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Published:Thursday | April 23, 2015 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Percy Sledge

His legacy lives on

'When a man loves a woman,

can't keep his mind on nothin' else.

He'd trade the world for the good thing he's found.

If she's bad he can't see it, she can do no wrong.

And turn his back on his best friend if he puts her down.

When a man loves a woman, spends his very last dime

in trying to hold on to what he needs.

He'd give up all his comforts and sleep out in the rain

if she says that's the way it ought to be.

When a man loves a woman, deep down in his soul

she can bring him such misery.

If she's playing him for a fool, he's the last one to know,

loving eyes can never see.

Yes, when a man loves a woman, I know exactly how he feels'.

The staggering love lyrics of the song, When a Man Loves a Woman, perhaps the most sentimental tear-jerker in the history of R&B soul music, and voted by many scholars as the most popular soul recordings of the 1960s. To this day, the song has not lost any of its originality, appeal, and sentimental allurement, and remains as contemporary as it did nearly half a century ago.

The voice behind the song belongs to the late, great Percy Sledge, who died from liver cancer at his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States, on April 14, approximately seven months short of his 75th birthday.

Sledge brought a new dimension to soul music, by incorporating the elements of country and gospel music into his songs, together with the introduction of the famous and distinctive organ background, played by Spooner Oldem, on an innovative organ. These characteristics ran throughout nearly all his recordings which, for the most part, were intensely tearful soul ballads, having a pleading, passionate style. Take Time to Know Her - a number 11 pop and a number six R&B hit, was his second biggest hit, while his follow-up 1966 hits, It Tears Me Up, by Dan Penn and Linden Oldham, and Warm and Tender Love by Bobby Robinson, were top-20 hits using the same formula.

When a Man Loves a Woman, however, remains his signature recording. It literally shot him to international prominence almost overnight. Recorded in February 1966, and released in April of that same year, it hit number one on both Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B singles chart, achieved million-selling status and was awarded a certified gold disc. It became the first gold record released by Atlantic Records.

Sledge earlier worked in the fields in a series of agricultural jobs in Leighton, before working full time as an orderly at an Alabama Hospital. History has it that it was in one of those cotton fields that Sledge began humming a melody that would become the song of his life, but he was never to be given the songwriting credits. Andrew Wright, a member of 'The Esquires', a Sheffield, Alabama band, fronted by Sledge, claimed that the riff came to him while practising for a Friday night gig, and he asked another member, Calvin Lewis, to put some words to it. The song was auditioned for local businessman and radio DJ, Quinn Ivy, and forwarded for distribution through Atlantic Recording Company. Sledge, however, claimed that the song's inspiration came to him, when his girlfriend left him for a modelling career, and because bassist Calvin Lewis and organist Andrew Wright helped him with the song, he gave the songwriting credit to them.

The many cover versions (no less than a dozen) that the recording attracted bears testimony to its appeal. Listed 53rd in Rolling Stones 500 greatest songs of all times, When a Man Loves a Woman, enjoyed a revival when it entered the United Kingdom, charts in the late 1980s, after its use in a Levi's commercial, while Michael Bolton's 1991 version hit number one on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart.