This painting is called ‘Lichtenstein in the Sky With Diamonds’
and it is by Andrew McAttee
with kind permission
Tired Of Being Alone – Al Green
…tired of on my own…
1971. The year of sentience. The year of awakening. When every sweet note, every bass line, every guitar lick, every vocal harmony, every crunchy cymbal and every sweeping organ chord-change melted into my ear for all eternity. Burned, forged onto my very soul. Every time I would hear these songs as I grew older, they would leap out of the speakers and caress my heart. Sometimes I would remember the moment, the feeling, the teenage yearning, but often I would just be inside the music. I know every small hesitation of these songs because I was fully available to them as they appeared in 1971. They are magic incarnate and will always be so. They are inside me.
I was at middle school, Lewes Priory. Mountfield Road. I distinctly remember the Chapel – it was actually a church in between Middle and Upper School. With an organ, pews, altar, the works. It was used for music and worship. I didn’t like “music” at school because Mr Richards had metaphorically pissed all over the record I brought into his lesson one day – and that’s for another post I think. It was also 1971 though. I liked pop radio and Top Of The Pops. It’s difficult to overstate the huge impression TOTP made on all of our lives, accompanied by the possibly more important Pick Of The Pops chart rundown from 5 to 7pm every Sunday evening, a non-religious gathering of the family around the radio to hear Alan Freeman tell us whether our favourites had gone up or down the charts. Critical, basic, essential moments.
The first time I saw Al Green on Top Of The Pops he was singing Tired Of Being Alone. Just him, no band. It was completely astonishing. He was wearing some stretch top and had a small afro haircut. And he sang this song as if his entire life depended upon it. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would now mark this moment as my introduction to soul music. Yes I’d seen The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, The Four Tops, Diana Ross & The Supremes on the TV, but I can’t remember Otis Redding at all, or Jackie Wilson, or Sam Cooke, or James Brown. I remember them on the radio – but not TV. Having seen them since then I’m pretty sure I would have remembered them ?
Why did it have this effect on me ? Well, I think the vast percentage of the reason must reside inside Al Green himself. As a performer he really is second to none, and always has been. This cannot and will not be the only Al Green post I write because I simply have too many stories spread over almost all of my life in relation to Al Green – The Reverend Al Green as he became known. I have seen him live at least ten times, visited his church in Memphis and own all of his LPs. I followed him through the gospel phase and then back to pop again. He is technically a supreme singer. But the technique is the least of it. His voice is powerful and delicate, male and female, hugely expressive, a thing of rare beauty and subtlety. A gift. All of which is present on this first single. Watching him sing it – (live ?) – on TOTP was like a revelation, like a vision of something.
After one minute 44 seconds we’ve had the song, two choruses with their syncopated horn stabs, and then he starts to break it down, the music starts to vamp, Al starts to improvise, to express himself, to wonder… I don’t think I’d ever seen that in a pop performance before, that whole section where he folds his arms and goes mmmmmm, it was simply remarkable. It was an education. It was soul music.
The other thing that struck me from that seminal TOTP moment was how delicate he looked – small, wiry, dynamic, he reminded me of Desmond Dekker both physically and how he moved his mouth around the words as if they were alive. Which they were.
And maybe the song just expresses a huge simple human truth. Aren’t we all tired of being alone ? Maybe parents surrounded by children dream of being alone, but what for ? Peace and quiet is over-rated. I’ve been sitting here in Prague now for two months working on Legends, and it is simply the most unsocial group of people I have ever worked with, all for different reasons, some have their families here, Sean Bean stays in mainly, the others have their own runnings. It’s just how it goes sometimes in the wacky world of showbiz. I cherish time alone, and read a lot, write this, and so on and so forth, but underneath all that, yes, I am tired of being alone. Luckily Jenny is coming out in two weeks. And Paul after that sometime. I’m quite a social animal au fin du jour. Which is why I have ended up hanging out with The Musketeers – here for seven months on series three for the BBC – and we all meet in the James Joyce pub, two blocks away from the InterContinental, if we want some social time. Guinness on tap. Food. Convivial. Bit of Al Green on the jukebox.
When this song was released in August 1971 I already knew what loneliness was all about. As I wrote in My Pop Life 84 – All Along The Watchtower and My Pop Life #56 – Morning Has Broken, we had been split up, separated as a family for nine long months while we waited for someone, somewhere to house us. Eventually a council house on a new-build estate in Hailsham was offered and we moved in together in the late spring of 1971. Our lives together in Hailsham were, in my memory, almost utter turmoil, with frequent visits from doctors, a cupboard full of pills for depression and Paul and I becoming more ungovernable as we hit puberty and grew physically larger, causing the weapons used to beat us with to get larger in response. But of course there were moments of repose, of laughter, of peace, of conviviality too. I’ve blotted most of this section of my life out. My memories are very very selective. But I clearly remember seeing Al Green on Top Of The Pops one Thursday evening. And that is a good thing.
Check out his microphone technique on this wonderful archive footage from 1972:
the original single, with backing vocals :