April 15, 2009
Country music is a genre which I have come to appreciate largely through osmosis. My parents did not play it in the house or the car when I was growing up. New York has had trouble maintaining a quality country station, and even when it has, the radio dial did not find its way down there often.
My youth occurred before the internet and satellite radio, and our tape deck for car trips tended to be filled with Phil Collins, Paul Simon and the soundtrack to various musicals (being the youngest, my objections were drowned out by “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes”…etc). My mother did occasionally refer to my father’s affinity for Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman”, but mostly because he would never sing past the first seven words.
While I did experience some country music courtesy of the mainstream crossovers, my true exposure came thanks to Kevin. He has made reference before on this site to the amount of music on his iPod, and I have seen a great deal of this music when it occupied racks-upon-racks of tapes and CDs. When we became friends, I couldn’t help but be exposed to all manner of country songs and artists, and I have gradually (and sometimes grudgingly) grown to appreciate and even seek out country on my own.
The foregoing is mostly a roundabout way to introduce what I have been allowed to address as a discussion topic. I have long noticed that country songs are regularly recorded by several artists. While Whitney Houston introduced many people to “I Will Always Love You”, I have heard many different recordings by Dolly Parton. Though the Patsy Cline version is heard most frequently, “Crazy” has popped up on shuffle as performed by Willie Nelson, Dottie West and LeAnn Rimes. An artist can bring their own spin to a familiar tune, and sometimes make it their own, a concept championed by the judging panel of American Idol.
Last week, Kevin and I were discussing cover songs, when I brought up the idea of “untouchables.” I conceived of an “untouchable” as a song that is so well done by a particular artist that subsequent covers either fall flat in comparison, or are never attempted at all. In the above songs by Parton and Nelson, I have enjoyed the spins that others have put on the original/most notable version. The sincerity and vulnerability of the Dolly version is an interesting contrast to the power and bombast of the Houston take. Patsy’s iconic vocal is interestingly juxtaposed to Willie’s distinctive delivery. I love both songs, but would not consider them untouchable.
For me, one of the first songs I thought of was George Jones’ version of “He Stopped Loving Her Today”. I have discovered that Johnny Russell was the first to record the song, but that his label refused to release it. Other notable artists to cover the song include: Alan Jackson, Josh Turner, Johnny Cash, Sammy Kershaw and David Alan Coe.
However, every version I have heard has only made me think of the Jones cut, and the feeling I get every time his voice crescendos with the violins while nailing the chorus. I would propose this as an untouchable song, unless the artist was merely honoring Jones, as many of the above did in their versions.
Another would be “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash. The only other versions I could find with a quick search were the Rodney Crowell duet and a cover by the rock band Live. While Joaquin Phoenix did a solid job in the movie, you just can’t cover Cash very convincingly. There are many songs by him which just don’t sound the same without his voice moving them along.
So here is where the discussion would jump off:
What songs do the readers of Country Universe consider untouchable, and why?
Thanks to Kevin and the other writers for allowing me to guest post.