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This was the first of two #1 hits for the Staple Singers. The other is "Let's Do It Again." The Staple Singers were among the first groups to move from Gospel to inspirational Soul music. Said lead singer Mavis Staples: "When we heard Dr. Martin Luther King preach, we said, 'If he can preach this, we can sing it.'"
Stax Records vice-president Al Bell (born Avertis Isabell) wrote this after attending the funeral of his little brother, who was shot to death. Says Bell: "I went out in the backyard in my father's home. He had an old school bus there parked that was not running. I went back there and sat on the hood of that bus thinking about all that was happening. And all of a sudden, I hear this music in my head. And I heard these lyrics: 'I know a place, ain't nobody worried, ain't nobody crying, and ain't no smiling faces lying to the races, I'll take you there.' I heard it, and I heard the music. And it wouldn't leave, it stayed there. kept trying to write other verses, but I couldn't. Nothing worked - there was nothing left to say."
Bell brought out this song at the end of a recording session with the band. Says Bell: "Mavis couldn't get into it, she couldn't feel it, so I stood there on the floor and tried to sing it to the guys, as they got the music and they got into it. After getting it down, later on, I came back and sat with Mavis and, after a while, she started feeling it and giving in to that rhythm. Of course, she took it to heights that only a Mavis Staples can take it. Nobody else could do it justice, and I guess it was supposed to be that way."
Al Bell singed The Staple Singers in 1968, after they had been released from Epic Records - Bell was an old friend of the family dating from his time in the '50s as a concert promoter in Little Rock, Arkansas. At this point, The Staples moved away from protest songs and recorded what they called "message music." The first two Staples albums for Stax were recorded with Steve Cropper, who was a staff producer and guitarist. These albums, Soul Folk in Action and We'll Get Over, didn't sell very well, so Bell took them to Alabama and had them record with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, who were a group of session musicians formed in 1967. At Muscle Shoals, the Staples found the sound that would make them stars, and in August, 1971, they recorded their hit "I'll Take You There."
Many elements of this song, including the famous intro, were based on a Jamaican instrumental song called "The Liquidator" by the Harry J Allstars
, which was a #9 UK hit in 1969. Al Bell, who had made frequent trips to Jamaica, brought the record into the session and played it for the band, who used it as a template. They thought the record was a demo Bell made, and didn't find out until many years later that they lifted an existing song. David Hood, who played bass on this track, told us: "The Liquidator thing, we didn't know what that was. As I recall, he came in and brought what they call a dub. It was like an acetate or something, a disk that you put on the record player and play. And it had no lyrics on it. We just thought it was an instrumental track that somebody had done for a song. And it was only years later when I found out that that had been a record."
The Reggae influence on this song is also a result of Hood and Muscle Shoals drummer Roger Hawkins, who had just toured with the British Rock group Traffic. Bob Marley and the Wailers were signed to Traffic's label, and every night on tour, Traffic would play the Wailers album Catch A Fire
, which Hood and Hawkins absorbed. Additionally, Muscle Shoals guitarist Jimmy Johnson was coming off a vacation in Jamaica, and he brought back a bunch of records which he distributed to the other musicians.
General Public recorded this in 1994 for the movie Threesome
. Dave Wakeling from the band told us the story: "This guy I knew who put songs in movies, he was just starting at it, but he ended up becoming very big at it and very successful. And he said that he'd got this movie called Threesome
that he was looking for music for, and they wanted kind of suggestive songs to go with this soundtrack. He'd got a big long list of songs that we'd thought up, and he actually first approached me, 'Would you like to do 'Stuck In The Middle With You
,' and I was like, 'No. Thanks for the thought. No.' I noticed 'I'll Take You There' was on that list. And 'I'll Take You There' had always appealed to me as a song, because there was a Harry J & the Allstars instrumental called 'Liquidator' about an assassin. And it's the bass line to 'I'll Take You There.' In fact, it came out in Jamaica and in England two years before 'I'll Take You There' came out in America. And 'I'll Take You There' is, for all intents and purposes, just the 'Liquidator' with lyrics on the top. And so I thought that would be good, we could do a version of 'I'll Take You There' for this movie, and we could try and knock as many pieces of the original 'Liquidator' back into the tune and see if anybody dared say anything. And of course because it had been a dirty secret for 30 years, nobody dared mention it now. Even when we said, 'Well, actually, there's a lot of this song 'Liquidator' in there, should we mention that in the publishing?' 'Nonono, just leave it.' And we did. And it went to like #1 on the dance chart, so that was it." (Dave Wakeling is a founding member of The English Beat. Read his full interview
This was performed by Tweet, Marianne Faithfull (Mick Jagger's ex-girlfriend), and Taryn Manning in 2002 ads for The Gap. It was part of a campaign with the tag line "For Every Generation."
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