I’ve been roaming this earth for 53 years and I’ve seen them come and go. I’ve seen the perfect ones together. I’ve seen the the not so perfect ones manage to make something out of seemingly nothing. And then there are the ones that this distant observer really remembers. These are the ones who fit the stereotype-the begging man and the cruel woman who drags him through the mud in every way imaginable. It’s when I’ve witnessed those cruel relationships while reeling within the sphere of my own longings that the thought of a song from 1966 called “When A Man Loves A Woman” by Percy Sledge came entering the forefront of my mind.
You see, people. It doesn’t really matter if some artists are never recalled beyond one song of theirs or not (even if they managed to make some damn fine other records like Sledge did). What really matters is that one set a bar so high that other people had to measure themselves up against that song so that they could be better artists themselves. Others have said this very same thing, but it’s true. “When A Man Loves A Woman” really did that. The song sent a message to every Soul artist in this land that you had to dig deep down into some genuine emotional history of your own in order to pull off a song with this kind of emotional weight. The song made this so plainly obvious.
Honestly, I can respect that somebody like Steve Van Zandt of The E-Street Band got Percy Sledge to sing this song at his own wedding back in the early ’80s. I’m sure he knew and still knows every angle about the song itself and how it placed itself within the context of his own life and observations. But I can tell you, with the exception of a knowing Soul loving musician like Van Zandt, did very many people who got married to this tune at their weddings really understand what this song was really all about? The hurt, the pain, the knowing endurance one guy would put himself through just for the love of a woman with no heart? Why would one choose to play a song like this in front of the woman they thought was their perfect love?
“When A Man Loves A Woman” is so important to me because it explained to me in a language that only my intuition could make so much more clear than with spoken words. Within the confines of my utter profound confusion over why some guy was putting himself through these things, I would be reminded of what I was putting myself through in all of those crushes I had on women that never had a chance of getting off the ground. There were some where they knew I loved them and they wouldn’t even let me near them.
And so, not only were the people whom I observed the fools, but so was I. And sometimes, one’s intuition can describe a feeling better than a word even though I use the word as a reference point. Thank you so much, Percy. You made it so much more clear. We have lost yet another great Soul artist from the ’60s. You were so much more than one song and you helped to make Muscle Shoals and Atlantic Records the names they deserved to be along with your fellow label-mates.