The Meaning Behind Al Green’s Tragic “Tired of Being Alone”

Al Green knew a thing or two about love and heartache. The soul singer made a name for himself as one of the signature voices of R&B in the 1970s thanks to modern classics like “Let’s Stay Together,” “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” and “Love and Happiness.”

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All of the aforementioned songs were included on the crooner’s two albums released in 1972, Let’s Stay Together and I’m Still in Love with You, which became Green’s first two No. 1s on Billboard’s R&B albums tally. However, a year prior to hitting the top of the chart, the future reverend set the course for that professional triumph with his 1971 hit “Tired of Being Alone.”

The lovelorn song found a plaintive Green begging for his lady love to take him back as he wailed about his down-and-out luck in the romance department.

I’m so tired of being alone, I’m so tired of on my own
Won’t you help me girl, soon as you can?
I guess you know that I, I love you so
Even though you don’t want me no more

According to a report by Rolling Stone naming “Tired of Being Alone” one of the 500 greatest songs of all time, Green wrote the heartbroken hit in just 30 minutes in 1968, the morning after playing a show in Detroit. However, as Green remembers, it took him much longer than a half hour to eventually convince producer Willie Mitchell that the song was worth taking a look at, let alone recording. 

“I was toting my song around in my pocket for days on end, saying, ‘Hey, I got a song,’” he told Rolling Stone in 2004. “Finally, at the end of the session, I said, ‘Well I still got a song.’”

Thankfully, Green managed to persuade Mitchell the song had potential, and the duo laid down the track to be included on Green’s 1969 sophomore album, Green Is Blues. However, due to technical problems in the studio at the time, the song had to be shelved and re-recorded—ultimately becoming the primary single sent to radio off the 1971 LP Al Green Gets Next to You.

Green’s belief in “Tired of Being Alone” paid off by becoming his first Top 10 single on what is now Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (at No. 7); it also peaked just outside the Top 10 on the Hot 100. Two years after its release, the singer performed a special version of the track with Chicago for the rock act’s 1973 TV special, Chicago in the Rockies.

In a retrospective that re-aired the Chicago special decades later, Green explained the creative impetus of his early brokenhearted hit, saying in simple terms, “My lady would leave me all the time. And I was nobody, you know what I mean? So I wrote this song for her.”

By then an ordained minister who’d found success by pivoting into gospel music for much of the 1980s, Green explained that he wasn’t happy during much of his early success at the dawn of the ‘70s. “No, there’s a great, great, tremendous…” he said before trailing off. “You wouldn’t be able to imagine how much stress and how much mental anguish and emotional anguish there is inside.” 

Part of that anguish likely stemmed from Green’s tumultuous personal life during his rise to fame, ranging from a civil lawsuit filed by his then-secretary Linda Wills over back pay and claims he shoved her through a glass door, to the time he was held hostage at gunpoint by a cousin claiming he owed her money.

[RELATED: Top 10 Al Green Songs]

Then there’s the incident with the grits. Though Green never named the object of his affection in “Tired of Being Alone,” he made national headlines in October 1974 when his ex-girlfriend, Mary Woodson, “dumped a pan of scalding grits” on the singer as he was getting out of the bathtub and then promptly committed suicide in the adjoining room by shooting herself. 

Under the headline “Ex-Companion Scalds Singer, Then Kills Herself,” a report by The New York Times documenting the incident claimed a three-page suicide note addressed directly to Green was found in Woodson’s purse, and the singer was taken to the hospital to be treated for “second-degree burns on his back, arm, and stomach.”

Green claimed in a 2015 profile with Entertainment Weekly that the tragic ordeal not only left him in the hospital for months, but that it served as something of a wake-up call when he was released. Motivated by the tragedy, Green dedicated his career to making gospel music starting in 1980 with The Lord Will Make a Way, upon which time he also officially became a minister. 

“I think it was a catalyst that resulted in him turning from secular music to gospel music,” his autobiography collaborator Davin Seay told EW at the time, adding, “It does him an injustice to assume his religious conversion was a matter of convenience based on this traumatic experience, and he likes to distance the facts of his conversion from the terrible events of that night. But I think the Woodson incident kind of crystallized his need to move on, to sort of shut down one part of his life and open up another.” 

Photo by Tony Russell/Redferns

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