Al Green was the first great soul singer of the '70s and arguably the last great Southern soul singer. With his seductive singles for Hi Records in the early '70s, Green bridged the gap between deep soul and smooth Philadelphia soul. He incorporated elements of gospel, interjecting his performances with wild moans and wails, but his records were stylish, boasting immaculate productions that rolled along with a tight beat, sexy backing vocals, and lush strings. The distinctive Hi Records sound that the vocalist and producer Willie Mitchell developed made Al Green the most popular and influential soul singer of the early '70s, influencing not only his contemporaries, but also veterans like Marvin Gaye. Green was at the peak of his popularity when he suddenly decided to join the ministry in the mid-'70s. At first, he continued to record secular material, but by the '80s, he was concentrating solely on gospel. During the late '80s and '90s, he occasionally returned to R&B, but he remained primarily a religious performer for the rest of his career. Nevertheless, Green's classic early- '70s recordings retained their power and influence throughout the decades, setting the standard for smooth soul.
Green was born in Forrest City, AR, where he formed a gospel quartet, the Green Brothers, at the age of nine. The group toured throughout the South in the mid-'50s, before the family relocated to Grand Rapids, MI. The Green Brothers continued to perform in Grand Rapids, but Al's father kicked the boy out of the group after he caught his son listening to Jackie Wilson. At the age of 16, Al formed an R&B group, Al Green & the Creations, with several of his high-school friends. Two Creation members, Curtis Rogers and Palmer James, founded their own independent record company, Hot Line Music Journal, and had the group record for the label. By that time, the Creations had been re-named the Soul Mates. The group's first single, "Back Up Train," became a surprise hit, climbing to number five on the R&B charts early in 1968. The Soul Mates attempted to record another hit, but all of their subsequent singles failed to find an audience.
Green Is BluesIn 1969, Al Green met bandleader and Hi Records vice president Willie Mitchell while on tour in Midland, Texas. Impressed with Green's voice, he signed the singer to Hi Records, and began collaborating with Al on his debut album. Released in early 1970, Green's debut album, Green Is Blues, showcased the signature sound he and Mitchell devised -- a sinewy, sexy groove highlighted by horn punctuations and string beds that let Green showcase his remarkable falsetto. While the album didn't spawn any hit singles, it was well-received and set the stage for the breakthrough success of his second album. Al Green Gets Next to You (1970) launched his first hit single, "Tired of Being Alone," which began a streak of four straight gold singles. Let's Stay Together (1972) was his first genuine hit album, climbing to number eight on the pop charts; its title track became his first number one single. I'm Still in Love With You, which followed only a few months later, was an even greater success, peaking at number four and launching the hits "Look What You Done for Me" and "I'm Still in Love With You."