Take Me to the River

"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.[1]

"Take Me to the River"
Song by Al Green
from the album Al Green Explores Your Mind
ReleasedOctober 2, 1974
Recorded1974, Memphis, Tennessee
Songwriter(s)Al Green, Mabon "Teenie" Hodges
Producer(s)Willie Mitchell
Al Green Explores Your Mind track listing
  1. "Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)"
  2. "Take Me to the River"
  3. "God Blessed Our Love"
  4. "The City"
  5. "One Nite Stand"
  6. "I'm Hooked on You"
  7. "Stay with Me Forever"
  8. "Hangin' On"
  9. "School Days"

Recording and compositionEdit

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.[2] 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.[1] According to Mitchell, Green wrote the words and Green and Hodges wrote the tune together.[3] 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.."[4] 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.[5]

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."[3]

Reception and legacyEdit

Al Green also used the title Take Me to the River for his autobiography, published in 2000.[6]

In 2004, Green's original recording was ranked number 117 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.[1] 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.[7][8]

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.[citation needed]

Notable cover versionsEdit

U.S. vinyl single of the Syl Johnson version

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, also produced by Willie Mitchell and featuring most of the same musicians as on Green's version, but with additional harmonica and a grittier vocal performance,[3] reached #48 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1975, and #7 on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart.[9][10]

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,[11] by Al Thomas of Designer Music.[citation needed] According to Teenie Hodges, he made more money in royalties from that version than from any previous versions.[12]

"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.[3] Two years later, Levon Helm and Bryan Ferry re-recorded it separately for their own solo albums.[3]

Hootie & the Blowfish and a gospel choir backed Al Green live at the sixth annual Billboard Music Awards (1995).[13] The Dave Matthews Band performed the song live at Chicago's Soldier Field football stadium during the 1999 winter acoustic tour.[14]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.[15][16] Courtney Love recorded the song for the Empire episode, "Out, Damned Spot" (2015).[17][18]

Talking Heads versionEdit

"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"
GenreNew wave[19]
Length3:36 (Edited version)[20]
Sire 1032
Songwriter(s)Al Green, Mabon "Teenie" Hodges
Producer(s)Brian Eno, Talking Heads
Talking Heads singles chronology
"Pulled Up"
"Take Me to the River"
"Life During Wartime"

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,[3][9] 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."[21]

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.[3] A live version was played at the end credits of the 1998 film A Civil Action.


Chart (1978–79) Peak
Australian Singles Chart[22] 26
Canadian Singles Chart[23] 34
New Zealand Singles Chart[24] 20
US Billboard Hot 100[25] 26


  1. ^ a b c "News". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  2. ^ AllMusic Review by Jason Elias. "Explores Your Mind - Al Green | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Article by Tim de Lisle, The Independent, 6 February 1994
  4. ^ Article by Paul Williams, Crawdaddy! magazine Archived July 17, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Article in The Independent on "Take Me to the River", 31 January 2003
  6. ^ "CBSi". FindArticles.com. Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  7. ^ Steve Leggett (2008-10-14). "Take Me to the River: A Southern Soul Story 1961–1977 - Various Artists | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  8. ^ "Latest Big Music News, Features & Stories | MOJO". Mojo4music.com. Archived from the original on 2012-04-03. Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  9. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955–2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
  10. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. ISBN 0-89820-115-2.
  11. ^ "Big Mouth Billy Bass-15th Anniversary Edition". Gemmy.com. Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  12. ^ Phillips, Bianca. "50 years of rock-and-roll | Cover Feature | Memphis News and Events". Memphis Flyer. Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  13. ^ "Top Acts Shine at Billboard's Blast". Billboard. December 23, 1995. Retrieved November 11, 2016 – via Google Books.
  14. ^ Martell, Nevin (2004). "The Lillywhite Sessions". Dave Matthews Band: Music for the People (Revised trade paperback ed.). Pocket Books. p. 135. ISBN 0-7434-9382-6. Retrieved November 11, 2016 – via Google Books.
  15. ^ Marsh, Dave (2004). "The Price of the Ticket". Bruce Springsteen: Two Hearts – The Definitive Biography, 1972–2003. Routledge. p. 506. Retrieved November 11, 2016 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ Werner, Craig (2006) [1998]. "'Holler If Ya Hear Me'". A Change Is Gonna Come: Music, Race & the Soul of America. University of Michigan Press. p. 350. Retrieved November 11, 2016 – via Google Books.
  17. ^ Spanos, Brittany (February 10, 2015). "Courtney Love Channels Al Green for 'Take Me to the River' Cover". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  18. ^ Sheffield, Rob (February 26, 2015). "Why Fox's 'Empire' Is Unstoppable". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  19. ^ "Playlist: 10 best new wave singles of 1978". The Independent. 7 June 2018.
  20. ^ "Talking Heads - Take Me To The River". Discogs.com. 2016-10-06. Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  21. ^ ""Take Me To The River" - Talking Heads". Superseventies.com. Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  22. ^ "Discography Talking Heads". Australian-charts.com. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  23. ^ "Talking Heads Top Singles positions". RPM. Archived from the original on 21 September 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  24. ^ "Talking Heads — Take Me to the River". charts.nz. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  25. ^ "Talking Heads Album & Song Chart History". Billboard. Retrieved 13 August 2011.

External linksEdit