Percy Sledge

When a Man Loves a Woman

Composed by Calvin Houston Lewis / Percy Sledge / Andrew Wright

Song Review by

Heartbreak was the direct impetus for Percy Sledge's immortal 1966 soul smash "When a Man Loves a Woman" -- or at least that's the way Sledge steadfastly tells the story. He was working as one of the lead singers with a combo known as the Esquires, who played bars and frat parties in the region around Sledge's Sheffield, AL, hometown (not to be confused with the Milwaukee vocal group of the same moniker who hit with "Get on Up" in 1967). One night, thoroughly broken up about losing his girlfriend, he blurted out something on mic to the effect of "Why did you leave me, baby?" Quin Ivy, co-owner of the local Quinvy Studio, dug what he heard that evening and prescribed a lyrical polish. On February 17, 1966, with a coterie of Muscle Shoals' finest young sessioneers in tow (including drummer Roger Hawkins, organist Spooner Oldham, and Marlin Greene on guitar [Greene doubled as co-producer with Ivy]), a reworked "When a Man Loves a Woman" was officially committed to posterity. Sledge's spine-chilling cries resonated throughout the supercharged ballad over a surging and quite unusual chord progression that would later be recycled as the basic groundwork for Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale" the next year (writers' credits for Sledge's classic somehow ended up assigned to two of the Esquires, bassist Calvin Lewis and organist Andrew "Pop" Wright). A slightly out-of-tune three-piece horn section was added to the tape by its producers, but Atlantic Records boss Jerry Wexler convinced Ivy to recut the horns prior to Atlantic's release of Sledge's debut single. When the song hit the streets it turned out Atlantic had issued the original take, complete with the ragged-but-right horn section -- in retrospect, a good move. "When a Man Loves a Woman" launched Sledge as a star, topping both the pop and R&B charts and going gold in the spring of 1966, and remaining a staple of every oldies station's programming. Even if Michael Bolton subsequently laid waste to it many years down the road with a preposterously unsubtle cover, Sledge's original is a true cornerstone of 1960s Southern soul tradition.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
This Is Soul [Atlantic] 1968
Various Artists
Atlantic / Rhino 2:57
The Best of Percy Sledge 1969 Atlantic 2:51
Atlantic 60th: Soul, Sweat and Strut 2007
Various Artists
Atlantic / Rhino 2:58
Only in America: Atlantic Soul Classics 2009
Various Artists
Atlantic / Rhino / Rhino Atlantic 2:57
No Image 2009
Various Artists
Rhino / Warner Music 2:57
Atlantic Soul Legends : 20 Original Albums From the Iconic Atlantic Label 2012
Various Artists
Rhino / Warner Bros. 2:54
Love Songs: The Collection 2015
Various Artists
Rhino / Warner Music 2:51
Car-aoke: The Collection
Various Artists
Rhino / Warner Music 2:57
Sixties [Rhino]
Various Artists
Rhino 2:51
Top Hits/Ballads & Love Songs 60's & 70's
Various Artists
Warner Bros. / Warner Music 2:51