Thank you, thank you: Best of Al Green

Here’s the thing with jukebox heroes acquainted with Greatest Hits: as much as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, with whom he has little else in common, Al Green recorded albums. Modest about issuing statements in the post-sixties sense of the word, concerned with the space between sticks and snare, attentive to the percussive effect of a single electric guitar strum, they did not reinvent so much as return rhythm and blues to its base: a relationship between the singer and the Divine as intimate as pillow talk.

The way in which Green and producer Willie Mitchell repeated their strategic use of strings and vocal moues reminded listeners of their debt to hymns and liturgies; for Green writing and singing a couplet like “Full of fire/You’re my one desire” was an affirmation, not a prayer. He sang from a place of confidence. Not for him Gaye and Curtis Mayfield’s anguish. Even Aretha Franklin’s melismatic evocation of joy as a secular speaking in tongues was beyond his interest. No wonder he covered Willie Nelson — I can think of no other singer from the era who trusted stillness, whose pose was emulating God moving over the face of the waters. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he sang in “Jesus is Waiting.” Although a few years from becoming a reverend, he had the swagger of a man who had found grace but sang as if he had to persuade, one listener at a time; this hushed breath-on-the-neck fervor gives “You Ought to Be With Me” and “Your Love is Like the Morning Sun” their power. The suggestion that he was assuming the omnipotence of the God he loved would have appalled him. I’ll take it further: how else to account for a grinning assurance unknown to any godhead who has tangled with mortals?

1. Jesus is Waiting
2. Feels Like Summer
3. Let’s Get Married
4. I’m a Ram
5. You Ought to Be With Me
6. Belle
7. Beware
8. Love and Happiness
9. Home Again
10. Funny How Time Slips Away
11. I Can’t Get Next to You
12. Full of Fire
13. Livin’ For You
14. Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)
15. Right Now, Right Now
16. Lay It Down
17. Call Me
18. For the Good Times
19. One of These Good Old Days
20. Sweet Sixteen

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