First released in 1984, Robert Mugge’s Gospel According to Al Green is now out in a new Blu-ray, DVD, and digital release with good sound and some extras. The movie incorporates performance footage from a concert and a mindblowing church service, along with parts of an extensive interview with the soul-singer-turned-preacher (the interview is included in its entirety as an audio extra). We also hear from Willie Mitchell, Green’s producer and collaborator on his 1970s hits, and a mercifully small amount of commentary from music journalist Ken Tucker.
For fans who know only Green’s 1970s hits (“Let’s Stay Together,” “Love and Happiness,” “Tired of Being Alone,” “Can’t Get Next to You,” etc.) Gospel will come as – and I use this word advisedly – a revelation. Using Green’s own words and performances, it tells the fascinating story of his transformation from smart, sensuous singer of soulful songs of love and yearning to born-again preacher and gospel singer. Green’s vivid descriptions of this experience, combined with his outlandish talent, make his version of the “born again” story fascinating, even if it has no relation to one’s own experience.
It was back in ’73 that Al Green got “the call.” Over the following few years he gave up what he calls his “million-dollar career,” began writing gospel songs, became a magnetically musical preacher, and bought a church in Memphis. For many years he never sang his secular hits, but for the movie Mugge prevailed upon Green to lead his female backup singers through a practice of the vocal harmonies to “Let’s Stay Together.” It’s a charming and enlightening scene that also, coincidentally, resonates with the recent documentary 20 Feet from Stardom.
The musical church service depicted is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Green seems indeed touched by something beyond normal human inspiration. Testifying and sermonizing in that unmistakable singing voice, he leaves you absolutely convinced of his complete sincerity, pounding the message home, wringing every ounce of emotion out of every word, all backed by his able band and backup singers. It’s an astounding and probably unprecedented fusion of religion and soul music.
During the interview Green shows another side of his musical self, accompanying himself on electric guitar as he sings a couple of numbers and demonstrating how he dreamed up a couple of his early hit songs and arrangements. He relates tales of his formative years and musical influences, his early touring life, even the infamous episode when a female companion threw a pot of boiling grits on him then killed herself. He explains how the gospel music he grew up with informed his pop music, and how later he incorporated the charisma and moves he’d developed for rock ‘n’ roll into his gospel music and preaching.
Besides the full audio interview, the extras include an interview with Mugge himself explaining how the movie came about, how he prevailed upon the media-shy singer to allow it to be made, and even how he chose the lighting for the interview.
For insight you’ll get nowhere else into one of the most interesting artists of his era, pick up Gospel According to Al Green, available now.