obama*The moment I saw President Obama on the evening news singing Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” from his campaign podium at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, I figured  his “impromptu” performance (backstage, he’d told aides that he was going to do it) would spark sales of  the soul classic.

Sure enough, later that week it was reported that downloads of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” increased by almost 500 percent.

Obama’s antics  briefly cast Green, in the Apollo audience that night,  in a different kind of national spotlight.   However, by singing  Al’s  song, Obama scored a hit of his own–and not simply because his version has since become a popular ring tone.

Rather, after playing chess with an ever ailing economy,  wrestling with a truculent Congress and  pushing the GO button on top secret Navy Seal operations–not to mention dodging stones thrown  by  would-be Republican  presidential nominees–Obama  very much needed  the  levity supplied by publicly  singing a song, especially “Let’s Stay Together.”  The tune  possesses an enchanting power all its own.

It’s true.  When Tina Turner covered the song  in 1983, it rekindled a career that hadn’t  seen much chart action in America since her Ike and Tina days.  The success of her  “Let’s Stay Together” cover opened the door to her superstardom.

It was Green who originally released  the tune in  1971;  co-wrote it with his producer, Willie Mitchell and famed Stax drummer Al Jackson, Jr.   And yet the song rescued  Green, too.  Before  he  cut  it,  the singer had  released   three albums to minor success. “Let’s Stay Together” wasn’t merely his breakout hit; it was what show business  terms  a smash, reaching  number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, on which the record stayed for 16 weeks.  Today, Green’s impassioned  reading of “Let’s Stay Together”  is one of those performances  that  epitomizes modern soul.

The generational,  global appeal of “Let’s Stay Together” lies in its very title.  Indeed, if Etta James’ “At Last” is the ultimate wedding song,  then “Let’s Stay Together” is the  foremost anthem of kiss-and-make up.

Lyrically, those first two lines, particularly the second, are everything: “I’m so in love with you/WHATEVER YOU WANT TO DO, IS ALL RIGHT WITH ME.” There it is, right there.  This is a song about love, to be sure, but “Let’s Stay Together” is really about what often ends up as one of the great challenges in a loving relationship: reconciliation.  Compromise.

The rest of the tune is spent  reaffirming said love and making a case for keeping the relationship together.

Seal can relate.  He’s the latest performer to  record “Let’s Stay Together.” There is no irony. Recently separated from supermodel Heidi Klum–her choice, according to him–Seal is out there singing for his life.

And in another way altogether,  so is Obama.

Imagine: a heartbroken pop star and a wily, enterprising Commander in Chief,  both, for very different reasons, calling on the same dynamic, curative magic of one of the greatest soul songs of all time, both men hoping to prevail, “whether times are good or bad, happy or sad.”

Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love  (Simon & Schuster),  has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]

Steven Ivory

Steven Ivory