Waylon Jennings: The Taker
tylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
There are three things you really need to know if you want to grasp the greatness that is Waylon Jennings’s “The Taker.”
The first thing you’ll want to know about “The Taker” is that it is one of many outstanding collaborations between Kris Kristofferson and Shel Silverstein as songwriters and Waylon Jennings as singer, a partnership that produced some of the most dynamic country music of the 70s. The second thing you’ll want to know is that it has no real chorus, unless you count the one part that’s partially repeated at the end of the song, which you shouldn’t—it’s merely a double-up effect to make the song long enough for radio play. Even after that, “The Taker” only squeaks past two minutes courtesy of a long fade-out.
The third thing is that it cuts into male sexual predators like a knife through cottage cheese. Under the guise of a fairly typical RCA country story-song circa 1971, Waylon and his hippie pals put the spurs to the he-man womanizer that it would later please many so-called “outlaws” to portray (stand up, Johnny Paycheck). Two minutes and change of a simple, almost folk guitar pattern with a rolling C&W backbeat, deft but minimal backing vocals, and Waylon’s inimitable early singing style. The kind of voice that moves from conversational matter-of-factness to querulous soaring sung from the gut in a half of a heartbeat.
“The Taker” portrays the kind of man we’ve all known from one side of the struggle or another. He brings something to the life of his chosen prey that seems outwardly wonderful—“He’s a lover / And he’ll love her / In ways that she’s never been loved before.” Someone who opens doors and leads her across pretty bridges “that he’s plannin’ to burn.” Wait? To burn? Something’s wrong. And it isn’t Waylon’s (or Shel’s or Kris’s) English, though I’m pretty sure you won’t find the astoundingly apt phrase “hungryin” in any dictionary. No, there’s something wrong with this man we’re talkin’ ’bout. The wolf, they call him—ol’ love ‘em and leave ‘em. After he’s done taking her, he’ll “take her for granted / Take off and leave her / Takin’ all of her pride when he goes.”
There’s absolutely no mystery to this song, which is precisely why it makes such a stirring, ageless statement. There are no vague meanings or clever allusions. And there is no mystery in where the singer and his sympathies stand. His voice is cold, almost clinical when he describes the outwardly positive pleasures that the Taker delivers. But when it comes to his wrongs wrongs, Waylon’s voice is unsheathed like a saber, springing forth and pricking blood with unerring aptitude. It’s a portrait of a wrongdoer, but it’s more color-by-numbers than da Vinci.
It’s exactly what makes it just as applicable thirty-five years after it was put to tape. When was the last time you heard a mainstream country artist speak for the needs of a wounded woman without putting himself up as an applicant to take the offender’s place?