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Tennessee by Arrested Development

Album: 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of...Released: 1992Charted:
6
18
  • Arrested Development frontman Speech, whose real name is Todd Thomas, wrote this song. Says Speech: "I wrote it because my older brother, his name is Terry Thomas, he and I met up in Tennessee for my grandmother – my favorite grandmother of all time – for her funeral. And that same week my brother left and went back to college, and I went back to college. And my brother died that same week. And that song was probably the first step of me recovering from the loss of two people that are just extremely close and dear to me. The chorus is 'take me another place, take me to another land, make me forget all that hurts me and help me understand your plan.' It's like a prayer to God. And just talking about sort of my journey in life, and that the last place I saw these important people in my life was in Tennessee."
  • This was Arrested Development's first single. At a time when Gangsta Rap was the big trend, they went in another direction, as Speech used a melodic rap style that made their songs more accessible. Along with "People Everyday" and "Mr. Wendal," this was one of 3 US Top 10 hits from the album.
  • This samples the 1988 Prince song "Alphabet Street," but just the word "Tennessee." Speech explains that he didn't clear the sample: "I didn't know to in 1991, the sample laws weren't very clearly set out back then. It was our first record, we definitely weren't vets in the industry, we didn't understand all the game play and the rules. So we didn't ask for permission. I learned as a producer pretty quickly the laws of sampling: it's the wild, wild West out there. So what happened was the record obviously was getting some pretty good heat. MTV had a show called Buzz Clips, and they added it and it just became this huge phenomenon. And as the song moved up the chart the album got to #3 on the pop charts. And once it went down, the very week it went to #4, we got a call from Prince's representation. They waited for that song to sell as many possible copies as they could wait for. As soon as it started to go down the charts we got a call, and the Reaper became the reaped. So we got charged for that sample pretty heavily. I paid $100,000 for that word."
  • Speech told us about creating this song: "I started to make beats, just the beat for the song in general, on my sampler. And then Aerle Taree, one of the members of the group, came by. At this point in my life, my studio was in my bedroom. Basically it just poured out of me lyrically, all the ideas and sort of vocal things that I wrote came right out of me very easily. Her parts were based on what she heard me do. She talked about playing a game of horseshoes, and she sang this section on the chorus with echoed "take me home." Some songs flow out of you, and other songs are more strategically made. That was one song that just literally flowed. It was very easy to make, in a sense. Once I had done the lyrics, once the beat was in general finished, once Aerle Taree laid down her part, I did want to enhance the song and in a sense polish it. Although it doesn't sound polished at all. So at that point, I did some more programming, some more song arrangements. And that's when the last part of the song came about, when I ended up asking Dionne Farris, who's a fantastic singer I knew - to sing on it. And that section of the song, the ending of the song, to me is sort of like the clincher. If you didn't like the song at first, you should like it by that time. And she did an excellent job. By the time she came in and recorded the song, we were already signed to a label, and she was in a professional studio, when me and Aerle Taree started to write it we were just in my bedroom. But by the time Dionne got involved we were in a professional studio and I was able to ask her to spill her heart. I told her a few words that I would love for her to say, and she could say 'em any way she wanted and sing 'em any way she wanted, and we did about 10 takes. The first take was most of that solo that she did at the end. That was her first take. She ended it pretty early, so I asked her to sing some more, and she did. That was the second take - she heard it and didn't like the vocal. So we did about nine other takes. But I knew in my heart that the first take was the one, and she felt that it wasn't performed perfectly, but I knew that it was absolutely perfect. Even with flaws, that it was a very emotional take, just a great recording. I'm very proud of that song."
  • Dionne Farris sang on 2 other tracks on the album: "Fishin' 4 Religion" and "Give A Man A Fish." She had a solo hit in 1995 with "I Know."
  • The video is in black-and-white and was directed by Milcho Manchevski. Says Speech: "The video was actually shot in Georgia, ironically. But we found a man's home that we just felt was absolutely reminiscent of my experience with my grandmother's house, and what her house looked like. And it was a perfect setting for this video. We went out on a very, very cold, I think it was a January morning, and shot basically all day. A lot of my friends from college and a lot of the group members' friends came on down, and we all sort of convoyed down to the video shoot. A lot of the extras that were in the video were people that were in the neighborhood that were curious that we asked to be involved. And it was absolutely awesome. We had slave shackles in the video that were already at that person's house from literal history. There was a back house for the slaves that used to live there in years passed that was still there. And things that just were really perfect for the type of message that the song was about, the song takes you through a spiritual journey and a life journey through history in a sense, and at the same time it talks about my family, and then it sort of leads to anyone's family roots, and the direction that people go in life. And it was just a great deal to be able to have these washboards, and this old dilapidated wood porch and these old screen doors. A lot of people thought that we had built the set in order to make it look like the past, but it was just one of the really beautiful parts of living in the rural South. And it was very recent. That was 1991, I think, when we shot that, and that house, we didn't have to touch it or do anything to it, it was the way it was. And a lot of the props that we use in the video were also there, that were just there at the time." (Check out our full interview with Speech.)
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Comments: 2

Malcolm Jamal Warner (Cosby show's Theo) appeared in the video.Neil - Toronto, On
I'm so interested to read this. I love this song. The song was so honest and real that it transcended the barriers of race and age that can often make it difficult for the universal listener to feel the experience being portrayed. Great, moving song.Karen - Dania Beach, Fl