One-Hit Wonders / Second-Best Songs: Percy Sledge And 'When A Man Loves A Woman' For our series One-Hit Wonders/Second-Best Songs, NPR Music Senior Director Lauren Onkey recommends "Out of Left Field" by Percy Sledge. He's known mostly for his 1966 hit, "When a Man Loves a Woman."
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Synonymous With Soul, Percy Sledge Transcended The Muscle Shoals Sound

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Synonymous With Soul, Percy Sledge Transcended The Muscle Shoals Sound

Synonymous With Soul, Percy Sledge Transcended The Muscle Shoals Sound

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In 1966, this song was a monster No. 1 hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN")

PERCY SLEDGE: (Singing) When a man loves a woman, can't keep his mind on nothing else. He'd change the world for a good thing he's found...

GREENE: That is Percy Sledge. "When A Man Loves A Woman" is now synonymous with the soul sound that came out of Muscle Shoals, Ala. Now, strangely, he never hit the Top 10 on the U.S. pop charts after that. How is it that this man who now sits in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame could only score one big hit? Well, we asked someone who worked at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for seven years. She is now the senior director of NPR Music, Lauren Onkey. Percy Sledge is the artist she chose for our series One-Hit Wonders/Second-Best Songs.

LAUREN ONKEY, BYLINE: "When A Man Loves A Woman" was Percy Sledge's first song that he recorded. So he comes out of the gate with this massive hit. It's the first No. 1 out of the whole Muscle Shoals sound and, of course, has this long second life in films like "The Big Chill" and "The Crying Game." Percy Sledge continues to record and has a number of hits - nothing as big as "When A Man Loves A Woman." So it's not like he fails. It's that - I suppose he comes back down to size from such a massive hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT OF LEFT FIELD")

SLEDGE: (Singing) When least expected...

ONKEY: I chose Percy Sledge's "Out Of Left Field," which he recorded in the spring of 1967, about a year after "When A Man Loves A Woman." The song is about falling in love and having that first electric moment where that chemical lightning bolt comes out of left field and you just fall for somebody. And it has that wonder in it in Percy Sledge's vocal. I think it's a great, great illustration of what a strong singer he was.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT OF LEFT FIELD")

SLEDGE: (Singing) I needed someone to call my own. Suddenly, out of left field...

ONKEY: His voice and the words just match beautifully about being so in love and so lost in that love.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT OF LEFT FIELD")

SLEDGE: (Singing) Love came along...

ONKEY: The song has tremendous patience, too - in the groove, the way it builds. And Sledge just nails it. You hear a little country in his voice, too. So it's a perfect Percy Sledge track.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT OF LEFT FIELD")

SLEDGE: (Singing) Sugar and peaches in a paradise land, yeah. Good love and sweetness have taken their stand...

ONKEY: I think the scale of "When A Man Loves A Woman" is just - it just shadows him. But there's a whole mountain of recordings that we've missed because that song is so great. And that's the only one that gets circulated.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT OF LEFT FIELD")

SLEDGE: (Singing) Suddenly, out of left field...

GREENE: That was NPR Music senior director Lauren Onkey. "Out Of Left Field" by Percy Sledge is her pick for our series One-Hit Wonders/Second-Best Songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT OF LEFT FIELD")

SLEDGE: (Singing) When least expected, fate stumbles...

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