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On a superficial level, Dobie Gray's 1973 hit offers something for everyone: a country-tinged R&B song by a soul singer in praise of rock and roll. But at its heart, "Drift Away" is a triumph of songwriting, a ballad which builds a layered progession of hooks leading to one of the catchiest and best-known choruses in pop history (even if millions of listeners mistakenly think the first line is "Gimme the Beach Boys...") Gray's superb vocals were just icing on the cake. Uncle Kracker's successful 2002 revival means that virtually every American Idol viewer, from 8 to 80, can sing along.
"Drift Away" provided Jon Peter Lewis with his highest-rated performance and made Bo Bice's Idol debut a 5-star one. Only Corey Clark fared relatively poorly with it; some reviewers complained that he was skirting the country-rock theme, but most simply believed he didn't sing it all that well.
Early on, "Drift Away" was one of the safest songs in the Idol catalog for a male singer. It offered Lewis a means of showing a serious side after his off-the-wall A Little Less Conversation, and allowed the long-haired Bice to make an outstanding, non-threatening first impression on America. After three performances, including a 5-star one, it might be time to retire it from the competition...unless, that is, you feel you can either out-sing Bice (good luck there) or put a different and clever spin on it. Keep in mind that the latter path comes with more than a little risk: if you butcher this enormously popular song, America will never forgive you.