In Memory...

Published on April 16th, 2015 | by Andy Sedlak

Percy Sledge: More than just a single

Percy Sledge died. Talk about a punch in the gut.

That’s because “When a Man Loves a Woman” isn’t a song. It’s a moment. It has the power to filter out distractions and slow life down to a more meaningful pace. There’s no denying Spooner Oldham’s organ sets the mood perfectly and Roger Hawkins’ careful drumming evokes an unsure but steadfast feel. Plus, the horns are just right. It’s everything you think of when you consider the Muscle Shoals sound. And in spite of tremendously appropriate playing across the board, the song belongs to Sledge and the sincerity in his voice.

I guess when we lost Sledge this week, I felt as if we lost part of the song too.

I just felt bad. Like, really down. I found out on Twitter – the news essentially sandwiched between wiseass tweets from Adam Levine and Scott Van Pelt. I mean, that’s no way to find out. It felt cold. Almost literally – like a bucket of ice water down my back. It sucked.

I maintain that “When a Man Loves a Woman” is the sound of a man saying something and really meaning it. It’s the way you’d like to sound when you make up your mind to take a stand. It’s the way you’d like to sound when you’re fighting for your baby. Or for yourself.

And this ain’t “You Are So Beautiful.” Sledge sings about love and its warts.

When a man loves a woman, he can’t keep his mind on nothing else
He’ll trade the world for the good thing he’s found
If she is bad, he can’t see it
She can do no wrong
Turn his back on his best friend if he put her down

You could write a song a day for the next 150 years and not come up with something half as good as “When a Man Loves a Woman.” To think he passed on a co-writing credit. He let two of his bandmates put their names at the top of the sheet music instead. It’s an amazing blunder. But make no mistake, Sledge wrote the bulk of the song.

Sledge may be best known for “When a Man Loves a Woman,” but don’t be tempted to enshrine him in the Vanilla Ice Club. He wasn’t a one-hit wonder. He had a near-decade run of success that included the swaying “It Tears Me Up” and “Warm and Tender Love.” The latter grows on you with each listen. Try it a few times. Pretty soon you’ll be humming it at work.

My favorite Sledge song aside from “When a Man Loves a Woman” is “Take Time to Know Her.” I always thought it sounded like the type of song the Everly Brothers would record. Sledge – at his most demoralized – misjudges a girl and everyone can see the mistake but him. He gets warning after warning. Mama warns him, his preacher warns him. The woman ends up cheating on him and he can’t do anything but reflect.

When it looked like everything was gonna turn out all right
And then I came home a little early one night
And there she was kissin’ on another man
Now I know what mama meant when she took me by the hand
And said son, “Take time to know her”

Sledge didn’t look like most rock stars. He was portly and gap-toothed. He sang with his whole body. He wasn’t a reclusive, self-absorbed rock star. In fact there’s a word that people threw around to describe him: gentleman.

He had been married to the same woman since the early 80s. He had 12 children.

“When a Man Loves a Woman” lost its chart-topper status when it was succeeded by the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black.” It was a prolific time in music. But the power in Sledge’s voice lives on. It’s that power that proves Sledge’s intentions are good in the song. It’s his way of telling us he’s giving it his best shot. And, like Sledge, we believe it’ll be worth it in the end.

Percy Sledge was 74 years old. He died of liver cancer.

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About the Author

Andy Sedlak is a former television reporter who lives in Dayton, OH. He grew up in a household that pumped Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel every weekend. He instantly became a new man when he discovered Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” in junior high.

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