Album: Al Green Explores Your Mind.
In a weird bit of irony, what is probably Al Green’s best-known song (give or take a “Let’s Stay Together”) was never released as a single.Maybe because the lyrical conflation of a troubled love affair and spiritual redemption was not as straightforward as most of his great singles.
But obviously Al knew it was a major song, because it was covered almost instantly by several artists, including Foghat. Foghat! While Foghat were one of my mid-70s jams, and the album it was on – Night Shift – was in my life, probably via Craig, the hard-loving-dude who lived across the street from me, I have no memories if their version whatsoever.
Like most white teenagers of the 1970s, I became aware of the song after Talking Heads flattened it out, slowed it down and weirded it up while somehow also scoring a top 30 hit in the process, and didn’t even bother scaring up Al’s version for years.
Which is on me, as he was one of the major soul artists from my youth whose singles didn’t resonate at the time – unlike Stevie Wonder and War, who always killed me – so I really didn’t start exploring his catalog at all until the ‘90s.
At which point, his original version of “Take Me to The River” jumped out at me as the great song it had always been.
But check out this amazing live version – from “Soul Train” in 1975, that builds from the original song into a polyrhythmic workout that may also have influenced David Byrne …
“Take Me to The River” performed live on Soul Train, 1975
My Certain Songs Playlist on Spotify