Wednesday, July 25, 1973

The Doobie Brothers “China Grove” released

China Grove

The Doobie Brothers

Writer(s): Tom Johnston (see lyrics here)

Released: July 25, 1973

First Charted: August 18, 1973

Peak: 15 US, 8 CN, 10 HR, 13 RR, 2 CL, 9 CN, 61 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 19.1 video, 113.0 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

The Doobie Brothers formed in 1970 in San Jose, California. Their self-titled debut came out the next year and went nowhere chartwise. However, the follow-up, Toulouse Street, got to #21 on the Billboard album chart in the U.S. and became a platinum seller. It was propelled by two top-40 hits, “Listen to the Music” (#11) and “Jesus Is Just Alright” (#35). That set the bar higher for the band’s third release, but they didn’t disappoint. The Captain and Me came out in 1973, got to #7 on the charts, and went double platinum. The lead single, “Long Train Runnin’,” became the band’s first top-10 hit and was followed by “China Grove,” which reached #15.

The song is based on an actual small town in Texas named China Grove which is about 10 miles from San Antonio. However, Tom Johnston – who wrote and sang the song – wrote about a fictional place, only to find out later from a cab driver that a real such town existed. Johnston determined he must have seen a road sing for China Grove while on his way to or from San Antonio. WK

Like most of his work, he composed the music first. In this case, he started with a guitar riff which he and drummer John Hartman developed into a jam with a chord structure. He said, the words “were made up around this whole idea of this wacky little town with a sheriff that had a samurai sword.” SF He also said, “I really owe [Little Feat pianist] Billy Payne for the words because he played this wacky bridge that started the thinking process with this wacky sheriff, samurai swords, and all that.” WK

Michael Gallucci of Ultimate Classic Rock called “China Grove” “the group’s toughest-sounding song.” WK Billboard referred to the guitar riffs that begin the song as “the stuff of air guitar legend.” WK


First posted 7/27/2022.

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