Willie Mitchell, long the in-house producer of Memphis’s Hi Records, died yesterday morning aged 81; the first bulletpoint of his legacy is that he produced Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” a song to which every American adult owes, on average, 17% of his or her sex life. So thank you, Willie Mitchell, for that. (And thanks also to Microphone No. 9.)
Our friend Ben Greenman notes, in a brief appreciation at the New Yorker, that “Mitchell’s legacy is in no danger of slipping away, particularly since the brand of soul that he and Green pioneered lives on: Mitchell’s elegant secular-gospel arrangements, punctuated by string and brass accents, provided a perfect foundation from which Green could go airborne.” It’s true enough that nobody’s going to stop listening to 70s Al Green anytime soon; it’s equally true that singers and producers will continue to shoot for that suave, tender mix of minimal instrumental flourish and intimate address, which Mitchell perfected with Green and others.
After the jump, a few favorites, produced by Willie Mitchell for Hi Records.
Al Green doing “Tired of Being Alone,” originally from Al Green Gets Next to You (1971), on TV’s Soul Train:
Ann Peebles was probably Hi’s preeminent female singer during the label’s 70s peak. An L Mag office iTunes favorite (alongside hits like “Can’t Stand the Rain” and “Tear Your Playhouse Down”) is “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,” from Straight from the Heart (1971):
O.V. Wright, “I Don’t Know Why,” from The Bottom Line (1977):
Mitchell also released a number of instrumental records which laid the groundwork for his laid-back, lighter-than-air production. The title track from 1967’s Soul Serenade:
And, sure, one more: