Percy Sledge is one of those rare artists who secured their pension pot with their debut single as When a Man Loves a Woman must be played on the radio somewhere in the world every second of the day.
Sledge, who died today, is not unusual in the soul world for having one classic single that enabled him to tour the world – he was especially popular in Africa and Europe – but what a vocal performance it was, inspired by a girlfriend who left him and he couldn’t afford to go after her.
It is ironic a song partly about infidelity is one that is so often the first dance at weddings, but it is a mark of the yearning desire that he breathed into the song that it has become a classic.
Sledge always said he had the melody in his head as he’d sung it in the cotton fields where be once worked which bounced back off the trees surrounding his grim workplace. He also managed to sign way the rights the rights away as ‘didn’t know any better.’
It was the first US number one single recorded at Alabama’s legendary Muscle Shoals studios where Aretha made many of her signature songs. It also reached number two in the UK in 1987 on the back of a Levis TV ad giving this much underrated singer a new lease of life. It is a testament to the superb melody he came up – brought to life by his glorious, sweet voice – that the song even managed to survive an almighty mangling by Michael Bolton that was also a US number one.
He may be famous for a record Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler called ‘a holy love hymn’, but Sledge was no one hit wonder hitting the charts with Warm and Tender, It Tears Me Up and Take Time to Know Here.
Yes, he is most famous for one song, but his peers knew how good he was inducting him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, and you have to be good to get into that august group of great artists.