Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tommy James: Draggin' the Line

SONG Draggin' the Line

WRITTEN BY Tommy James and Bob King

PERFORMED BY Tommy James

APPEARS ON Tommy James (1970); Tommy James and the Shondells Anthology (1989); other anthologies

NOTE "Draggin' the Line" reached #4 on the Billboard pop charts in August 1971 and stayed in the Top 40 for eleven weeks.

"Draggin' the Line" appeared originally on Tommy James' eponymous album, his first release after leaving the Shondells. (allmusic.com says that "Draggin' the Line" first appeared on James' album Christian of the World, but all other sources, including James himself, say otherwise.) James was a hit machine in the late 60s, with fifteen Top 40 hits (including three #1's) from 1966-69. These featured classic pop arrangements with dabs of white soul faintly reminiscent of The Rascals. As the decade wore on, touches of psychedelia appeared here and there; one song, "Crystal Blue Persuasion," is a barely concealed account of drug use.

Musically, "Draggin' the Line" is pure psychedelia. Its dreamy tempo, loping bass, and echoing chorus create a stoned ambiance augmented by puncturing horns. The use of brass is unusual in psychedelic music, but James recorded with horns for most of his career and deploys them to good effect here.

Lyrically, the song is a paean to the simple joys of life and the way that they alleviate the struggle of "Makin' a living the old hard way." For James, the pleasures of living are found in "snow and rain and bright sunshine" and even -- believe it or not "huggin' a tree." This, he sings, leads to "peace of mind" in a way that "the old hard way" cannot.

What, then, to make of the cryptic title? What does "draggin' the line" mean? James has never explained it, and passed on the opportunity to do in the liner notes to Anthology. Speculation ranges from an allusion to cocaine ("the line") to "draggin'" a cross. I suspect that it refers back to the opening lyric, with James' ominous delivery juxtaposed against the upbeat chorus singing of "peace of mind." It's as if draggin' the line and peace of mind are in eternal opposition, with the individual forced to do what he must to survive, a striving made worthwhile by appreciation and enjoyment of the natural world.

(For information on the origin of the phrase "tree hugger," click here.)

LYRICS
Makin' a living the old hard way
Takin' and giving day by day
I dig snow and rain and bright sunshine
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)

My dog Sam eats purple flowers
We ain't got much but what we got's ours
We dig snow and rain and bright sunshine
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)

I feel fine, I'm talkin' about peace of mind
I'm takin' my time, I'm gettin' the good sign
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)

Lovin' the free and feelin' spirit
Of huggin' a tree when you get near it
Diggin' the snow and rain and bright sunshine
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)

I feel fine, I'm talkin' about peace of mind
I'm takin' my time, I'm gettin' the good sign
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)



Live, in 2005:


R.E.M.'s cover, featuring a rare lead vocal by Mike Mills:

3 comments:

  1. Great song. I somehow never made the connection with this and the Shondells. It's a far cry from "Crystal Blue Persuasion", which I always thought would be a great name for a toilet bowl cleaner.
    rgg

    ReplyDelete
  2. I heard it earlier this week on Men of a Certain Age, the soundtrack of which is treasure trove of forgotten 70s music. I have to admit that I wasn't familiar with the song, but I loved it. After looking up via Google, I found a cheap Tommy James anthology and have been listening to it all week.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Shit... it is about DRUGS??? God, I love the song and it is about LOSERS???

    Disappointed.

    ReplyDelete