Wednesday, January 15, 2014

BOTB 1/15/14: "Take Me to the River"

So far, my 2014 blogging is not going as planned -- I've been a little more absent than I'd like, but I do expect that to change soon.  And at least I'm staying on top of the Battle of the Bands (BOTB) event -- we're on to the second BOTB of 2014!  To refresh your memory, the BOTB is a blogging event started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of last year.  This event occurs twice every month -- on the 1st and the 15th -- and each of the bloggers taking part offers readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the the readers get to vote for your favorite rendition. 

This is the third BOTB I've taken part in, and I let the first two be partially dictated by the calender:  Christmas music in the one for 12/15/13 and "Auld Lang Syne" for New Year's Day on 1/1/14. This is the first BOTB where the playing field is wide open, so I'm going to do the song that I first thought of as a BOTB contender when I was considering joining this event:  "Take Me to the River."

This song was written in 1974 by Al Green, but I first remember hearing it when I watched Saturday Night Live on February 10, 1979 and saw the band Talking Heads perform the song (you can watch the episode on Hulu if you want).  The song was also their first single to break into the top 40 (reaching #26 on the Billboard charts), and it's a song that many people associate with the band.  But how does it compare to the original by Al Green?  Let's find out in a Battle of the Bands!

Here's the studio version by Talking Heads, from the 1978 album "More Songs About Buildings and Food":

And just to compare live versions, here's a Talking Heads having fun onstage with it, from their 1984 concert film and soundtrack, "Stop Making Sense":

And now, the original by Al Green, from the 1974 album, "Al Green Explores Your Mind":

And finally, a live version by Al Green on Soul Train from 1975, complete with roses:

I think this is one of those songs that's just so good that every version of it is enjoyable -- and it's been performed and recorded a ton of times by many other artists including, Foghat, Annie Lennox, and Tom Jones

But between Talking Heads and Al Green -- studio and live combined -- who do you think did it better?

I invite you to listen to each and give them a chance (and remember -- the goal is to compare the music, not the videos, so I encourage you to ignore the images, although I admit it is hard to overlook David Byne's big suit and Al Green's roses).

After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above recordings strike you, even if it's less than positive.

Finally -- be sure to check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:
Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again the first part of next week to find out how the voting has gone!  I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner!


  1. Sorry, but I have never liked the Talking Heads, so my vote goes to Al Green. Probably the studio version.

    1. I don't have a vote but I like Al's comment. (Even though I like the Talking Heads.)

    2. Thanks for voting, Alex! I'm a big Talking Heads fan, but I can get why not everyone would like them. My favorite period of the band was the "Remain in Light" lineup with Adrian Belew on guitar. You at least need to check that out if you haven't -- there are some videos of the band's live European tour in 1980 that are phenomenal. Funky, jamming, wild, weird, and wonderful!

      But Al Green is also incredible and there is no way a vote for AL is ever a wrong vote.

      -- Taking Heads 0; Al Green 1

    3. Hi Suze! And you'll ALWAYS have a vote on this blog as long as I'm running it. :)

      And do you mean you like "Al" Cavenaugh's comment (which you replied to) or "Al" Green's comment (at the beginning of the studio version of the song)?

    4. Ah! I meant Alex. I call him Al. Hey, remember the Paul Simon song!?

  2. I only listened to the studio versions. It would have been too difficult a decision taking the Live Shows into account. I really enjoyed the Talking Heads version. However, I loved the Al Green version. They were done so differently that it was nearly like listening to different songs. My foot was tapping to Al Green and I just wanted to get up and dance. He was groovin' on that tune. So, hands down Al Green for me.

    1. Oh, Robin -- if you like your toe tappin', you missed the best two versions! Both the live versions get DOWN! Talking Heads with Bernie Worrell, Alex Weir, and Steve Scales were awesome (not quite as fabulous as the line-up with Adrian Belew, but still awesome), and Al Green live was a funkilicious, rockin' joy!

      But, still nothing at all wrong with another vote for Al:

      -- Al Green 2, Talking Heads 0

  3. This is one where I will have to go with the remake, probably because it was all I'd ever heard until hearing The Commitments do a cover of the Al Green arrangement.

    I get what Robin is saying-the Al version is funky and toe tapping, but the Heads had a decade and a half head start in my brain.

    Talking Heads gets my vote.

    1. I totally understand -- I was a Talking Heads fan before I'd heard much of Al Green. Now I'm a fan of both. :)

      -- Al Green 2, Talking Heads 1

  4. Again blogger ate my comment - unless of course it shows up later.

    It's Al Green talking to me in this battle for sure.

    1. Isn't that frustrating?!?! I had it happen with a comment reply I'd written to Alex above. I've found that it seems to be worse when you comment and then have Blogger ask you log in to whatever comment account you're using. It seems to go better for me when I'm already logged in.

      And another vote for the legendary Mr. Al Green:

      -- Al Green 3, Talking Heads 1

  5. Ha! That's a fun blog hop! I like both versions. I must admit I had never heard the song before, but I like it. Thanks for sharing!

    Happy 2014 =)

    1. Hi Gina! And Happy 2014 to you too!

      Thanks for stopping by -- I'm glad you enjoyed the song. It's one of my favorites. Both versions. :)

  6. Yo! CHRIS ~

    I saw your comment on FAE’s blog. Hopefully you were just joshing and were not really feeling slighted that I didn’t leave a vote and comment here yesterday. (For the record, I have also yet to leave a vote and comment on Robin’s BOTB. I’m going there after I post this comment on your blog.)

    I was actually here and listened to Talking Heads and Al Green yesterday. I had just begun working on my comment when the plumber arrived and I had to temporarily abandon it. (For a little more detail about the plumber’s visit, and what it’s like to be me these days, go back LC’s ‘DiscConnected’ blog and see my follow-up comment. (He may not have posted it just yet though, as he’s at work and probably hasn’t seen his Dashboard, where he has ‘Comment Moderation’ activated.)

    Anyway, after the plumber left (with my money in hand), I started again working on a comment for you when my Brother arrived home and I got derailed for the second time. But, I assure you I was not ignoring your BOTB blog bit and intended to return here when I could… and that would be NOW.

    First of all... you done taught me sumpin’. I had no idea that Al Green had written the song. I had always thought it was a Talking Heads original – although I did also think that it didn’t “seem” like a Talking Heads type of song.

    Now, I have never liked Talking Heads, except for two songs. Way back in the day, when I used to occasionally listen to L.A.'s alternative Rock radio station KROQ, I used to hear ‘Psycho Killer’ (from their first album) and I liked that one. The following year I started hearing ‘Take Me To The River’ and I kinda, sorta liked that one also. But that pretty much exhausts my interest in the band. (They always sounded to me like a mediocre group of artists who decided to start a band. Oops! That’s what they were, ain’t it so?)

    Back on November 19, 1978, I saw Talking Heads perform a free outdoor concert on the UCLA campus (and that’s what I was researching when the plumber arrived!)

    Amazingly, I did find evidence of that show in a YouTube video HERE. There’s no way to see me, but I was off to the right side when you see the shot of the audience.

    I recall them playing ‘Psycho Killer’ but not ‘Take Me To The River’. However, their second album had already been released, so they probably did play ‘...River’, but since it wasn’t a radio hit yet, I (and probably most other members of the audience) didn’t recognize it as anything more than “just another song”.

    All these years later, I could recall that some band with the word “Angels” in their name opened for Talking Heads at that free concert, but I couldn’t come up with the name. Some commenter at the YouTube video helped me out by mentioning it: Dirty Angels. The band featured a guy named DAVID HULL

    Anyway, that’s enough background info... on to the BOTB voting:

    As I said, I did kind of like Talking Heads’ ‘Take Me To The River’, but listening to the Al Green version, I must vote for him (sorry, ‘Heads’!) I’m pretty much ALWAYS going to prefer a Soul / Funk version of a song over an artsy “New Wave” take on it.

    Having said that though, I’ll add that I’m not really wild about Al Green’s performance; I just prefer it to Talking Heads.

    But if someone whom I believe is a better, more soulful singer had recorded it – like, say, Marvin Gaye for example – I would probably dig the song quite a bit more. So, I vote for the fictional, imaginary Marvin Gaye version, and vote for the Al Green rendition second. Ha!

    Again, sorry I was late getting here but it was unavoidable. And now I’m off to pay Robin’s ‘Your Daily Dose’ a visit.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    ‘Loyal American Underground’

    1. Whoa, Mr. McCarthy! What you lack in punctuality you definitely make up for in exposition!

      Well, firstly -- I was absolutely in full joshification mode with my comments on FAE's blog. I figured you were busy and I knew you would get here eventually So no need to apologize -- No worries at all from me, and I certainly hope you took my comments as the light-hearted joking they were intended as.

      And while I'm a Talking Heads fan, I can understand why they might not connect with a lot of people. And frankly, there is some of their stuff that really doesn't grab me that much. Yes, they could be a bit pretentious and 'arty' at times, and David Byrne's lyrics were frequently obtuse and left me scratching my head. I much prefer the funkier stuff they did. As I mentioned in my comment to Alex above, "Remain in Light" is my favorite album by far, although there is usually at least a few songs on every album I like. That album was the pinnacle of their interaction with Brian Eno, I think, and brought a lot of really talented musicians into the mix to supplement, well, I won't say "mediocre" -- I'll choose "still evolving" -- musicianship of the core band.

      And Al Green? He's a legend and I have nothing but respect for his original version of the song.

      But more about that when I throw in my vote next week...

      -- Al Green 4, Talking Heads 1

  7. I've been having a ton of computer problems to accompany my own state of physical illness so it's been taking a while to get to the BOTB posts. Since I couldn't listen to the clips I'll have to go on my memory and I'm quite familiar with both of these.

    Al Green is a huge favorite singer of mine, but on this song I gotta go with the Heads. Matter of preference and a sentimental favorite as well. The Heads version is the one I heard first and the one I think of first.


    1. I understand Arlee -- I hope you're feeling better and that all your PC problems are soon resolved!!!

      But as I told Robin -- if you aren't familiar with the live versions, they are definitely worth a watch. The Talking Heads movie you might have seen, but that Al Green clip from Soul Train is a blast (and not just because of the 1975 clothes styles, lol).

      And vote noted!

      -- Al Green 4, Talking Heads 2


Don't be shy -- feel free to comment. I really appreciate your thoughts.