, this would be one long soliloquy about songs that make me happy. Wait, most of these posts are long soliloquies about songs that make me happy, no? Sorry, my bad. I lie, again, I'm not sorry.
According to my uber opinionated audience sample, the best part of the blog for them is the part I struggle with most. Thing is, I stopped blogging because I was tired of having all of you (pointing at all 8 of you) in my house (taps head), poking about, moving things around, making tea at odd hours, drinking my booze, leaving a mess behind for me to clean up. That's what happens, see, I climb into yours (tap your own head) and you climb into mine. Does that sound creepy? Good, it's meant to. In the spirit of being completely honest with you, I didn’t feel like being honest any more. I felt over-exposed, like I was naked in the town square and people were throwing (sometimes not too) ripe tomatoes at me. That analogy is a bit dodgy, but fuck it, you know what I mean. As it turns out, yes, I am naked in the square, but, and this is the bit that made my head spin a little, my nakedness makes you feel naked, and you like it. My lovelies, turns out we are all naked here.
I almost pulled off deep and meaningful until that last bit. Almost.
At the beginning of the post I talked about how Mr Green sang the album version of the song, all soft and mellow. In the article I pulled the quote from, they talk about the Rev learning to “let loose his vulnerable side, when the song called for it”, as opposed to singing in the 'belt it out' style favoured by musicians at the time, a style that did nothing to show off his greatest talent. “Al Green is a singer who does more with a whisper than a scream.” That was the point to all those versions I put up. In as much as he was singing the same song, over and over again, the music tweaked just so to fit his varied audience and his evolving persona, the meaning of the song never changed, and neither did the way he sang it, not really. In almost every performance I've found, that rare ability to sing gentle (even when he's singing loud) always makes the song feel personal, to him and to the people listening. Isn’t that what this particular brand of blogging, writing and reading, is all about? Our themes are constant, life and love and all the messy stuff in between, but our context is constantly changing, as we grow older, learn from our mistakes, make more mistakes, win some, lose some... I was worried that I was starting to repeat myself, getting frustrated (and sometimes embarrassed) at picking at the same issues over and over, but now I’m thinking, that's the nature of the song, no?
She shrugs and walks off in search of a glass of wine and socks...
‘Cause being around you is all I see,
So baby let’s, we outta stay together,
Loving you whether, whether,
Times are good or bad, happy or sad…