Sunday, February 08, 2009

"Love and Happiness" / Al Green


The Grammy awards were on TV tonight, and much as I'd planned to switch them off (with a special note to tune back in for Paul McCartney's performance), I had to keep watching when Justin Timberlake started singing a duet with Al Green. Grinning ear to ear, the Reverend Green still can turn on an R&B wail like nobody's business; he just left li'l Justin in the dust.

Well, what better track to segue into Unhappy In Love songs than Green's "Love and Happiness"? Despite the title, happiness is in short supply in the romantic world Al Green's singing about. There's just something so baffled and careworn about his voice as he starts out musing, "Love and happiness...something that can make you do wrong, make you do right..." Well, which will it be? As that funky organ and drums kick in, I don't hear much about happiness -- only "Something's going wrong / Someone's on the phone / Three o'clock in the morning / Talkin' about how she can make it right" -- do we believe her, folks? We do not, and neither does he. Nobody makes a phone call at 3 in the morning unless it's a love emergency -- they're in dire straits already.

"Happiness is when you really feel good with somebody," he goes on; "Nothing wrong with being in one with someone." I agree. But the tension of those stabbing organ chords, that downward swooping guitar riff, the scolding horns, undermine the whole deal.

And a deal it is, an uneasy quid pro quo negotiation: "You be good to me /I'll be good to you /We'll be together / We'll see each other /Walk away with victory." And while they've struck a truce, it could go south at any minute, as he knows all too well. "Make you do right / Love'll make you do wrong / Make you come home early /Make you stay out all night long / The power of love." Love is just as likely to pull apart a happy home as it is to make one.

They say that Harold Pinter's plays are all about the silences between speeches; it's the same thing with those pregnant pauses in the middle of these lines. He goes on preachin' and testifyin', tossing out these vague disconnected phrases -- no storytelling, no carefully constructed argument, he just tosses and jerks around in a rich stew of funky emotion. That inexorable rhythm track slaps on, while the horns percolate and the back-up singers bear witness. Meanwhile Al is moaning, yelping, humming, free-forming over the whole exquisite untameable mess. Answers? He's got no answers to the secret of love and happiness. You were a fool to think he would.

Love and Happiness sample

1 comment:

The Modesto Kid said...

Yep -- this was the only piece of the Grammies I saw and it sure made me happy.