I couldn’t afford records as a kid so in those few years between me starting to care about music and me getting a job, I joined the local record library and would go rifling through whatever they had available on the occasional Saturday afternoon.
For some reason all the records had this vague smell of beggars’ feet about them. No idea why. Not a good advert for libraries though, it’s got to be said. And please understand that I don’t go around sniffing beggars’ feet either. It’s never happened. It’s just my best approximation of what that smell was like. I could be wrong – it could be more like traffic wardens’ feet, cos I’ve not smelled those either. Oh, no, wait, there was that one time. OK a lion tamer’s feet. Oh, no wait …. etcetera … Never mind.
The smell didn’t matter though because I’d get home and record the stuff I liked straight onto cassette, making mix tapes of my favourite tracks. Then I’d take a flamethrower to the record, soak my nose in bleach, and shower in DDT.
OK that last bit didn’t happen, but my more recently adopted OCD sensibilities are telling me it definitely should have.
It was a black art making those tapes because those old C90 cassettes didn’t grow on trees and you learned to think ahead and snipe your songs carefully. Nothing worse than sitting on the school bus Monday morning listening to dull songs you thought you ought to like last Saturday.
I was a late riser even then and invariably all the recent stuff was checked out already, along with most of the good old stuff. I was going through a random Motown/Atlantic Soul phase for which I still have no explanation. But what the hell, it was my thing, and it exposed me to a lot of different music, some of which I still love today. Liking stuff not currently en vogue is a blessing for the late riser trawling through leftovers in a record library. There were usually a few titbits I could harvest.
During one of my sorties, I stumbled on Al Green. I already knew Let’s Stay Together but the jiggy big-haired mutant Tina Turner had tarnished that song beyond repair and it was dead to me. But I’d heard DJs talk about this guy on the radio and figured I’d give him a shot. I was pleasantly surprised and gave a couple of his songs pride of place on a mix tape – So Tired of Being Alone and How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.
The latter was the best song by a country mile. It’s got to be one of the best break-up songs ever written. I recognised its potential back then even though I lacked the experience of a break-up, or even having a girlfriend to break up from. I was later repeatedly exposed to its full power in the wake of various heart violations.
It’s just a perfect soulful song with lovely words, singing and musical accompaniment.
Al totally nails the song, as his cheeky grin below attests: