Saturday, May 28, 2016

50 years ago: Percy Sledge hit #1 with “When a Man Loves a Woman"

When a Man Loves a Woman

Percy Sledge

Writer(s): Cameron Lewis, Arthur Wright (see lyrics here)

First Charted: April 9, 1966

Peak: 12 US, 12 CB, 13 GR, 12 HR, 14 RB, 2 UK, 11 CN, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 7.0 radio, 121.5 video, 104.91 streaming

When a Man Loves a Woman

Michael Bolton

First Charted: August 31, 1991

Peak: 13 US, 12 CB, 13 GR, 13 RR, 14 AC, 8 UK, 4 CN, 100 AU, 10 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 7.0 radio, 195.5 video, 174.13 streaming

Awards (Sledge):

Awards (Bolton):

About the Song:

Percy Sledge was born in 1940 in Alabama. He had been an amateur boxer and was working as a hospital orderly when he got his music break. SS After his music teacher asked him to sing at a Christmas party, he resumed singing at local clubs as part of the Esquires Combo. SS One night, thanks to what Sledge called “a happy accident,” FB the song “When a Man Loves a Woman” was born.

The group was touring the South RS500 and Sledge was so distraught from a break-up that one night he couldn’t do the regular setlist. HL He asked bassist Cameron Lewis and organist Andrew Wright to improvise something to which he could sing along. SJ The descending riff created by the pair HL gave Sledge an outlet from which to pour out his soul HL over his “real-life romantic woes.” SS

Percy later polished up the song (originally called “Why Did You Leave Me”) SS and won over Quin Ivy, who was “one of the movers and shakers in the music industry in Alabama.” FB Ivy was a DJ who owned a record store and a recording studio. SS Percy recorded the song – his first recording ever – SS at Fame studios under producer Rick Hall, who would put Muscle Shoals, Alabama, on the map, establishing it as the world headquarters for deep soul music. PA

Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler was sent a copy. He called it “a holy love hymn” SS but wanted a new recording done at the expense of Atlantic TB because Sledge was off-key and the horn section was out of tune on the original. TB After much time and expense, a new version was created, but a mix-up led to Atlantic releasing the original version instead. TB

It didn’t matter. The “soulful to the max” KX song was a hit in any rendition. Sledge “works himself into such an ecstasy of passion that, until a full horn section jumps in at the last moment, it’s easy to forget that there’s anybody on earth except him, his girl, and you.” DM It was the song that put Muscle Shoals on the map. SS

Thanks to its use in a UK TV commercial for Levi’s,” HL the song recharted in England in 1987 at #2, besting its original #4 peak. In 1991, Michael Bolton topped the U.S. pop & AC charts and won a Grammy with his version. When Bolton’s version hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it marked only the seventh time in chart history that two different recording acts took the same song to the pinnacle.

Although this “titanic soul ballad” SS has generated millions in royalties, Percy has likely seen very little of it TB having given the writing credit to Lewis & Wright.


First posted 4/9/2013; last updated 4/5/2023.

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