The Roots of Songless Soul
Al Green: Al Green Is Love (Hi/The Right Stuff '75)
I never got with this album, which in the wake of the late-'74 grits-and-suicide incident kicked off Green's quick commercial decline with its only pop hit, the catchy, slight "L-O-V-E (Love)." That one sounds like it was waiting in the can for just such a disaster, and though eventually the post-paranoid "Rhymes" and the Afro-percussive "Love Ritual" caught my ear on compilations, the two other conventional songs here did not. Then I spun David Toop's midnight-soul concoction Sugar and Poison late this Valentine's Day and finally registered a genius piece I'd played 20 times before: the fluttering, vocalese "I Didn't Know," which makes eight minutes of impossible poetry from lines like "I didn't know that you feel like you do/Feel like you feel when you feel like you feel." Along with Sly's "Just Like a Baby," "I Didn't Know" is the linchpin of Sugar and Poison, and also the Rosetta stone of this album, which explores four or five other versions of the same idea. "Love Ritual." "The Love Sermon." It's all L-O-V-E. You got a problem with that? A
D'Angelo: Brown Sugar (EMI '95)
After getting religion about a precursor of songless r&b, I thought I'd revisit its modern wellspring, and wasn't surprised to have warmed to it‑-D'Angelo's concentration is formidable, his groove complex yet primal. But because it's bass-driven rather than voice-led, Brown Sugar is less subtle than Al Green Is Love, and less sociable too: D'Angelo, who was leading a great band through these songs by 2000, laid down all the instruments on four tracks and on two others brought in only co-producer Bob Power's guitar, which loosens things up nicely, though not like the string section on "Cruisin'"--a tune that originated with a pretty darn good songwriter named Smokey. A MINUS
As a listening aid, below find R. Christgau's transcription of Al Green's "I Didn't Know." A few incomprehensible words almost certainly wrong. Vocalese partial and approximate of course. But fairly close.
i didn't know that you loved me like youooo dooo
i didn't know that you caaaaare like youooo dooo
i didn't know that your love was so strong keep me warm
i didn't know that you feel like you do
feel like you feel when you feel like you feel
makes a man want to steal
ooh ooh ooh ooh
oh oh yeah
i didn't know people was talkin about the way you hold my hand
oh ha ah oh ha aah ooooo
it's feelin good that's what it's all about oh baby won't you try to understand oh baby
whole lot and cry don't you know no love i don't know no one
i think you understand i think you understand it's love that makes a man
so we're back to grains of time grains of sand
i didn't know that you errrr care
you should have told me you should have explained
i didn't know you loved me like you do
so much like you're doing makes me talk in my sleep and things ah hey
i didn't know that you i didn't know that you that you wanna hold me like you do
hey hey like you do hey hey heeey
the way you talk to me ha ha ha ha ha
i-i-i-i oh i i keep on
when you sayin somethin to me ah hi
i didn't know you shoulda
nobody told me
nobody explained to me
nobody said anything to me
nobody called me on the telephone and i just get that feelin way down aiihey
i didn't know that you loved me hey hey ahh
wait a minute wait a minute wait a minute wait a minute
i dinknow know that i
[FEMMES COME IN WITH MANY CRYSTALLINE I DIDN'T KNOWS FROM HERE ON]
makes me makes me wanna
shoulda told sh-shoulda told me
somebody somebody won't you help me
yes save me
sweet little woman like you
somebody better do something for me
i didn't know that you needed me
shoulda called me
should have explained
i i i i
ida i well
hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo
ooh ahh hah hah ai-yeah
make me feel good this mornin
Like most people on this blog, I'm an Al Green nut -- I can't think of any classic soul artist I play more, except maybe Stevie (who comes close, and probably doesn't count). A good friend of mine from college went to see his Sunday service in Memphis, and when he told me about his experience it I hung on every word, like he had seen the Burning Bush. I already own five of Green's 70s output...can't even begin to tell you how excited I am this is in the mail. But why haven't the nice people at Fat Possum reissued this one along with all the others they did in 2009?
Awesome! Another Al Green album to add to the collection. Rhymes and Love Ritual and of course I Don't Know I am familiar with but the others....can't wait.
For fun, I looked up the original Xgau review of Al Green Is Love (B+) and found it very enticing as well. Descriptive phrases like "almost incoherent" and "fascinating and pervasive craziness" add to the allure. Check it out.
Now to track the thing down: seems like it was reissued on CD in 1994 and again in 2006 by The Right Stuff, and by Capitol (on a twofer with Full of Fire) at some point too.
"You got a problem with that?" Heh, heh. No, sir.
And rumor has it there (finally) is to be a new D'Angelo album this year...
EDIT: For latecomers/old school farts like me, physical copies of Brown Sugar can be had for as little as $3.98 @ Amazon Marketplace. (Al Green Is Love appears to be out of print, alas.)
Al Green performing L-O-V-E on Soul Train
Doesn't it look like Green is singing most of the song TO Jackson? What's greater than A+? Stop what you're doing. Watch this!
PPU IV - Ach to statu hanobeni. Volume three in the series is the famous Egon Bondy's Hearts Club Banned, which wasn't for sale in the shop where I got these CDs. More live tracks, this time 1976-1977. I promise some studio stuff is coming. Part three of seven downloads.
I just checked out that L-O-V-E Soul Train clip on youtube, but I think that's Howard Grimes on drums, not Al Jackson. Can anyone confirm that?
Brad: thought it might be Grimes too for chronological reasons, but when I went and found images of Jackson it looked like the same guy.
It's def not Al Jackson Jr., right? It doesn't look like him to me. If you check out some Booker t & Mgs videos you notice Jackson had a mustache and a bit of baby face, also he was darker skinned than the drummer from the soul train video. Just browsing around, that drummer does seem to be a regular with Green's band and while there are many comments praising him, none mention him by name.
Looks like the show was April 5, 75 - Jackson was still alive. There is also a performance of "Sha-la-la" on youtube from the same show.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
live local music on
Enter your ZIP code to see concerts happening in your area.
Data provided by Zvents