“Draggin’ the Line” is a hit song by American rock musician Tommy James, who went solo after Tommy James and the Shondells broke up in 1970. It was first released as the B side of “Church Street Soul Revival” in 1970. The song was judged to have some hit potential so they went back in the studio and added horns to the master and re-released it as an A side single in 1971. It was included on his second album, Christian of the World in 1971 on the Roulette Records label, the song was James’ biggest hit as a solo artist selling more than a million copies, and appears as the fifth track on James’ 1991 retrospective album The Solo Years (1970-81) released by Rhino.
Written and produced by Tommy James and Bob King, “Draggin’ the Line” reached the top 40 on the U.S.’s Billboard Hot 100 chart on June 26, 1971, climbed to a peak of #4 for the week of August 7, 1971, and remained in the top 40 rankings for 11 weeks total. The song reached even higher in Cash Box magazine’s competing jukebox singles charts, attaining the #2 spot for the week of August 9, 1971. “Draggin’ the Line” was ranked at #54 overall for hot songs of 1971 by U.S. music industry pillar Billboard magazine.
“Draggin’ the Line” has been described as a “lazy psychedelic shuffle whose hypnotic feel perfectly expressed its title.”Asked about the meaning of the title in a 2009 interview, Tommy James said: “”Draggin’ the Line” just meant working every day. Nothing really very mysterious about it.” However, it has been falsely speculated that the song’s title and lyrics refer to cocaine use, citing the title, the lyrics, Tommy James’ documented drug use, and because another Tommy James and The Shondells song, Crystal Blue Persuasion, has been previously associated with the use of speed, the song having been described in 1979 by noted music critic Dave Marsh as “a transparent allegory about James’ involvement with amphetamines. In addition, it has been widely accepted that the song could more specifically refer to the tedious job of setting up power lines back in the early 50’s and 60’s. This view has gained a large amount of support, especially since the lyrics are commonly interchanged with ‘Checkin the line””
“Draggin’ the Line” has made many media appearances. Among others, in a cover by Beat Goes Bang in the 1991 film Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead; as the opener in a 1999 Canadian film New Waterford Girl; in a cover by R.E.M. in 1999 for the Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack; in Inside Deep Throat, a 2005 documentary about the 1972 pornographic film Deep Throat; is heard in the somber 2006 football drama We are Marshall, in the My Name is Earl episode, “Robbed a Stoner Blind”, in CBS’s crime drama Cold Case (episode 54), and was featured in “Anthem,” a familiar Mitsubishi commercial that debuted in October 2004. The commercial shows a long line of cars and sport utility vehicles cruising past Mitsubishi mechanics all dressed in red coveralls.
In 1998 The Roulette Story was released featuring “Draggin’ the Line” as one of 84 tracks celebrating Roulette Records’ notable 20-year music history (the label had closed its doors in 1977). In various versions, “Draggin’ the Line” has appeared on at least 41 studio albums, including covers by AC-Rock, Rusty Bryant, Crosswind Band, Barry Hay, R.E.M., The Squirrels, Vintage Buzz, The Wild Ones and Steve Wynn.
The song has also inspired a long-running jingle for the Chili’s restaurant chain’s babyback ribs. The lines “I want my babyback, babyback, babyback, babyback…” and “Barbecue sauce” closely mimick the real song’s bass line and vocal response, respectively.