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A Great Love Song Turns 40


True story: Man meets woman, man falls in love with woman; woman meets another man; man writes one of the greatest love songs of all time. As VOA's Doug Levine tells us, that man is singer Percy Sledge.

Percy Sledge was 25 years old and singing with The Esquires when he remembered meeting the woman of his dreams. It was love at first sight, but it ended badly. To help him deal with the memory of his broken heart, Percy improvised a stirring soul ballad that would forever change his life.

"That song came directly from me, because when I put that song together at first, it was called 'Why Did You Leave Me Baby,' " he explains. "And then I changed the lyrics to 'When A Man Loves A Woman,' but kept the melody. It was about a girl that I was so in love with when I was in high school, but she was in a higher grade than me, and she wouldn't date me. So I finally met her two years later on a blind date. And we started dating each other until my best friend told me she had left me for another guy, and I got onstage with The Esquires one night, and just started wailing 'Why Did You Leave Me Baby' in the same melody as 'When A Man Loves A Woman.'

"Quin Ivy just happened to be at the studio, my producer," continues Sledge. "He was a disc jockey there in Sheffield, Alabama, and he liked the melody. He asked me if I'd go write some lyrics, and thought I would have a great record. So I went home for a couple of weeks, and I came back, and he asked me, 'Percy, have you got the lyrics for 'Why Did You Leave Me Baby?' And I said, 'No, I told you Quin that I was singing this song about a girl that I was so crazy about by the name of Liz.' And I said, 'You know how it is when a man loves a woman.' And he said, 'That's it!'"

The song earned Percy Sledge instant recognition, a part of show business the former field worker took some time getting used to.

"My whole life turned completely around. I never changed as far as a person, but my lifestyle and everything was completely changed," he says. "Living the type of life that I had been living, and then having to live the life with spotlights all over the world. See, I was a country boy. I was raised in a small town called Leighton, Alabama, and I had never really seen any parts of the world."

"When A Man Loves A Woman" debuted on April 30, 1966, and went to Number One on both the pop and R&B charts. Percy Sledge was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.