Take Me to the River
|"Take Me to the River"|
|Song by Al Green|
|from the album Al Green Explores Your Mind|
|Released||October 2, 1974|
|Recorded||1974, Memphis, Tennessee|
|Songwriter(s)||Al Green, Mabon "Teenie" Hodges|
|Al Green Explores Your Mind track listing|
"Take Me to the River" is a 1974 song written by singer Al Green and guitarist Mabon "Teenie" Hodges. Hit versions were recorded by both Syl Johnson and Talking Heads. In 2004, Al Green's original version was ranked number 117 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Recording and composition
Al Green originally recorded the song for his 1974 album, Al Green Explores Your Mind, produced by Willie Mitchell and featuring musicians Charles, Leroy and Mabon Hodges (The Hodges Brothers), drummer Howard Grimes, and the Memphis Horns. Green and Mabon Hodges wrote the song while staying in a rented house at Lake Hamilton, Arkansas, for three days in 1973 in order to come up with new material. According to Mitchell, Green wrote the words and Green and Hodges wrote the tune together. Green dedicated his performance on the record to "...Little Junior Parker, a cousin of mine, he's gone on but we'd like to kinda carry on in his name.." According to one writer, "Green's song squares the singer's early religious convictions with more earthly interests", but when the singer became a pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in 1976, he dropped the song from his repertoire.
Writing in The Independent in 1994, Tim de Lisle wrote: "Musically, it was much like any other track sung by Green and produced by Willie Mitchell, the Southern-soul maestro who ran Hi Records, the Memphis Horns and the Memphis Strings: R'n'B with lashings of subtlety, a light, easy, late-night sound, in which the strings, the horns, the organ, the guitars and that wild-honey voice blend into a single swinging, winning thing. It doesn't sound like a band playing: it sounds like a lot of instruments humming."
Reception and legacy
Al Green also used the title Take Me to the River for his autobiography, published in 2000.
In 2004, Green's original recording was ranked number 117 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. The song was used as the title track of the award-winning 2008 compilation album Take Me to the River: A Southern Soul Story 1961–1977.
The song played prominent role in an episode of the HBO series The Sopranos in which a Big Mouth Billy Bass played a major role. It was also used in the 1993 movie Blood In Blood Out and also featured in the 1991 film The Commitments, sung on stage by the group of the same name.
Notable cover versions
The record company, Hi Records, did not release Green's track as a single, but instead passed the song to his labelmate, Syl Johnson. Johnson's recording of the song, featuring most of the same musicians as on Green's version, but with additional harmonica and a grittier vocal performance, reached #48 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1975, and #7 on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart.
In 2000, the tune was used in the popular animatronic singing toy "Big Mouth Billy Bass". The recording was arranged and produced for the toy's manufacturers, Gemmy Industries, by Al Thomas of Designer Music. According to Teenie Hodges, he made more money in royalties from that version than from any previous versions.
"Take Me to the River" has also been notably recorded and performed by other artists. Rock band Foghat recorded the song for their 1976 album Night Shift. Two years later, Levon Helm and Bryan Ferry re-recorded it separately for their own solo albums. Blues rock singer Delbert McClinton recorded the song for his 1980 album, The Jealous Kind. Disco singer Claudja Barry recorded the song for her 1981 album, Made in Hong Kong. Jazz singer Diane Schuur recorded the song for her 1985 album, Schuur Thing. Tina Turner recorded the song as the B-side track for her 1987 single "Break Every Rule." Tom Jones and Curtis Stigers performed the song live as a duet, the performance later included in the Australian edition's bonus disc of Jones' 1994 album, The Lead and How to Swing It. Annie Lennox recorded her version for her 1995 album, Medusa. Grateful Dead performed the song live four times during the 1995 tour, the first time on April first, at the Pyramid in Memphis (home of Rev Al Green, writer of this song. Eva Cassidy performed the song live at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C. venue on January 1996, later included in her live album, released before her death that same year. The Italian bluesman Zucchero Fornaciari sampled part of the melody for realizing his song Baila in the album Shake of 2001.
Phish performed the song three times in concert tours. The band performed it as a soundcheck track for the State Theatre concert in Minneapolis, Minnesota on April 9, 1993. The band re-performed it twice onstage, both incomplete: one as a medley with another song "David Bowie" at the Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on November 21, 1995, and another at Espace Julien (Marseille, France) on July 10, 1997.
Hootie & the Blowfish and a gospel choir performed it live at the sixth annual Billboard Music Awards (1995). The Dave Matthews Band performed the song live at Chicago's Soldier Field football stadium during the 1999 winter acoustic tour. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band performed the song alongside several other songs as part of the 20-minute live performance of "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" at the 1999 Detroit concert during the 1999–2000 Reunion Tour. At the 2014 Kennedy Center Honors, Sam Moore and Mavis Staples performed the song for honoree Al Green. Courtney Love recorded the song for the Empire episode, "Out, Damned Spot" (2015).
Talking Heads version
|"Take Me to the River"|
US vinyl release
|Single by Talking Heads|
|from the album More Songs About Buildings and Food|
|B-side||"Thank You for Sending Me an Angel"|
|Length||3:36 (Edited version)|
|Songwriter(s)||Al Green, Mabon "Teenie" Hodges|
|Producer(s)||Brian Eno, Talking Heads|
|Talking Heads singles chronology|
The band Talking Heads recorded the song for their second album More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978). Their version, recorded with co-producer Brian Eno in Nassau, Bahamas, was edited and released as a single, and reached # 26 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1979, as well as hitting the singles charts in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Thomas Ryan wrote of Talking Heads' version that it "broadsided the status quo by combining the best ingredients of conventional pop music and classic soul music, stirring them together, and then presenting the mix in the guise of punk rock."
In the liner notes for Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads, singer David Byrne writes: "Coincidence or conspiracy? There were at least four cover versions of this song out at the same time: Foghat, Bryan Ferry, Levon Helm, and us. More money for Mr Green's full gospel tabernacle church, I suppose. A song that combines teenage lust with baptism. Not equates, you understand, but throws them in the same stew, at least. A potent blend. All praise the mighty spurtin' Jesus." Live versions were included on Talking Heads' albums The Name of This Band is Talking Heads and Stop Making Sense. A live version was played at the end credits of the 1998 film A Civil Action.
|Australian Singles Chart||26|
|Canadian Singles Chart||34|
|New Zealand Singles Chart||20|
|US Billboard Hot 100||26|
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