Talking Heads – Take Me To The River

Take Me To the River was written by Al Green with his guitarist, Teenie Hodges, “Take Me To The River” first appeared on Green’s 1974 album Al Green Explores Your Mind. It wasn’t a hit, but attracted lots of cover versions.

The song is about a baptism, a topic that makes sense with Al Green, who later became an ordained minister and has his own church in Memphis Tennessee.

I never knew this was a cover song until this past year. The Talking Heads make this song their own.

Brian Eno, known for his work in Roxy Music and David Bowie, produced this track. Eno was was a great fit for the Talking Heads. The song was on the album More Songs About Buildings and Food. 

The album peaked at #29 in the Billboard Album Charts, #27 in Canada, #4 in New Zealand, and #21 in the UK.

Take Me To The River peaked at #26 in the Billboard 100, #37 in Canada, and #20 in New Zealand in 1978…I thought it would have peaked higher in the US…I’ve heard this song more than a lot of their others.

From Songfacts

Green and Johnson’s versions were well known in R&B circles, but the Talking Heads brought it to the New Wave rock crowd and had the highest charting version of the song, reaching #26 in the US.

 You wouldn’t think a New York City-based art-rock band could pull off a gospel-tinged song by a Southern soul singer, but Talking Heads kept the spiritual feel of the song while putting their own spin on it – lead singer David Byrne doesn’t sound like a traditional vocalist and could inhabit a character quite believably. His version of preaching on “Take Me To The River” foreshadowed a later Talking Heads hit, “Once In A Lifetime.”

A key element that set Talking Heads’ version of this song apart from the other covers is the tempo. They had been playing the song live for a while and had a good feel for it when they entered the studio, but when they recorded it, they played it as slowly as they could without losing the groove. This gave the song a seductive feel that set it apart.

A track from Talking Heads’ second album, More Songs About Buildings And Food, “Take Me To The River” was their biggest hit to this point and the only single from the album. It earned them a spot on American Bandstand, getting them on national TV for the first time. The group didn’t strive for hits and didn’t rack up huge sales numbers, but they pushed musical boundaries throughout their career to end up with a very impressive discography that landed them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

The More Songs About Buildings And Food album was one of the first recorded at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas. The studio was set up by Island Records owner Chris Blackwell, who cut the Talking Heads a deal because he needed to get some big acts in there to establish it. According to Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz, Blackwell ringed the perimeter of the grounds with chicken blood to keep evil spirits away. This voodoo worked: The band had a great experience at Compass Point and recorded their next two albums there.

This was the only cover song Talking Heads ever recorded. “David [Byrne] resented that it wasn’t one of his songs that was the hit,” Chris Frantz told Songfacts. “So he said, ‘I’m not doing any more cover songs.'”

Take Me To The River

I don’t know why I love her like I do
All the changes you put me through
Take my money, my cigarettes
I haven’t seen the worst of it yet
I wanna know that you’ll tell me
I love to stay
Take me to the river, drop me in the water
Take me to the river, dip me in the water
Washing me down, washing me down

I don’t know why you treat me so bad
Think of all the things we could have had
Love is an ocean that I can’t forget
My sweet sixteen I would never regret

I wanna know that you’ll tell me
I love to stay
Take me to the river, drop me in the water
Push me in the river, dip me in the water
Washing me down, washing me

Hug me, squeeze me, love me, tease me
Till I can’t, till I can’t, till I can’t take no more of it
Take me to the water, drop me in the river
Push me in the water, drop me in the river
Washing me down, washing me down

I don’t know why I love you like I do
All the troubles you put me through
Sixteen candles there on my wall
And here am I the biggest fool of them all

I wanna know that you’ll tell me
I love to stay
Take me to the river and drop me in the water
Dip me in the river, drop me in the water
Washing me down, washing me down.