We’re not angry to hear Percy Sledge passed away. Sad for sure — he was a warm, gentle, humble man a few of us at Trunkworthy had the pleasure of knowing — but not angry. What we’re angry about is how he’ll be remembered: A one hit wonder, forever tied to the first single he ever cut and its overwhelming and enduring success.
Over the years, “When A Man Loves A Woman” became such a defining song for Percy that it virtually erased everything he did afterward. There were other hits for sure, many of them just as timelessly and achingly gorgeous, but you won’t hear them on soundtracks, they don’t get played on the radio, and they don’t even have a home on the “expertly compiled” classic soul playlists served up whenever you log on to your music service of choice. That means an epic song like “True Love Travels On A Gravel Road,” (which has subsequently been covered/co-opted by Elvis Presley, The Afghan Whigs, Nick Lowe and Outlaw Country supergroup, The Highwaymen), is rendered invisible, wiped clean from the canon of Southern Soul’s king of heartbreak. In fact, this song — and the majority of Percy’s recorded output — isn’t even available on any of the major digital music services.
This obviously isn’t a new problem, but it’s one that’s only gotten worse in recent years when nearly everything that’s ever been available is competing for your attention on equal footing. Now, artists who built their legends on consistently deep album-length statements have seen their legacies reduced to a handful of their greatest hits (see: Earth, Wind & Fire) and artists like Percy, who managed to have a decent run of consistently great hit singles have been reduced to a single one. And, of course, this curse naturally extends to the warm and tender albums Percy cut in recent years, that put his fully-intact voice back in that country-soul pocket it always belonged.
Anyone curious enough to even listen two tracks deep to one of the countless Best Of Percy Sledge collections knows better, of course. So we’re begging you to take a few minutes, dim the lights, and give his other songs a shot. This is lonely, heartbreaking stuff, overflowing with a hurt and humanity that poured out of Percy like nobody else. These are songs that are more country than soul, but certainly nothing if not soulful. And they deserve to be heard. To be loved. And to extend the great Percy Sledge’s legacy beyond the two minutes and fifty-two seconds dominated by “When A Man Loves A Woman.”