Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Take Me to the River

First recorded by Al Green (1974).
Hit versions by Syl Johnson (US #48/R&B #7 1975), Talking Heads (US #26 1979).
Also recorded by Foghat (1976), Levon Helm (1978), Brian Ferry (1978).

From the wiki: “‘Take Me to the River’ was written by singer Al Green and guitarist Mabon ‘Teenie’ Hodges, and first recorded by Green in 1974 for the album Al Green Explores Your Mind. Although not released from the album as a promotional single, Green’s original recording was ranked #117 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

“According to producer Willie Mitchell, 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. 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 critic, ‘Green’s song squares the singer’s early religious convictions with more earthly interests,’ but when Green became a pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in 1976, the singer dropped the song from his repertoire.

“Green’s record company, Hi Records, did not release the 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 a grittier vocal performance, charted in the Billboard Hot 100 and also became a Top 10 R&B chart hit.

“The band Talking Heads recorded ‘Take Me to the River’ for their second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food. Recorded with co-producer Brian Eno in Nassau, Bahamas, it was edited and released as a promotional single in late 1978, and reached #26 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in early 1979. In the liner notes for Once in a Lifetime: The Best of Talking Heads, singer David Byrne wrote: ‘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.'”

Syl Johnson, “Take Me to the River” (1975):

Foghat, “Take Me to the River” (1976):

Levon Helm, “Take Me to the River” (1978):

Brian Ferry, “Take Me to the River” (1978):

Talking Heads, “Take Me to the River” (1978):

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