Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Are You Ready for the Country?

One of my creative outlets is a post-country/folk band called Redfoot. You can hear rough cuts of two songs from our upcoming album here if you are interested.

Lately, I have been combing my memory (and the internet) for old songs that impacted me or songs that my parents/grandparents held dear. This process has yielded some old gems that you might hear occasionally, but really should be songs that are part of your library if you currently do not have access to them. Most of these are from a land far, far away from Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood.

Here are a dozen classic country tunes that hold a soft spot in my heart (in no particular order):

"Cool Water." Sons of the Pioneers (1947). The Pioneers possess watertight harmonies and a sound that is truly from another era. This is one of their best selections.

"He Stopped Loving Her Today." George Jones (1980). Simply the saddest song ever written delivered by a singer who can crank up the emotion to an incredible level. Also, it's one of the top country songs of all time according to just about anyone's list.

"Devil Went Down to Georgia." Charlie Daniels Band (1979). Horrendous theology; mighty fine fiddlin'. And, one of great choruses of all time.

Fire on the mountain! Run, boys, run!

Devil's in the house of the risin' sun.
Chicken in the bread pan pickin' out dough
Granny does your dog bite? No, child, no!

What does this mean? I have no idea. But, it sure does work.

"El Paso." Marty Robbins (1959). Robbins' soaring vocals only add to a great story. My pick for the top cowboy song ever. That wicked Feleena...

"Lucille." Kenny Rogers (1979). I am not a huge fan of The Roaster, but he did have a great run in the early 80's. This is a great tune about heartbreak.

"Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?" Waylon Jennings (1973). Few left a mark on music like Waylon: played with Buddy Holly, negotiated a "rock 'n roll" contract with much artistic freedom in a Nashville-dominated country world in the early 1970s, and kicked off the Outlaw Country movement. Currently, this is my favorite of his tunes.

"Flowers on the Wall." Statler Brothers (1966). It was a big hit four decades ago, and then was revived by Pulp Fiction in 1994. Sadly, it is known more for the Bruce Wills/Ving Rhames scene in Quentin Tarantino's movie than for what it truly is: a darkly comedic song about a man in total isolation (institutionalized?) after a rough break up.

"Coat of Many Colors." Dolly Parton (1971). I cannot take too much Dolly in one listening session, but she is fine sprinkled in here and there. This song is one of her best.

"Boy Named Sue." Johnny Cash (1969). This Shel Silverstein poem is brilliantly retold by Cash on the San Quentin album.

"Coal Miner's Daughter." Loretta Lynn (1969). Straight from the poor, hillbilly gut and proud of it. Loretta's voice and delivery are so genuine, and this song is basically her three minute biography.

"Your Cheatin' Heart." Hank Williams (1952). It's Hank Williams.

"Sixteen Tons." Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955). "Muscle and blood, skin and bones, a mind that's weak and a back that's strong." There are lots of songs that capture the hopelessness of coal mines, but owing your soul to the company store takes the cake. Johnny Cash's rendition of Merle Travis' "Dark as the Dungeon" is a dandy, too.

These are just a dozen songs I've been thinking about and listening to lately. I just noticed that they were all released in 1980 or earlier. Hmmm...maybe a post-1980 list can happen in the future.


Amanda Moore said...

Those ARE good 'uns.

Travis said...

I can't argue with any of those picks. Great country classics. I'll just comment on a couple of them.

1. He Stopped Loving Her Today...probably the saddest lyric I have ever heard. I loved the song when I was very young. It wasn't until I was much older that I realized what the lyrics said and it nearly moves me to tears everytime.

2. Lucille was not a song Kenny Rogers wanted to do. He was convinced by his first country producer to do it to win country fans to his voice. Needless to say, it worked.

"You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille...With four hungry children and a crop in the fields. I've seen some bad times, lived through some sad times, but this time your hurting won't heal."

A few I thougth of:
Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain
Seven Spanish Angels
Walkin' After Midnight
I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry

Cort said...

Thanks for the feedback.

There are a few moments in artistic expression that wrench me to the core of my soul.

1. In The Passion, when Jesus falls on the way to Golgotha and his mother, Mary, runs to him. In the face of his broken mother, his broken body, and on his way to die, he simply says, "See how I make all things new." It gives me chills just typing it out.

2. Seeing Picasso's Guernica in Madrid.

3. "They placed a wreath upon his door," as sung by The Possum. That is a bona fide punch in the gut.

4. Cash's video for "Hurt".

There are lots of others, but these four jumped to the front of my mind.

Brandon Andrew Miles said...

Dang. I always thought the lyric was, "With four hundred children..." This makes me a lot more sense of things.

James said...

"He Stopped Loving Her Today." Brandon and I listened to that song in the truck and we were tearing up. Great picks!

R. Justin said...

Here's what you left out:

•That David Allen Coe song, something about the greatest country song ever... the name escapes me.

•"Highwaymen" by the Highwaymen. Spaceship guitars meets Willie, Johnny, Kristofferson (!) and some other guy I don't remember... how can ya lose?

•"Big Rock Candy Mountain" by Ralph Stanley, I think? I don't remember. Maybe Bill Monroe did it too.

•"Achy Breaky Heart." This is classic by now, right?

And seriously, you should get on iTunes and buy a couple of the cheap Doc Watson hits CDs. Those have had a big impact on my idea of "music" in the last couple years.

Cort said...

All worthy submissions, Justin, and all have their place in my development...except "Achy Breaky." That is an important part of the destruction of country music. :)

Highwaymen and "Big Rock...", etc.,--those all have a special warm spot in my heart, too.

That's the problem with lists like this: something vital will always be left out. It's still fun, though. I love reading suggestions from others. It only serves to conjure up more memorable tunes.