Drift Away

Do you wish the boys would relinquish the beat to you? Is your soul in some sort of captivity? Are aware of your exact orientation in the Rock and Roll and no longer wish to be? If so, this is your song. Prepare to drift the hell away.

Just The Facts

  1. "Drift Away" was written in 1972 by Mentor Williams and first recorded by John Henry Kurtz. No one has listened to this version.
  2. Dobie Gray's version was released in 1973 and, though not the original recording, is widely recognized as the definitive version of the song.
  3. "Drift Away" has been covered at least fifty times since it's writing, putting it among the most covered songs of all time.
  4. It is safe to say Mentor Williams probably has not done a full day's work since 1972 and is STILL richer than everyone reading this article.

Drift Away - Three Decades of the Same Damn Song

The "Original" (but not really)
Dobie Gray -The version you're thinking of is considered the definitive version of the song (and it is), but it was itself a cover of the original John Henry Kurtz version (which I cannot legally find anywhere online for you to listen to). On top of that, Dobie Gray actually did a re-recording of his original cover of the song years later (just him by himself, not talking about the Uncle Kracker version). It's a higher-bandwidth recording, of course, but if you have the original only buy the new version if you think Dobie needs the dough.
The Most Recent Remake
Uncle Kracker - This will hurt the very souls of snobby music hipsters, but this version was famous because it was good. Don't believe me? Listen to the other covers. Mister Kracker didn't have much competition.

Dobie's Secret Stash: The Best "Drift Away" Covers You've Never Heard

Ike & Tina Turner - This cover sounds like a Blaxploitation film's pimp theme music. It should be called "Pimp Away". It is awesome.
He WANTS to hit her, but HAS to play guitar. It seemed like one of those impossible dilemmas. Then he hit with the guitar.
Tom Rush - A Cat Stevens style singer-songwriter interpretation. This is the Whitest version on the list and it's still fantastic. The man has a cello accompaniment. If that doesn't move you then you have no soul. CELLO!
The Chosen Few - A reggae version, but way cooler than the Heptones' (in the Mediocre section) since this band really makes it their own. I could make some joke about how this is one of "The Chosen Few" good "Drift Away" covers... so I will. 'Cause it is.
Narvel Felts - Like his name, this cover is so weird it's worth it. He replaces "rock and roll" with "country song" because the song is so damn country you would not believe it, but he deserves a nod simply because he sounds like he's really doing a cover of song he knows you know, and not just karaoke
Narvelization is a painful process, but you will be forever changed for the better. Embrace it, children. Feel the Narvel within you. Don't tense up.
Daniel Ho - I'm going to catch flack for putting this in the section for good covers, since it's basically the Disney Channel version. It's shiny and slickly produced, and actually kind of fun when the ukelele gets a little play. I admit, it kind sucks out the soulful, sweaty, Southern feeling and replaces it with an almost antiseptic efficiency. Some people are into that. These people are also into robot porn.
Don't take that to mean that Daniel Ho is into robot porn. He is not, to my knowledge.
The Nylons - The only one of three a cappella versions to make it to the "Good" section. This band is hip-hop/doo-wopping it's way through the song, and it's actually rather funky.
Peter Petrel and the Swinging Petrels - Call it the Designing Women intro version - southern gospel/soul with Ray Charlesesque piano and squealing saxes. Give the man credit for effort even if you don't like this worthy version. He beat the actual Ray Charles into the Good Covers section.

Dobie Gray's Iridescent Coaster Collection: The Worst "Drift Away" Covers (all available on iTunes)

Buddy Baker - Overmixed and poorly sung vocals. It was recorded decades later and they don't even have the echo effect on the line "beginning to think that I'm wasting time (time... time... time...)" they just have the lead singer repeat the word "time" three times through a filter.

The Hit Crew - This "band" is actually a revolving group of session musicians used to produce Karaoke tracks and records to rival Kidz Bop. They're on the list just so you can I hear the melodramatic lead singer emote all over the verses like a Rob Thomas from his grungiest hillbilly days. These are the rutty underdogs nipping at the heels of Kidz Bop. Let that sink in: their biggest competitor is Kidz Bop. That's the market share they're going for.
Kidz Bop - You know exactly what this sounds like. I'm not even going to indulge you.
Jimmi Langemo and Tim Egglebraaten - Two guys, two guitars, four minutes you will never get back.
The Neville Brothers - If you needed Aaron Neville bleating to you to understand this song, then here you go. Finally, sheep, goats and other ungulates can appreciate the lyrics of one of our most beloved classic songs
.Aaron and the other brother on the left need to lighten the hell up.
Britten Newbill - This is not the Kidz Bop version, but it does have a chorus of children, so WHAT WAS THE POINT?
Tony Rosario - He gets a mass choir in the chorus and that makes his melodramatic and atonal singing much less noticeable.
Billy Joe Royal - Simply painful. This is not the Wedding Band version, this is the Drunk Uncle Billy Who Wasn't Really Invited to the Reception version
Judson Spence - "OOoooohoooooeeOOHyeah" was not in the original lyrics, but it makes several appearances in this version. Listen at your own risk.
Michael Bolton passed the hair down to him, but he could not bear the mane. THIS is where the strength of men failed.

Music Store Shelf-Fillers and iTunes Server Farm Manure: Three Decades of Phoning It In

Rod Stewart - Sounds a but like Ike and Tina's pimptastic version, except that it's for a movie about really lame, syphilitic, Scottish pimp. Leroy MacWhoreborough.
I could not find a picture where he did not look like either a douche, or a very sad old man. Out of respect, I decided to go with "douche".
Michael Bolton - Like Velveeta. Cheesy, but not in a good way, and you know it's slowly killing you.
Glorious. Simply glorious.
John Kay - Unnecessary. Just unnecessary. sounds like the original with an inferior singer and guitarist. Also, slow. Decent piano, though.
Thunderbox - Slower, gospel-er, and even less necessary than John Kay
The Heptones - A reggae version with elocution so accurate (except for the "th" sound, of course, because it's reggae) you would be forgiven for thinking they were white.
Brian Cline Band - Napa Valley's Own. This is the definitive Wedding Band Request version, basically. Imagine drunken white people slow dancing to this.
Captain Smartypants - Another a cappella version. If you ever saw Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, this version will always have special place in your heart. Then you will realize that these are completely different guys, and then you'll think it's just meh.
Jackie DeShannon - One of the few women to cover the song. Her version isn't bad, a little classic-country inflected, overtones of which were present in the original. Deserves a listen if you dig Dolly Parton and that crowd.
Jeff Cornish - He sung this song because he wanted to, not because anyone else wanted him to. I was "beginning to think that I'm wasting ti-i-ime" when I heard his distinctly average version.
Jonathan Davies - it's got an interesting slide guitar going on, sort of a smooth jazz/Carolina Beach music feel. You'd have to want to hear this song done that way to care.
Phil Driscoll - Kinda like Michael MacDonald but with slightly less asthma.
Ray Charles - It's Ray M-F Charles (same middle initials as Samuel L. M-F Jackson). What more do you want? Actually it could stand to be a little more lively. Yeah, I can criticize Ray Charles. What's he gonna do about it? Die more?
Gotcha!
Return2Zero - The least necessary a cappella version, but with pretty good beatboxing in the chorus. I almost gave the lead singer a pass because it got so funky when the bass singer kicked in.
Ringo Starr - If only he wasn't singing it, it'd be great!
Sorry. So sorry about the solo career, everyone. I will be on Shining Time Station, though. So there's that.
Smokie - a more up-tempo, hair-metal, "take us serious" version. Other famous firsts by the band: They had an album called "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" a decade before Green Day's song, and the they were the first band to drop an F-bomb in the British Top 10. That did not qualify them to sing this song, but they just said "bleep it" and did anyway.
Waylon Jennings - If you didn't know who this was, you might be inclined to think this was a mediocre version with an unpracticed (or simply tired) vocalist. But, somehow, you would be wrong because it's Waylon Jennings.