Squeeze Me, Drag Me: Al Green, “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” (1973)

Rhythmic compulsion in rock most often feels like a resonance effect.  Boom BOP Boom BOP Boom BOP, I can’t stop hopping with the boom bop, limbs chiming in.   The nuances of timing and dynamics can greatly affect how I feel I’m being moved; the resonance experience can engulf me like a pitfall (so that I’m dropping with the bop, another good rhyme) or jerk me violently like a puppet on strings.   Utopia’s “Hammer In My Heart” is a great puppet-master track, for example, cleverly layering its resonance cues.

But there’s another way of being rocked that is more like going through a wringer.  The chorus of Al Green’s “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” squeezes me like I’m toothpaste yet somehow regathers me every measure for a new spurt and makes this threatening process feel delightful.

How do they do that?

The high, faint wail of Green’s vocal style, winding back and forth across the falsetto line and the audibility horizon, has much to do with this.   Making us feel just able to do what we’re barely able to do, it’s the perfect vocal specification of the squeezed sensation.  But the groove does something else crucial too.   The band’s rhythmic insistence is felt more as a horizontal shifting than a vertical striking.  Instead of the repeated stimulus of a bopping beat, there is the repeated discovery of having being dragged a little ways across the floor.

The divine Al Jackson on drums is at the center of this effect.  He maintains throughout a chugging, slightly-surprisingly-slow tempo (a killer tempo, I’d say).  The heavy third-beat in his basic 4/4 pattern—that is, the third beat of every four in a pulse, four pulses in a measure—gives as much a feeling of a stopping point as a sign to continue.[1] His elegant fills and hi-hat variations just squeeze the groove along with subtle lagging and thickening.  Then in the chorus, where we’re boosted into a major key and a peppier horn part so that we feel it’s a new ball game, Jackson’s open hi-hat emerges as the MVP.  More conspicuous than before, it generally bursts out (X) near the end of a four-measure unit, but not with mechanical predictability:

……………………X
Aaah, here… I

…………………………………………………………..X
1…….2…….3…….4………1………2……..3……..4……..
am…baby……come & take me…..here I am,

…………………X
1……2……3……4……….1………..2………..3………..4………..
ba.-.by……..come & take me…………take me by the

………………………..X
1……2……3……4……1………2………3………4………
hand…………………show me……..here I am,

…………………X
1……2……3……4……
ba.-.by

“Here I Am” chorus

If you want to put your finger on when exactly they dragged you across the floor, those are the places and that’s what the dragging sounds like:  a buzzing cymbal that rakes everything over but comes to a definite term in half a beat, holding everything firm.


[1] Emphasis on the third beat of four makes for a feeling of final arrival much more than emphasis on the fourth beat would, apparently because the third and fourth beats together make up the second of two major units in the measure (a sense of major units that is of course created by emphasizing the third) and emphasizing the third allows that whole last unit to register, whereas an emphasized fourth, at the tail-end no matter how you look at it, is bound to feel like a propulsive uptake for the following measure rather than the conclusion of anything.  I would argue this even for the huge fourth-beat event in the main riff of “Gimme Some Lovin’,” which I admit comes close to being a counterexample.

 

Advertisements

About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Arrangements and Sounds, Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s