Song Of The Day 9/13/2016: Al Green – “Belle”

The Hidden '70s, Part 3 – “Belle” (#83, 1978) was Al Green’s last Hot 100 single as a solo artist and, to me, one of the most powerful popular songs about Christianity. I feel this in spite of my religious beliefs inclining towards the atheistic, which I realize is a weaselly walk-back from saying I’m a full-bore atheist. But I’m no closer to adopting any other belief system, although Buddhism’s been running a distant second for years now. The point being, “Belle” is a bracing account of one man’s problematic but committed transition towards serving God. If it helps you can imagine it as one man’s uneasy journey to becoming a full-time artist, or maybe a landscaper. It won’t have the same heft but perhaps it’ll fall more in line with your priorities.

“Belle” came from The Belle Album, the first one he’d made without the assistance of producer Willie Mitchell who crafted the unrepeatable sound of Green’s great early ‘70s hits. Green had become a full-time convert to Christianity and had just been ordained as a minister, so The Belle Album and its follow-up Truth N’ Time represented the end of his secular period. “Belle” casts Green’s terrestrial music as the woman in the title track. There’s nothing tempestuous or wrong about Belle — not that Green would make those judgments anyway — it’s just that the internal wrestling is too much for him to take: “It’s you that I want, but it’s Him that I need.” There are two quick lyrics that give depth to the guy’s plight: “I know that you can understand a little country boy” (he’s always felt he was a child to something, or -body) and “He brought me safe thus far through many drunken country bars” (self-explanatory, and the saddest line in the song).

“Belle” has the same minimalist drive as another drop-dead classic Green song about his particular line of faith, “Jesus is Waiting” from Call Me. They’re both outstanding songs. Their specific object (i.e., J.C.) has kind of been ruined for me beyond repair thanks to years of careless mishandling by others, but that’s another story for another time. The songs are all I care about at the moment.

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