FIFTY YEARS OF THE ICONIC WILLIE MITCHELL-PRODUCED ‘LET’S STAY TOGETHER’ BY AL GREEN
Fifty years ago, in Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios, one of the oldest continuously operating recording facilities in the world now run by Willie’s son Boo Mitchell, Al Green first sang the iconic lyrics: “Let’s stay together / Lovin’ you whether, whether / Times are good or bad, happy or sad.” Decades later, fans are still singing along to, “Let’s Stay Together,” off Green’s historic album of the same name. Now regarded a staple of the 1970s music scene, especially of the R&B and soul genres, the album was originally released in 1972 as a collaboration between Green and hit producer Willie Mitchell. Mitchell’s sole production helped define an evolving, unique sonic landscape that drove the genre of soul music forward, with Q Magazine naming Let’s Stay Together one of the “Best Soul Albums of All Time.”
Celebrating five decades since Let’s Stay Together’s 1972 release, we’re looking back at Mitchell’s and Green’s landmark collaboration:
- The title track, “Let’s Stay Together,” is widely recognized as one of the greatest songs of all time.
Let’s Stay Together is best known for its celebrated title track. Produced and recorded by Mitchell, “Let’s Stay Together” has gone on to be Green’s signature song, reinventing the Memphis soul sound and leaving an everlasting impact on music. The Platinum-certified track not only reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B Charts upon release, but also was listed at #60 on Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” In 2010, the Library of Congress even added it to the National Recording Registry, a list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”
- Willie Mitchell encouraged Al Green’s authentic sound.
As he was recording the title track, Green kept emulating the vocals of other soul singers of the day like Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, and Wilson Pickett. Recognizing their opportunity to create a new sound, Mitchell exclaimed, “I want Al Green!” in hopes of propelling the artist to tap into his own flare. Angry, Green left the studio to drive his car through the parking lot for thirty minutes before returning to record and giving the beginning vocals in one take—in his own voice. Without Mitchell’s exacting influence, who knows what the song might have sounded like!
- “Let’s Stay Together” has soundtracked some of the biggest movies and television shows.
Mitchell’s iconic production of “Let’s Stay Together” has cemented its legacy through television and film. NBC’s hit sitcom Parks and Recreation (2011) featured the song in season three, with countless appearances on soundtracks from films including Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), and Hope Springs (2012).
- Willie Mitchell collaborated with his brother James on some of the album’s most memorable arrangements.
Mitchell also collaborated with his musician brother James Mitchell on several tracks across Let’s Stay Together. James helped pen several of the instrumental arrangements featured on the album, with Willie making decisions about the beat and sound engineering to create addictive sounds. Their joint efforts helped foster the distinct groove on songs like the slow, emotive “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”
- Willie Mitchell produced and engineered Al Green’s six consecutive #1 albums.
Mitchell produced and engineered several albums by Al Green in Royal Studios from 1971-1976. In fact, Let’s Stay Together was the first of six consecutive Green’s albums he produced that reached #1 on the R&B Soul Albums chart. Additionally, five of these albums were all certified Gold or higher by the RIAA. Together Mitchell’s deft touch and understanding of the soul genre with Green’s unique sound created some of the greatest hits of the decade.
Just as renowned today as it was the day it was released, Let’s Stay Together exemplifies the timelessness of Mitchell and Green’s creative collaborations, which have defined soul music for generations.