Friday 6 November 2020

Take Me To The River


Cover version of the month #61
Talking Heads cover Al Green

Written by Al Green with his guitarist Mabon Hodges in 1973, then released on the album Al Green Explores Your Mind in 1974, Take Me To The River is a song that I probably first came across as a 15-year old when it featured in the film The Commitments. I must check if that is on Netflix! (UPDATE - it's not but it is on Amazon Prime).

Rather surprisingly, considering the way the song has become so well known, Green's version was never released as a single. However, his label mate Syl Johnson released it in 1975, using the same producer and musicians.

Johnson's version is very true to the original, with the addition of harmonica. It's his vocals that are just slightly different and I'd never, ever heard it until researching this blog. The vocals are rawer, I love how Johnson just goes for it a little more than Green. 

In the original, Green starts with a dedication to his cousin, before launching into the song, his voice sounds effortless as he sings of love and lust before being cleansed in the river. His yelp at 2 minutes 53 seconds is spine tingling.

Love is an ocean that I can't forget

Talking Heads released their cover version in 1978 on their second album More Songs About Buildings and Food. By then Johnson, Levon Helme and Bryan Ferry had also recorded versions. This was a song that captivated people!

Talking Heads stretch the original, which was 3 minutes 45 seconds, to a little over 5 minutes. They really hone in on the groove, Tina Weymouth's bass underpins everything, David Byrne strains and plays with his vocal. The band keep it all under control, in the groove, at times they threaten to take off (most notably very near the end), but they just keep it going in that groove, lost in it.

But check out their live versions! The song features on the albums The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads and Stop Making Sense. The addition of backing vocals, the shredding of an electric guitar and an enhanced beat move the groove and the pace of the song up a notch or two. Byrne goes for it with his vocals, especially the hug me, squeeze me, love me, tease me section.

The band drop it down to the bass groove and backing vocals and it is absolutely mesmerising, then the rest of the band kick in with Byrne really pushing things. It's a stunning version, beautifully captured. The sound of a band having fun and in full flight.

Search for Everything Flows cool cover versions on Spotify for a playlist of the covers I have blogged about and read on for a full list and links to previous cover of the month blogs. I've added the studio and live versions by Talking Heads, as well as the Syl Johnson and Levon Helme versions.

Previous covers of the month

13. Hurt

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