Fontella Bass sang with gospel groups from the age of 6 before switching to R&B when she was a teenager. She eventually auditioned for Chess Records and landed a recording contract. This original composition penned by Bass with Raynard Miner and Carl William Smith was her most successful single, though "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing" (a duet with Bobby McClure) and "Recovery" were also Top 40 hits on the Hot 100.
After moving to Paris in 1969 with her jazz trumpeter husband Lester Bowie, Bass more or less retired, but could be heard on her husband's records as well as releasing several gospel records on independent labels. She died of complications following a heart attack on December 26, 2012.
Recorded in just three takes, Rock journalist Dave Marsh called Bass' powerful vocal performance on this song, "the best non-Aretha Aretha ever." Figures too as Fontella was the daughter of Martha Bass, a member of the Clara Ward Singers who toured with Aretha Franklin's father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin. It should be noted Franklin's commercial breakthrough with "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)
" happened three years after Bass laid down this song.
Bass revealed to The New York Times in 1989 that her call-and-response vocals for this song weren't intentional. She recalled, "When we were recording that, I forgot some of the words. Back then, you didn't stop while the tape was running, and I remembered from the church what to do if you forget the words. I sang, 'Ummm, ummm, ummm,' and it worked out just fine."
Bass was signed to Chess Records, and recorded for their subsidiary, Checker. This song was recorded at their studios in Chicago with their house band, which featured drummer Maurice White, who a decade later would form Earth, Wind, & Fire. Other musicians on the track include Louis Satterfield on bass, Leonard Caston on piano, Sonny Thompson on organ and Pete Cosey and Gerald Sims on guitars. Minnie Riperton ("Lovin You
") provided background vocals.
Despite co-penning the song, Bass initially did not get a writing credit. It took over 20 years and much litigation before she was given her due share of the songwriting and the royalties.
Many artists have covered this song, including Linda Ronstadt, Cher, Elkie Brooks, Bryan Ferry, Pat Benatar, Tom Jones
, Diana Ross and Melissa Manchester. The latter's version was released as a single, reaching #78 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1978, the song's only Hot 100 showing since the original recording.
This was also remixed as a dance track with the title of "In Your Arms (Rescue Me)" by UK producer Aston Harvey under the pseudonym of Nu Generation. This version peaked at #8 in the UK Singles Chart in January 2000. Harvey is also a member of electronic music group Freestylers who had a few UK chart entries in the late 1990s.
Bass was amazed to hear her own voice singing this song in an American Express commercial on New Year's Day 1990. She sued the credit card company as well as the advertising agency and was eventually awarded $50,000 plus punitive damages in 1993.
Billy Davis, who was one of the producers of the song, came up with a novel idea for the ending. Instead of having the engineer fade the song, he walked around the studio floor while the musicians were laying down their tracks and tapped each musician on the shoulder when he wanted him to stop playing, so the instruments came out individually.
This was used in the Whoopi Goldberg movies Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986) and Sister Act (1992), along with Hilary Duff's A Cinderella Story (2004) and Will Smith's I, Robot (2004). In 2000, it was featured on the TV shows ER (episode: "Rescue Me") and Ed (episode: "Better Days").