Essential Atlantic: Percy Sledge, WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN

Thursday, August 27, 2020

For the next several weeks (or maybe just until we decide that we want to stop doing it, since normalcy seems likely to remain on hiatus for the foreseeable future), will be spotlighting an album from the Atlantic Records discography that qualifies as “Essential.” And what rigorous standards and/or mathematical algorithm did we use to come up with the criteria to define “Essential,” you ask? None at all. You’ll just have to trust our instincts. But they’re really good, we swear...

This week, we’re taking a look at an album which is known so much more for its title track than any other song contained within its grooves that it’s kind of ridiculous, but rest assured that there’s more to Percy Sledge’s WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN than just “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Mind you, having said that, if Sledge never recorded anything other than that one tune, he’d still be considered an R&B legend, and rightfully so.

Sledge’s story is one of those that you’d write off as fiction if you didn’t know it was true: he was working as an orderly in an Alabama hospital during the week, touring the southeast with a group called the Esquires Combo on Saturdays and Sundays, when a former patient introduced Sledge to record producer Quin Ivy, which led to an audition and a recording contract with Atlantic Records. The next thing you know, Sledge is in the studio, recording “When a Man Loves a Woman,” crooning along with Spooner Oldham’s unforgettable organ playing behind him.

Here's the funny thing about the song, though: Sledge actually recorded two versions of it, one at Rick Hall’s FAME Studios at Muscle Shoals, the other at Ivy’s own Norala Studios. After recording the first version, Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records said the horns were out of tune and asked Sledge for a do-over, so they got different horn players and gave it another go. In the end, though, the two tapes somehow ended up being mixed up, and Atlantic put out the first version.

Guess the horns weren’t too out of tune for the listening public at large: the song hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed all the way to #4 in the UK.

Strangely enough, no other songs were released as singles from WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN, but several of the album’s tunes have since become relatively well-known nonetheless, including “My Adorable One,” “Put a Little Lovin’ on Me,” and “You’re Pouring Water on a Drowning Man.” If none of these titles ring a bell, however, we’d advise that you remedy that situation immediately and give the album a spin, just so you can find out what you’ve been missing all this time.


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