Something Old, Something New: Luther Ingram – ‘(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right’

Something Old, Something New is purely a selfish way for me to write about music that I love. Some of it will be the music I heard my parents playing when I was growing up and some of it will be music I discovered on my own but all of it will be music that I need to write about; if only for me to better understand the music and how it makes my own world make sense.

Soul music has always seemed to me the music that people need when they’ve been sufficiently beaten down by the world, and just need something that can put them back together again. Country music is where you go to put your feelings into words and soul music is where you go to soften those words and wounds.

It also has an uncanny ability to talk about the hard stuff; the feelings we are ashamed of; the things we shouldn’t have done; the parts of ourselves we hide in the shadows, but in such a way, that doesn’t make you feel sad or depressive. It lifts you out of the darkness and allows you to feel it all fully. Whether it is the instrumentation or the melody or just the soulfulness of the singer, you always, always feel lighter and more together than you were when you put the record on.

‘(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right’ is one of those songs that put you back together. You would know it anywhere, from the opening bars, to the words to the emotion wrung out at the end of each line, you just know it. You may have only heard the name or a few lines but it has become a staple siren song about forbidden love.

The song was originally written for The Emotions by Homer Banks, Carl Hampton and Raymond Jackson but to say it was made famous by Luther Ingram downplays his impact on the song both vocally and bringing his own arrangement to the song.

Ingram took the tape and worked out a more mournful arrangement with a Gospel feel. He recorded the song at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama, utilizing a Wurlitzer piano with an Echoplex unit, and also a Hammond Organ. The song came into its own in the summer of 1972.

The tension throughout the song is palpable. The electric guitar interspersed with the organ and piano; Ingram’s vocals full of restraint but which dance on a knife edge, dangerously close to letting loose but each time, Ingram pulls himself back. ‘(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to be Right’ builds and builds throughout the verses and choruses, but always leaves you with that tension, that push and pull of emotion, of doing what is right against doing what feels right.

“Are you wrong to give your love/ To a married man/ And am I wrong trying to hold on/ To the best thing I ever had.”

Michelle Norris of NPR, and Deanie Parker who worked for Stax Records at the time of the recording, say of the song now, “I think it was a staple of a slow dance… Under the black light.”

In the song, there is no subterfuge, no hiding behind metaphors, and this honesty is brought all the more to the forefront by Ingram’s careful enunciation of every word, every line. It is clear how he feels, no matter how torn.

“I don’t wanna be right/ If it means being without you/ I don’t wanna be right/ If it means sleeping at night/ I don’t wanna be right/ If loving you is wrong.”

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