Song 298: Al Green, “Love and Happiness” (1972)

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When “Love and Happiness” starts, you’re not sure where it’s going. Al Green is soulfully mumbling about love, but it doesn’t sound happy; there’s an electric guitar playing chords that belong in a folk lament about the sorry state of the working man. When guitarist Teenie Hosges’ foot breaks the song with five determined taps, you think, OK, the “happiness” of the title is going to kick in. This is going to be fun.

But no: this song is in a minor key, and it is dark. Of course, it’s an Al Green song, so it sounds warm and full, not stark and empty. But it still sounds heavier than you’d expect a song called “Love and Happiness” to sound. Green’s message about love comes through in images and fragments, as if it’s the only way to describe such a complicated concept. Love’s not a bad thing, it’s just not simple enough to accurately describe in a three-minute pop song. Though countless have tried and succeeded.

Despite how it seems, I try not to repeat ideas, words or phrases on this thing, but I’ll be damned if I can come up with a better word for Al Green’s sound than “warm.” The rhythm section fills every corner of the space, and the horn blasts are never meant to surprise. Green got a lot of mileage out of this sound over the years, and deservedly so. When Talking Heads took Green’s “Take Me to the River” and made it sound more sinister, they didn’t change much; this is testament to Green’s ability to arrange a song so it conveys a variety of feelings.

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