Monday, May 29, 2006
Desmond Dekker died last week. In his honor, here’s a great DD tune. It’s not really a reggae or ska song, more like soul with a shimmy. Listen to the lovely descending guitar line, the tinkly piano, the ultra-minimal horn arrangement, the brilliant backing vocals.
Desmond Dekker– "The Tips of My Fingers"
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Country music lyrics seem driven by judgment. Judgment of others, of self, of life on earth. Or if you're Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard, judgment by the American justice system. Here are some examples, in pure and hybrid form:
Rock lyrics on the other hand, especially after the psychedelic era, don't involve as much judgment, at least not the kind of judgment we hear in the Christian warnings about sin by the Burritos. Let's take a quick look at the career of Eric Burdon to see this. During the pre-psychedelic mid 60's, while in The Animals, Eric sang about fighting for success in a harsh capitalist reality, without faulting himself:
It's a hard world to get a break in
All the good things have been taken
But girl there are ways
To make certain things pay
Though I'm dressed in these rags
I'll wear sable some day
But by 1970 Eric was singing lyrics like these with the band War:
This really blew my mind, the fact that me
an overfed, long-haired leaping gnome
should be the star of a
Spill the wine, take that pearl
Despite the fact that I'm an overfed wino myself, I still relate much more to It's My Life than to Spill The Wine. Guess I'm into realism. Plus, the Animals had matching suits. We love matching suits around here.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
On the surface of it, there are a lot of bad things about “Prodigal Son” by the Amboy Dukes. For starters, you’ve got Ted Nugent -- pre-Tarzan suits, pre-“Wang-Dang Sweet Poontang,” pre-bow-hunter, pre-Damn Yankees (did anyone listen to the recent installment of the Bob Dylan satellite radio show in which he played baseball-themed songs, and, before introducing a song from the Broadway show Damn Yankees, Dylan said “And I don’t mean that band that Ted Nugent started with those guys from Styx”?!!). Then there’s the hard-to-ignore Carlos Santana guitar tone – it’s not looking good. Add to that the extended uber-Onanist drum and organ solos, and, well, it’s damning, frankly. I’ll admit, this song doesn’t need to be 8 minutes and 40 seconds, but few do. What redeems it for me is the totally retardo rubato at the beginning. That and the fact that I have very fond memories of the first time I heard it. We were in van, somewhere near Hampton, Virginia; yes, there was weed, and my friend Chris had made a mixed tape that started with this track. It was also the first time I heard Blind Willie Johnson’s “God Don’t Ever Change,” which came on right after it, and I’ll forever thing of the two songs together. It’s one of the beauties of the now-gone mixed-tape era that completely unrelated tunes could get yoked one to the other in your mind – indelible album sequencing.
The Amboy Dukes evidently got their name from a famous book about gangs in Brooklyn. I learned this when I read Pete Hamill’s lame memoir The Drinking Life. Hamill, a bit of a self-satisfied windbag like Nugent, was also inspired by the book.
Maybe I should go to postasecret.com for this but, I actually sort of like that Damn Yankees tune. You’ve got to watch the video – the dumb sunglasses, vests with nothing underneath, the bad bangs, the sleeveless T-shirts, the Nuge, the totally unrelated Bonnie and Clyde storyline. Matthew Barney couldn’t do this shit.
And, after you do that, I’ve got something else for you – it’s so volatile I can’t even say what it is, just click.
I know it’s wrong, but I’m okay with that.
Ok. To atone for that, here's some righteous Blue Cheer off of their second record, OutsideInside. This is big, grave medicine. The sound of the kick drum alone is enough to hurt your kidneys. I honestly can't fathom how this music can be this heavy. It's like some sort Copernican Revolution, you have to reconfigure your understanding of everything to make sense of it.
Blue Cheer -- "Sun Cycles"
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Not too long ago I was feeling sort of expansive at the record shop and I picked up a Steve Miller Band record called Number 5 as well as a copy of Shadowfax’s Dreams of Children. Obviously, this was a big mistake. I had remembered sort of grooving to the faux-world rhythms on the Shadowfax record in high school, but there’s a lot of pinched-sounding soprano sax and fretless bass, the kind that when you hear it you imagine the self-satisfied bass player (who looks like a Department of Environmental Protection soil scientist) sort of puffing out his cheeks and bending his knees a bit as he plays. So, I’m not ready to reconsider Shadowfax. Not yet. And the Steve Miller Band record proved to be the worst extended boogie rock, presaging the Dave Matthews Band in its self-deluded ideas of what’s funky.
Every time I start to totally write off SMB though I’m reminded of a time I was at Sluggo’s in Pensacola, Florida (not sure if still exists, it was one of the best rock clubs in the country, run by really cool characters who made Pensacola -- with its mix of rabid anti-abortionists and jarheads, vestigial sunny Florida vacation vortex and the weird decrepit bayou culture of the panhandle which makes the place more like New Orleans than Tampa –- seem like a cultural capitol. Pensacola is a busy shipping port and I once played a game of pool with a Russian sailor at Sluggo’s, he couldn’t really speak English, and he may have been looking for a prostitute, it wasn’t clear, but I passed on an offer to go and hang out on his ship with him, which could have ended in a powerful vodka drunk and/or my entry into white slavery). Anway, on a bathroom stall wall at Sluggo’s someone had written:
You treat me like I was your ocean
You swim in my blood when it's warm
My cycles of circular motion
Protect you and keep you from harm
It was one of those sleep-deprived, hung-over-soon-to-be-drunk moments. And it seemed brilliant (ironic) at the time. Steve Miller, perhaps more than anyone, conjures the 8-track tape era for me. Columbia Record Club deals where you get 10 for a penny or something. Bob Welch, Elton John, ELO, Boston, Fleetwood Mac. That practically does it. Well, like Fleetwood Mac and ELO at least, there was a pre-mega success Steve Miller Band. He tried to do his part for the psychedelic army.
It was while flipping through the book “I Want to Take You Higher” – a big coffee-table deal about the psychedelic era that I saw a mention of early SMB. A track called “Song For Our Ancestors” of his second record, Sailor, was included in the book’s “Top 100 Psychedelic Songs” list (#41). “Song of Our Ancestors” is pretty cool and admirably atmospheric, but I prefer the next track, “Dear Mary.” Yes, it’s a rip-off of both “Whiter Shade of Pale” and “Penny Lane,” which doesn’t bode well. And yes, Boz Scaggs is involved. It occurs to me that, if you had never heard "The Joker," "Fly Like an Eagle," "Jungle Love" and "Big Ol' Jet Airliner," they would actually sound great. Like "Brown Eyed Girl," "Born on the Bayou" and "Sweet Home Alabama" and most Motown hits, these songs have been ruined by too much use. They're like some Leonardo Da Vinci manuscript that was exhibited in a bright gallery space until the light-sensitive material basically disappeared. We can't hear them anymore.
As a come down off of that, here’s some Paul Pena. Much of this record is a lot like Band of Gypsies-era Hendrix or even solo Buddy Miles with a hint of B-grade Shuggie Otis, the Meters or maybe Sly and the Family Stone. Coincidentally, the same day that I picked up Sailor, I also scored a copy of Paul Pena’s first record. Pena, who passed away last year, was the subject of the excellent documentary Genghis Blues, about his embrace of Tuvan throat-singing and a trip the blind musician made to Tuva to enter in a music competition. In the movie, it’s mentioned that Pena wrote “Big Ol’ Jet Airliner,” which Steve Miller later had a hit with. I assumed it was on this record, but evidently it was from an unfinished or at least unreleased second record. Here's a sort of extended soul gospel vamp called "The River." It's not without its chaff, but the bombast of a choir is always its own reward. A spoken-word interlude worthy of Baby Huey is also worth listening for.
Steve Miller Band -- "Dear Mary"
Paul Pena - "The River"
Sunday, May 14, 2006
The Perm and the Skullet has a bunch of excellent Johnny Cash/Bob Dylan outtakes from the Nashville Skyline sessions. You’ll want to go hear these. Among the tracks is "Old Mountain Dew," a rendition of a tune credited to Bascom Lamar Lunsford.
BLL, as some of you will know, was from Western North Carolina, Asheville way. I remember taking a sort of ethnic/folk music class at Warren Wilson College where we learned "Swannanoa Town" – another tune by Lunsford. Most people know him through the incredible "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground" as heard on the Anthology of American Folk Music. Lunsford is one of those huge figures in American old time music. His story gives the lie to many of the popular ideas about old-time musicians in the south.
He wasn’t some hick with a spooky surreal apocalyptic vision sprouted from the hardships of farm living and a steady diet of Sunday sermons, though that would be cool, too. Lunsford, like A.P. Carter, if I’m not mistaken, worked briefly as a traveling fruit tree salesman. Like Carter, Lunsford’s travels around the countryside provided him with a chance to seek out, gather and collect old songs. He was an untrained musicologist who kept track of stories about the old songs and paid close attention to who played what, and what instrumental styles were common in what regions. Lunsford was also a lawyer, and you can hear on the recordings that he made for the Library of Congress that he was erudite and spoke with a cultured air. He wore sharp suits and a cool-o eyeglasses. He could have passed for a Bauhaus architect. Lunsford also started a regional folk music and mountain culture festival.
Here are a few of my favorite tracks from the Library of Congress sessions. Like the Carter Family, BLL performed a mix of old tunes that had their roots in Scotch-Irish traditional music, Elizabethan balladry, African-American blues, Cival War era parlor songs, and whatever else the folks in Buncombe County were inclined to play for one another when they gathered for some music. Here is "The Mermaid Song" (with a special nod to Dewey Dell), "In the Shadow of the Pines," and "Swannanoa Tunnel." If you’ve ever been to Swannanoa, it’s sort of startling to find such a speck on the map showing up in a song.
Somewhere on the disc he says that he’s recorded something like 300 songs or so for the library. I’d love to hear them all.
Bascom Lamar Lunsford - "The Mermaid Song"
Bascom Lamar Lunsford - "In the Shadows of the Pines"
Bascom Lamar Lunsford - "Swannanoa Tunnel"
There’s a Buffy St. Marie version of a few BLL tunes, I may have to transfer from vinyl and inflict on you all. Stay tuned.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
This is just a quick one to add to Mr. P's post about Lee Hazlewood. It's from my vinyl copy of Dean Martin's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, which I picked up in a thrift store about 11 years ago in Chico, California. The composer is Lee Hazlewood.
Enjoy the Dino.
I remember once seeing the eclectic jazz clarinetist Don Byron on MTV. He was performing with rapper Biz Markie at the Knitting Factory, I think. Whoever it was doing the interview made some comment about Byron having recorded the music of Duke Ellington, Raymond Scott, Lester Young, having played klezmer and whatever else, implying that working with Biz was somehow not in keeping with Byron’s past. To which Byron said he put Biz Markie up there with Stravinsky.
You may remember back in the ‘90s that Biz had one of his record I Need A Haircut basically recalled because he had illegally used a sample of English singer Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Along Again, Naturally” in a song that the Biz, perhaps unwisely called “Alone Again.”
I Need A Haircut is my favorite Biz record. The song “Romeo an Juliet,” what I bet is a sample lifted from the Nino Rota soundtrack to the Zeffirelli film, encourages anyone who’s not familiar with the story of the two star-crossed lovers to go see the movie (It’s much better than the Dire Straits version). It also includes “I Told You,” which makes excellent use of a Donovan sample from the song “Get Thy Bearings” off of The Hurdy Gurdy Man.
Biz Markie - “Alone Again”
Biz Markie - “Romeo and Juliet”
Biz Markie - “I Told You”
Donovan - "Get Thy Bearings”
Igor Stravinsky - “Third Tableau” from Les Noce (The Wedding),
performed by Pokrovsky Ensemble
Friday, May 12, 2006
A few years back I wrote a small piece about overrated and underrated artists. I was feeling particularly contrarian and I went on about how Gram Parsons wasn’t really as great as everyone wanted to believe – sure he wrote several near-perfect songs, but because of his self-destruction and early demise he never realized his potential. I had recently interviewed Chris Hillman and he was clearly a bit tired of the Saint Gram thing. Hillman seemed to feel that the worship of GP was a perfect example of enshrined hippie excess.
Around the office a few people made fun of me because they had never heard of Gram Parsons (so how could he be overrated?). Taking an easy shot, I also wrote about how lame and bloated most of Eric Clapton’s music is. I expected hate mail for that one. But none came.
For the underrated section, one of the groups I picked was Nazareth. The other was the Bee Gees.
I was basically saying that the early Bee Gees were as good as the Beatles, and that their disco era success had sort of sucked attention away from all the lovely early stuff. A few weeks later, we got a hand-written letter thanking us for championing the oft-neglected Bee Gees, and yes they were geniuses and pop visionaries. People have strong feelings about the Bee Gees. There’s a now-defunct web site that was devoted to people’s poetry about how the Bee Gees music had changed their lives.
Jefferson Airplane don’t have one of them I bet.
Here are two from the brothers’ wonderful Odessa. The Bee Gees knew how to drop a seafaring riff now and again, and a little military or technological history (see "Trafalgar" and "Edison") wasn’t off limits either. Here they seem to be celebrating a certain kind of domesticity ("Marley Purt") and offering a little Celebrity Make-Over tips to the young ladies.
Send us a poem if it changes your life.
"Marley Purt Drive" – the Bee Gees
"Melody Fair" – the Bee Gees
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
This is just going to have to be one of my would-be high-concept posts that ends up still-born, half-assed. But that’s cool. I was going to do a series of swamp-theme songs, ideally swamp songs involving murders. This was mainly just an excuse to foist Warrant’s "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" on anyone daring enough to go there with me. But then, no, when I think about "Uncle Tom’s Cabin," I’m not even totally sure there was actually a swamp involved, though the video seems swampy in my memory. And when I think about "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" I’m reminded of my other high-concept- sure-to-be-half-realized about doing something on songs that misappropriate famous pieces of literature (preferably American lit.) for rock use. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as you know, is an anti-slavery novel by Harriet Beacher Stowe. Warrant’s "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" is a song about, I don’t know, corrupt cops and murder. Get the idea? From there I could only really come up with one other one: Metallica’s "For Whom the Bell Tolls," which I’m pretty sure is unrelated to the Hemingway book. There must be more. "Mody Dick" sort of makes the cut, but we really need one more solid to run with the theme. I’m sure it will come.
So that’s why you’re not listening to Warrant right now.
To the matter at hand. Let me just advise all of you Charlies Daniels doubters out there. Go get your copy of My Morning Jacket’s It Still Moves and pick just about any track off of it. Or pretend you’re listening to the Drive-By Truckers. How much difference is there? The other, less pleasant, connection is to the Edgar Winter Band. "Wooley Swamp" actually shares some DNA with "Frankenstein." And so there it is – Charlie Daniels Band perched at the intersection between wanky bloated blues-boogie albino art rock and southern-fried jingo jams, dixie dreggs.
"Legend of the Woolie Swamp" – Charlie Daniels Band
And to clear the swamp muck off your palate, Swamp Dogg and Duke Ellington.
"Total Destruction of Your Minds" – Swamp Dogg
"Chloe (Song of the Swamp)" – Duke Ellington and his orchestra
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
When he died in the 1940s, the Rev. J.M.. Gates had what was described as the largest-ever funeral of anyone in Atlanta’s sizeable African-American community. It was only when MLK was killed in the 60s that the record was broken. It’s said that among old-time and race music record collectors in the 50s and 60s, Harry Smith types, that J.M. Gates records were sort of like the chaff that you had to sift through in order to find the real odd gems. Everyone had Gates records. It’s hard to fathom now, but his recordings – sermons, theological skits and rough-and-raw group singing – were some of the best selling 78s for the labels that released them. I once interviewed Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, and I remember talking with him about recordings of preachers. When I mentioned that I liked Rev. J.M. Gates, Strachwitz was kind of dismissive, equating it with top 40, which seems pretty unlikely when you listen to him. But it's sort of true.
If I'm not mistaken, Gates was "discovered" by Polk Brockman, who also made some of the very first, if not the first, old time and country recordings. In the 20s and 30s, record labels were mystified by the black market, but they realized a big seller when they had one, and they just stuck with what worked, and as a result, you can hear multiple versions of Gates’ signature "Death’s Black Train" among his complete recordings, since Gates had more recording sessions than material. As a matter of fact, in his autobiography Malcolm X refers to recollections of listening to recordings of "Death's Black Train," undoubtedly one of the Gates versions. Part of the appeal must have been that you could get a jolt of sanctity without having to get dressed up and go all the way to church.
Blues scholars often point to Robert Johnson and certain other players as being among the first generation of artists who were learning as much from listening to recordings as they were by hanging out and picking up riffs by watching other players. It's the point at which local styles exploded and could go national. Suddenly you had guys from Georgia or Chicago playing a blues style that was very specific to a small area in the Mississippi Delta. The 100th Monkey phenomenon, only without the mystery. Jazz dudes will go on at length about listening to Coleman Hawkins' solo on "Body and Solo," picking it apart, marveling at it - something you couldn't do before the days of the record. I've always speculated about the extent to which Gates' popular recordings affected the sermonizing and testifying styles of preachers all over the country.
I love Gates' little froggy croak and the seemingly off-the-cuff slapstick banter he gets going with his "congregation" (a crew of three or four regular characters who would moan, offer well-placed rhythmic assent or shout "sing it!" and "well!" as needed, often repeating the last word of Gates' phrase for emphasis -- I particularly enjoy when one of the deacons gets all worked up in "The Flood of Alabama" after Gates delivers a line about the prisons being overcrowded and the congregation yells out "overcrowded!"). More than that though, I especially dig his almost universal suspicion. You name it and Gates' is not down with it. Wigs, bad. Chain stores, bad. Corn liquor, very bad. But more than anything, Gates distrusts rapid transport, and he sees it as a metaphor for the devil's ways -- he'll give you something quick and convenient, but he'll steal your soul. Gates has tracks railing against automobiles. And you don't want to get him started on flying machines.
Gates was big seller. But loads of other preachers ended up on records, trying to connect with glory while positioned in front of equipment with a technician standing there telling them when they've run out of time. You've got three minutes.
"I've Got a Ride to the Tree of Life" -- Sister Sallie Sanders
"Liar" Rev Isaiah Shelton
"I Am the Living Bread" - Sister Gertrude Morgan
"Devil in a Flying Machine" -- Rev. J. M.Gates
"Will the Coffin Be Your Santa Claus?" -- Rev. J.M. Gates
"I Wish I Could Sing" - Bongo Joe (sort of a secular preacher, on Arhoolie)
Monday, May 08, 2006
OK. I’ve been postponing this one in hopes of finding my Dino, Desi and Billy record to add to the mix. But, after rummaging through two boxes of neglected vinyl stored away in the guest room, I’ve decided that I must have tossed it or lost it. The theme is Lee Hazlewood. Mustache man. Producer. Music scout. Song-writer. Singer. Hazlewood produced Dino, Desi and Billy, but we can do without it. There are enough other doozies to cook through without Hazelwood’s foray into the world of the proto boy band.
He wrote “These Boots Are Made For Walking.” LH also signed and produced Gram Parson’s pre-country project The International Submarine Band. He had big success with the twang-irrific sounds of Duane Eddy, the Guitar Man. And LH also put out the music of the mysterious Arthur, whose full name was Arthur Lee Harper (not to be confused with the Love frontman). The Haze Master also penned a book about his relations with the Sinatra Family. You can buy it on his web site.
There’s plenty of kitsch value on many of these recordings, but LH is a brilliant producer and songwriter. There’s backwards guitar to rival the Beatles and Hendrix on “Sand,” one of many duets with Nancy. After parting ways with Nancy, Hazlewood moved, where else?, to Sweden. Hence the record Swedish Cowboy which includes the so-silly-it’s-almost-creepy free-love comedown of “Easy and Me.” Hazlewood’s croaky bottomless baritone has an accidental chocolaty quality to it. Some people mention James Earl Jones, but there's also a bit of Fred Flintstone in there too. Understanding Lee Hazlewood is difficult. He's part hokey huckster, and part hipster, sort of like if they had cast Jack Klugman to play in the hippie/cop/detectiveTV series based on Easy Rider.
He was never afraid of overdoing it with production. Or with liner notes, as I've mentioned in the earlier post on Arthur, where Hazlewood gets all oxymoronic and synesthesiac -- "a mind that listens to pictures ... a man who will someday be a child again."
LH has plenty of people championing him. On a 2002 tour of England, Jarvis Cocker and Friends were the openers. A tribute album includes Lambchop and Evan Dando.
Nancy Sinatra - "The City Never Sleeps At Night"
Lee Hazlewood - "Easy and Me"
Lee Hazlewood -- "Run, Boy, Run"
The International Submarine Band -- "Sum Up Broke"
Arthur - To come, perhaps.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
An inverse relationship is a mathematical relationship in which one variable decreases as another rises. For example, there is an inverse relationship between education and unemployment. That is to say that as public education increases, the rate of unemployment decreases. What I submit to you today is this: As the Beastie Boys experienced an increase in morality, they experienced a decrease in quality musical output. So there is an inverse relationship between their morality and their music. Morality is defined as dealing with what is right and what is wrong. So in 1986, when the Beastie Boys released Licensed To Ill, they expressed a low morality in the eyes of many people as they were wrong to revel in the following: binge drinking, pornography, smoking cigarettes, robbing people of their jewelry, taking drugs, shooting people and using women just for sex or household chores.
It was also an incredibly good album. Producer Rick Rubin and the Beasties made the perfect blend of classic rock and hip hop.
I was in high school when this album came out, and I remember thinking the Beastie Boys were our Sex Pistols of the 80’s. Like the Pistols, the Beasties toured the South, much to the distress of the Red Staters. I remember reading in the local newspaper that there was a lot of controversy about the tour, which included a huge inflatable cock and lots of sprayed beer. It was some real Malcolm McLaren-style marketing genius to send the Boys to places like Corpus Christi, TX, with a huge bouncing cock and cans of Budweiser, playing this new urban music and advocating all types of gonzo behavior.
So then the Beasties calmed down a little and made the great album Paul’s Boutique in 1989. They still talked about guns, stealing and drugs, but they seemed to get some distance from the pure advocacy of these things by using more pop culture references. So the track High Plains Drifter becomes more like the movie it name checks, where the rappers can take on the persona of a bad guy in a film and not come off like they're bragging about what they do in the real world. Also, the overt sexism is done away with, and it’s replaced by a more pleasant fascination and celebration of women.
Then Check Your Head came out in 1992. For me this is their best album, and their last great album. This was the pivot point, where the music was still great, but it also reflected the Buddhist beliefs of Adam Yauch. Here the Beasties meditate and wish for peace between the races in a very stony mix. Somebody said this is the album where they stopped drinking cheap beer and started smoking expensive weed.
Ill Communication came around in 1994. You’ll hear some great tracks on this one, but it seems to run too long. On the upside it sounds like a sequel to Check Your Head. The morality increases here, with songs about destroying handguns, respecting women and respecting the environment. Around this time Adam Yauch writes in Grand Royal magazine that he doesn’t smoke weed anymore.
Then in 1998 Hello Nasty was released. They tried. There’s a good track or two, but mostly it’s too long. Lefty gave me his copy, as he didn’t want to deal with the record. I’ve listened to it a few times. I think it’s around this time that the Beasties try to convince Prodigy not to play “Smack My Bitch Up” at a benefit show. Prodigy refuses. A few years later, right after 9/11, the Beasties go on MTV to tell people to calm down and not retaliate against Middle Eastern people on the street. At this point the Beasties are now activists for peace and understanding, willing to use their celebrity status for the good of humankind. It’s been many years since they’ve made a great record.
Then in 2004 To The 5 Boroughs comes out. Another decent try. This time, more minimal, more old school. But aside from a pretty good single, the record just doesn’t work. Even their longtime advocates at Spin magazine are mocking them by this point. I remember opening Spin and seeing a photo of Mike D on stage pointing two index fingers out to the crowd. The caption reads: “Mike D points to the two people who liked To The 5 Boroughs.” Ouch.
What this all means I don't know exactly. Good intentions often lead to bad music, but I still haven’t given up on the Boys. At least they didn’t write We Are The World.
Beastie Boys - High Plains Drifter
Beastie Boys - Something's Got To Give
Beastie Boys - Sure Shot
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Sammi Smith, who died last year at the age of 61, is known primarily for her definitive version of the Kris Kristofferson classic “Help Me Make It Through The Night.” In their book Heartaches By the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles, the writers Bill Friskics-Warren and David Cantwell rank Smith’s rendition of it as the number one country single of all time. What’s strange, then, is that Smith only places two other songs in their top 500. In a genre where artists often cranked out records, more than one a year, Smith maybe wasn’t quite as prolific, consistent or solid as some of her peers. And though she was a part of the Outlaw movement, she certainly never reached the same level of celebrity as other country greats like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn or Tammy Wynette. What Sammi Smith could do was to fuse a some sultry soul with all the down-and-out heartache. “Kentucky” came in at number 275 out of 500. Here she’s aided by some studio cats with Muscle Shoals pedigrees. Aside from being one of the great state-title songs, “Kentucky” is sort of like a cross between “Me and Bobby McGee” and Bread’s “Guitar Man” – wandering from town to town, only singing in crappy bars instead of hitchhiking and wearing bandanas and shit. It probably has more in common with Dusty in Memphis than with Coal Miner’s Daughter.
I’ll take this opportunity to share some other good songs about The Hospitality State. The Louvins tune is actually a cover of a Blue Sky Boys song. Oddly enough, the Louvins version shows up on their record Tragic Songs of Real Life. I’m not sure what the tragedy is here.
Sammi Smith – “Kentucky”
The Louvin Brothers – “Kentucky”
My Morning Jacket – “Nashville to Kentucky”