That guitar intro and tone hooked me into this song. Gray said in an interview that the song’s hook of “Gimme the beat boys and free my soul” has been misheard and incorrectly sung as “Gimme the Beach Boys,” “Gimme the wheat boys” (proposed for a cereal commercial), “Gimme the peat moss,” and “Gimme the meatballs.”
The song was recorded at Quad Studio in Nashville. Drift Away was written by producer/songwriter Mentor Williams in 1973. Mentor is the brother of Paul Williams.
The Rolling Stones recorded a version of Drift Away for their “It’s Only Rock and Roll” album in November of 1973 but it didn’t make the album and has never been released except on bootlegs.
Drift Away peaked at #5 in the Billboard 100 in 1973.
This was originally sung by John Henry Kurtz, an actor whose 1972 Reunion album also featured Kenny Loggins and a cover of Loggins’ “Danny’s Song.”
Virtuoso guitarist and session man Reggie Young Jr. played on this track, which is known for its distinctive intro. His son, Reggie Young III, told us that his father had to re-learn the signature guitar lines for a live radio broadcast around 1993, when Lonnie Mack did a special out of Nashville and invited several people to perform as guests. Said Young, “Dobie Gray asked my father to join him in playing ‘Drift Away’ live. This was the first time since 1973 that they had played the song together. In the ’80s my father was showing another guitar player how to play the intro to ‘Drift Away,’ but the other guy said he thought that my father was playing it wrong. In fact he was playing in the wrong key. Also, when this was re-recorded in 1997 for Gray’s CD Diamond Cuts, he declined, as he didn’t think he could do it any better than he did on the original.”
In 2002, Gray recorded this as a duet with Uncle Kracker. When this track reached the Billboard top 10 in 2003, 30 years later, Gray broke the record for the biggest gap between top US top 10 appearances.
His record of 30 years, two months and one week was broken in 2018 by Andy Williams. The late crooner had a gap of 47 years, eight months and three months between his two visits to the upper reaches of the chart with “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” in 2018 and “(Where Do I Begin) Love Story” in 1971.
This song was not only a commercial breakthrough for Mentor Williams but also a breakthrough as a recording project. He explained to American Songwriter MagazineMarch/April 1988: “I think one of the hardest things for me to learn about songwriting was to really expose my feelings and weaknesses and to write personal, emotional things. As soon as I started doing that, I realized other people were relating to my songs. You can study how to write and spend a lot of time writing, but without this emotional content in a song, it’s just not there. ‘Drift Away’ was a big breakthrough for me. It was a song where it suddenly was okay for me to write about being hurt and let people know that I had been hurt and I wasn’t afraid to expose my feelings.”
The updated version with Uncle Kracker holds the record for the longest run atop the Adult Contemporary chart, having reigned for 28 weeks in 2003-04.
This has been featured in several movies, including the 1988 comedy Heartbreak Hotel (starring David Keith as Elvis Presley), the 2003 drama Wonderland (starring Val Kilmer), and 2006 sports biopic Invincible (starring Mark Wahlberg). It was also used on The Office (US), in the 2007 episode “Product Recall.”
Day after day I’m more confused
So I look for the light in the pouring rain
You know that’s a game that I hate to lose
I’m feelin’ the strain, ain’t it a shame
Oh, give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Beginning to think that I’m wastin’ time
I don’t understand the things I do
The world outside looks so unkind
I’m countin’ on you to carry me through
And when my mind is free
You know a melody can move me
And when I’m feelin’ blue
The guitar’s comin’ through to soothe me
Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me
I want you to know I believe in your song
Rhythm and rhyme and harmony
You help me along makin’ me strong