'Let's Stay Together' by Al Green: Song Meaning, Lyrics, And History
Al Green performing on stage, holding a rose, circa 1974. (Photo by Echoes/Redferns)
With the 1972 hit "Let's Stay Together," Al Green struck a perfect balance. The song is neither fast nor slow -- while the rhythm has some pace to it, the singing is leisurely. It's a love song, but it's a humble proposal, telling the woman that "whatever you want to do / Is alright with me." Its lyrics, though romantic, are plainspoken, with a relatable meaning. It's funky, yet sincere. This is a song that works whether you're at a nightclub or spending a quiet night in. And it's a fact that nobody, not a single person, doesn't like "Let's Stay Together." How did this soul gem of the early '70s come about?
'Let's Stay Together' Was A Collaborative Effort
It’s famously said that it takes two to tango. In the case of Al Green’s unforgettable, “Let’s Stay Together,” it took two and then some hundreds of hours to perfect the 1972 hit, which reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and the Billboard R&B chart. The two, of course, were Al Green’s versatile golden voice and Willie Mitchell’s ear for vocal perfection. Together, the talented twosome created one of the all-time wedding songs and a track that graced many a movie since its release.
A Struggling Talent
Before Al Green became one of the dulcet voices of his era, he struggled to find traction in the dog eat dog music world. His early singing instruction and performing experience came as a member of his family’s gospel group -- but Green was kicked out of the family home by the age of 20. He moved in with his prostitute girlfriend at the time and started his own musical group, the Soul Mates.
They scored a minor hit with 1967’s “Back Up Train,” but unfortunately, the song would dog Green for years. Everywhere he went, the people wanted “Back Up Train” and like any frustrated artist, Green eventually came to hate the song and quit the group.
A Match Made In History
While touring, Green found himself on the marquee of a smaller venue with legendary drummer Willie Mitchell. That night Green belted out his bread-and-butter “Back Up Train” for all it was worth, hoping to impress Mitchell.
Apparently, Mitchell didn’t care for the small-time hit but heard something he liked in Green’s voice, and agreed to become Green’s producer. According to NPR, Green asked Mitchell how long until they'd make a hit record. Mitchell answered “About 18 months.” Green, young and impatient, responded with “I ain't got that long.”
Quick To Compose, Long To Perfect
“Let’s Stay Together,” started with Mitchell giving Green a rough cut of a tune he'd written. And depending on which source you believe, it only took Green between 5 and 15 minutes to write the lyrics. Despite the rapid-fire nature of Green’s lyrical genius, he didn’t feel ready to record the song. It took two days of Mitchell badgering him before Green finally put his heavenly voice on tape. Unfortunately, Green wasn’t giving Mitchell what he wanted.
According to Mitchell, “It took us a hundred and some hours to put the song on tape because Al was saying, 'What do you want, man?' I said, 'Well, I want you.' " Green was a bit too fired up, "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.'"
Mitchell knew Green’s talent and wasn’t going to quit until he got the Green he wanted, "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.' "
A Colorful Audience
Clearly, the song is about the power of love and how it persists through good times and bad. Oddly enough, when they recorded the song, Mitchell brought in the neighborhood “winos” as an audience to perform for.
According to Charles Hodges, the song’s organist, Willie wanted Al to have people here, “Sometimes, when you sing about something, if you look at people, you can relate with the song a little more compassionately. You'd be surprised what you can project from that. You feed on what you're looking at."
The Meaning Of 'Let's Stay Together'
"Let's Stay Together" is a proposal from one adult to another -- this is not a besotted teenager amped up on hormones and playing Romeo. The singer and his lady have been together for some time, and he's telling her, very calmly and logically, that this relationship just feels right. He thinks they should stick with it -- forever. In the unknowable future, times may be good or bad, happy or sad, but whatever the case, he knows he'll want her by his side. He even addresses, in an indirect way, the possibility of splitting up -- so many people break up, then turn around and make up. Who needs that drama? Let's not do that, the singer is saying, let's stay together.
Pop Culture Notes
Rolling Stone ranked “Let’s Stay Together” as the 60th greatest of all time on their list of the 500 greatest songs. You’ve likely heard it a few times, even if R&B isn’t your cup of tea. The song appeared in Ladies Man, On The Line, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, and most famously, Pulp Fiction. In the Quentin Tarantino masterpiece, it plays in the background of Ving Rhames' “Pride only hurts” speech.
Perhaps the most amazing fact about “Let’s Stay Together,” is how it almost never happened. Apparently, Green didn’t like the “thin” sound of his falsetto voice. Mitchell said, "The only fight I ever had with him was about 'Let's Stay Together,' because he thought 'Let's Stay Together' was not a hit." He was finally able to persuade Green that it "had magic on it."
Lyrics To 'Let's Stay Together'
I, I'm I'm so in love with you
Whatever you want to do
Is all right with me
Cause you make me feel so brand new
And I want to spend my life with you
Let me say that since, baby, since we've been together
Loving you forever
Is what I need
Let me, be the one you come running to
I'll never be untrue
Let's, let's stay together ('gether)
Lovin' you whether, whether
Times are good or bad, happy or sad
Oh, oh, oh, oh, yeah
Whether times are good or bad, happy or sad
Why, why some people break up
Then turn around and make up
I just can't see
You'd never do that to me (would you, baby)
Staying around you is all I see
(Here's what I want us do)
Let's, we oughta stay together ('gether)
Loving you whether, whether
Times are good or bad, happy or sad
Let's stay, (let's stay together) let's stay together
Loving you whether, whether times are good or bad
Like it? Share with your friends!