Category Archives: Classic Country Singles

Classic Country Singles: Johnny Paycheck, “Take This Job and Shove It”

Take This Job and Shove It
Johnny Paycheck
1977

Written by David Allan Coe

David Allan Coe’s “Take this Job and Shove It” owns a comical hook and, since its release in the 1970s, has become a familiar refrain among the working class. But “Take this Job and Shove It” was much more than an anthem for the overworked and underpaid. It was a tale of a man who’s lost the love of his life, thereby losing “the reason that (he) was workin’ for.” In reality, the narrator never utters the famous phrase to his demanding boss, but lives for the day that he can gather the courage to take his stand.

The song’s most famous delivery came with Johnny Paycheck’s release back in 1977, and the tune reached No. 1 in January 1978. Paycheck’s distinctive growl gave the song great attitude and told of the frustrations felt by those who worked for minimum wage under maximum stress. Coupled with the loss of his lady love, who has left in an apparent attempt to show him where attention must be (and should have been) paid, the job’s troubles have left him at the brink of frustration.

At that time in the late 1970s, the economy was struggling, leaving many blue-collar workers to work tirelessly for little credit or compensation. This anthem was a glimmer of humor in an almost-hopeless fight against those who held both money and power, as a heartbroken man threatens to “blow his top” and head for the door. It speaks to the poor man’s anger at the rich man’s success.

“Take This Job and Shove It” has maintained popularity due to its use at radio stations across the country, becoming a popular tune on Friday afternoons for those about to end the work week. The song even spawned a 1981 film starring Robert Hays, Barbara Hershey and Art Carney and takes place in a Texas brewery. Although both Coe and Paycheck would court controversy in the years to come (Coe would later release a handful of X-rated albums; Paycheck spent time in prison and in bankruptcy court), they will be forever remembered for pairing a working man’s swagger and struggle in a brilliant ode to the hard times in life and love.

“”Take This Job and Shove It” is the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.

5 Comments

Filed under Classic Country Singles

Loretta Lynn, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”

Coal Miner’s Daughter
Loretta Lynn
1970

Written by Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn’s 1970 classic “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is honest-to-goodness country. With the famous first line, “Well, I was born a coal miner’s daughter”, Lynn introduced a snapshot of her cherished childhood, an anthem for those who lived a miner’s life and an inspiration for all those who connected with the hard-working times portrayed in the song.

“Coal Miner’s Daughter” tells the story of Loretta’s life growing up in Butcher Holler while her father worked nights in the Van Lear coalmine. Her rural roots shine through as she expresses a real appreciation for her childhood, even though the times were tough. She tells of her father’s sacrifice in the coal mines for the family, and her mother’s devotion to the household chores, the words of the Bible, and most importantly her children.

Her parents struggled to make ends meet, and would scrape up the money just for new shoes in the winter and food on the table, but she remembers these times with sweetness rather than sorrow. They were often tired and troubled, but Daddy always made sure there was love in their little cabin and Mama’s kind smile was a lasting comfort. In the song’s final verse, Loretta returns to her home (it’s nice to be back again, she says) where nothing remains but the “memories of a coal miner’s daughter”.

“Coal Miner’s Daughter” was a departure from Loretta’s earlier material, which tended to consist of tough songs with a healthy helping of attitude. That did nothing to slow its success. Upon the song’s release in mid-1970, country music fans gravitated to her riveting tale. The song reached #1 on the Billboard country singles chart just before Christmas 1970, also became Lynn’s first single to chart on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Coal Miner’s Daughter” served as the name of Lynn’s 1976 autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter: The Autobiography, which Lynn co-wrote, and the book eventually became the inspiration for the 1980 movie featuring Sissy Spacek as Loretta and Tommy Lee Jones as her hard-driving, yet loving husband, Doolittle Lynn. Its success served as a tribute to the feisty spirit and the unique upbringing of its inspiration.

Loretta Lynn’s autobiographical tune of triumph and determination remains one of country music’s best examples of storytelling. As Lynn told Reader’s Digest in 2006, “I wouldn’t trade that life for nothing I’ve done since I’ve been married. That was a great life. The way I was raised made me what I am.”

In many ways, Loretta Lynn made country music what it is, one true-to-life story at a time.

“Coal Miner’s Daughter” is the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.

5 Comments

Filed under Classic Country Singles

The Statler Brothers, “Flowers on the Wall”

Flowers on the Wall
The Statler Brothers
1965

Written by Lew DeWitt

Recent Country Music Hall of Fame inductees The Statler Brothers first polished their musical stylings singing gospel music, and Johnny Cash was so impressed with the group’s work at a 1963 show in Ohio that he invited them to join his tour. Two years later, they enjoyed their most famous success with “Flowers on the Wall”, the story of a man’s loss of romance and reality, and a perfect example of the quartet‘s ability to mix music with (dark) comedy.

Penned by founding member Lew Dewitt, “Flowers on the Wall” is full of desperate isolation as the abandoned narrator tells his former flame not to worry about him in the wake of her goodbye. The sarcasm reaches high level in the chorus, as he pretends that “counting flowers on the wall, that don’t bother me at all” while playing solitaire with a short deck and watching Captain Kangaroo. As he declares, “Now don’t tell me I’ve nothin’ to do”, his lost love must be sensing him slip. And as the song continues, he descends farther down into his own world, almost begging her to believe that “he’s havin’ quite a time” in the solitude of his room. His boredom borders on pathetic, but he still manages to maintain pride with a little wit and a lot of dishonesty.

The quirky cut connected with the country audience, reaching #2 in January 1966 and becoming the title track to the group’s first album, issued on Columbia Records later that year. The performance also won the quartet their first of three Grammy awards. They would continue to record and tour for over 30 years, even after the death of Dewitt in 1990, and also hosted their own highly-rated show on The Nashville Network in the 1980s.

“Flowers on the Wall” has become a popular culture magnet, gaining fame when Kurt Vonnegut dissected the lyric in his novel Palm Sunday and when Quentin Tarantino used the song in the movie Pulp Fiction. It has also received countless covers from artists such as Pat Boone and Nancy Sinatra, and country artist Eric Heatherly rode his remake to the Top Ten in 2000. But still, the Statler Brothers’ original remains the defining version.

“Flowers on the Wall” is the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.

6 Comments

Filed under Classic Country Singles

Johnny Cash, “Sunday Morning Coming Down”

Sunday Morning Coming Down
Johnny Cash
1970

Written by Kris Kristofferson

On a 1971 episode of his television show Johnny Cash and Friends, the Man in Black defied the show’s executives by staying true to the lyric of one of his signature songs rather than changing it to fit the family audience. When he reached the pinnacle moment, he reached back and sang about a Sunday morning spent “wishing, Lord, that I was stoned”. This open defiance by Cash stands in sharp contrast to the song he was singing, one that is country music‘s saddest and sorriest song about drinking and depression.

A portrayal of a hungover, heartbroken man, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” was written by a then-unknown Columbia Records janitor named Kris Kristofferson. His time living in a slum tenement for $25/month sparked an idea, and he spilled out his sadness one line at a time. The angst-ridden character in the song drinks beer for breakfast (and dessert), walks and talks with no true direction and sees the early hours of a Sunday as the most lonesome time of all. Kristofferson said, “I think Sunday was the choice because the bars were closed in the morning and nobody was at work, so if you were alone, it was the most alone time.”

Although Ray Stevens had a minor hit with the mourning ballad in 1969, it was Cash who elevated it to its deserved status, recording the song after striking up a friendship with the young janitor. Cash confessed to the listener with great depth and despair, giving his account of the solitude and struggle of a troubled man. He tells of all the simple pleasures of life, the fried chicken, the Sunday school and the families spending time together, all while he is alone to go through the motions. He admits that “There’s nothing sure of dying half as lonesome as a sound/On the sleeping city sidewalk Sunday morning coming down” with a resigned, yet still restless tone.

The tormented character struck a chord with fans and the country music establishment. Not only would “Sunday Morning Coming Down” reach #1 for 2 weeks in the fall of 1970, the Country Music Association would acknowledge it as Song of the Year. While a number of country and rock artists (such as Shawn Mullins, Bobby Osborne and the Mother Hips), Johnny Cash gave the song true definition and simple, stunning detail. It remains the pinnacle of the Cash-Kristofferson partnership, and offers the listener a truthful account of heartache and hardship.

“Sunday Morning Coming Down” is the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.

7 Comments

Filed under Classic Country Singles

Classic Country Singles: Conway Twitty, “You’ve Never Been This Far Before”

You’ve Never Been This Far Before
Conway Twitty
1973

Written by Conway Twitty

Conway Twitty was a pop star first, as he scored a major hit in the late fifties with “It’s Only Make Believe.” The signature voice is there, though it’s heavily influenced by Elvis Presley. But even back then, a full decade before he successfully switched genres, Twitty was writing country songs.

Though most of his later hits were penned by others, Twitty wrote some of his biggest early country hits, like “Hello Darlin’” and “Linda on My Mind.” Whether he was grieving over a woman who left him or cheating on the one who slept by his side, there was always a deep concern for the feelings of the woman involved in the song.

This was especially apparent in his sultry hit from 1973, “You’ve Never Been This Far Before,” which was so sexually charged that some country stations were reluctant to play it. The song find him having relations with a woman he’s watched from afar, and the lyrics would be racy on today’s country radio scene. So you can imagine how listeners must’ve reacted hearing the mild-mannered country star sing, in a coarse almost-whisper, “I don’t know what I’m saying as my trembling fingers touch forbidden places.” I’ve often wondered if R&B group B2K stole the rhythm of their grinding hit “Bump Bump Bump,” from the “Bum Bum Bum” that Twitty escalates throughout the course of the record.

But there’s still a tenderness to the lyric, and part of the song’s controversy stemmed from misinterpretation of the lyrics. When he sings “I can tell you’ve never been this far before,” many assumed that he was with a woman much younger than him, and he was her first time. From that perspective, Twitty would sound nauseatingly lecherous.

But those listeners missed the key line, “I don’t know and I don’t care what made you tell him you don’t love him anymore.” There might be some adultery going on, but that’s about it, and her motivation seems to be looking for real love, not lust, and thinking she’s found it with the man she’s crossing the line with. What makes this a love song, rather than just a cheating song, is the final verse: “As I take the love you’re giving,” he sings, “I can feel the tension building in your mind. You’re wondering if tomorrow, I’ll still love you like I’m loving you tonight.”

He answers, “You have no way of knowing, but tonight will only make me love you more.” It’s a startlingly genuine display of emotion, and when the thoughts in his mind are paired with the action going on, what could have been a tawdry exercise becomes a pure expression of love.

“You’ve Never Been This Far Before” is the the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.

Listen: You’ve Never Been This Far Before

Buy: You’ve Never Been This Far Before

8 Comments

Filed under Classic Country Singles

Eddy Arnold, "Make the World Go Away"

Make the World Go Away
Eddy Arnold
1965

Written by Hank Cochran

When Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley honored the memory of Eddy Arnold at the 2008 ACM Awards, they did so by performing his classic hit, “Make the World Go Away.” Arnold is the most successful singles artist in country music history, but even among his deep catalog of timeless hits, “Make the World Go Away” was his signature tune.

What's amazing is that Arnold wasn't even the first artist to have a hit with the song. Hank Cochran had already established himself as one of Nashville's top songwriters by the time he wrote “Make the World Go Away.” It was only fitting that he would offer his stellar new song to an A-list artist, which in 1963, meant Ray Price, not Eddy Arnold. Price took the song to No. 2 on the country charts in 1963, and it dented the pop charts, peaking at No. 100.

Even though Price's version didn't entrance the pop world, the song was tailor-made for that format. Later that year, pop singer Timi Yuro had a moderate hit with it, taking the song to No. 24 on the Hot 100. But the song's life was only just beginning. Eddy Arnold 's career had been in a lull, but in 1965, he made a big comeback with “What's He Doing in My Worl

d”, his first No. 1 hit in ten years. This led to the album My World, which was anchored by that hit single.

Releasing multiple songs from one album was still a rarity in that era, but RCA sensed that the album housed another hit: “I'm Letting You Go.” However, the song stalled at No. 15 on the country chart. Conventional wisdom would've suggested moving on to the next set, not releasing a cover of a hit from two years ago, but RCA sent out “Make the World Go Away” anyway, and it was a smash. It topped the country singles chart, was a top ten pop hit, and helped make My World Arnold's first gold album. In the wake of the song's success, Arnold was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and named the very first CMA Entertainer of the Year.

Arnold's version of “Make the World Go Away” became a standard, even though he was the third artist to have a hit with it. The sweeping strings were a perfect match for his pure vocal, a definitive example of the Nashville Sound done right. Though the song has also been recorded by Elvis Presley, Englebert Humperdink, Donny & Marie Osmond and Martina McBride, it is Arnold's recording of the song that is in the Grammy Hall of Fame, the most significant single in a career full of classics.

Listen: Make the World Go Away

Buy: Make the World Go Away

zp8497586rq

2 Comments

Filed under Classic Country Singles

Marty Robbins, "El Paso"

El Paso
Marty Robbins
1959

Written by Marty Robbins

There are few artists in country music history who were adept in as many diverse styles as Marty Robbins. He could nail a traditional honky-tonk number, then deliver as pure a pop melody as anyone on the hit parade. He was also a tremendously accomplished songwriter, and the song that he was most identified with came from his own pen: the epic Western tale “El Paso.”

In an era when most songs were under three minutes long, “El Paso” ran nearly five. It told the tale of a gunslinging cowboy who falls for a Mexican cantina dancer Feleena, who is working in the Texas city of El Paso. One night, he guns down a rival for her affections, and flees the scene on a stolen horse. He races through the badlands of New Mexico, fleeing the authorities. But rather than stay on the run, he returns to El Paso, singing that “my love is stronger than my fear of death.”

As he approaches Rosa's Cantina, he is surrounded by a swarm of mounted cowboys. He sees the smoke from the rifle, and feels the bullet goes deep in his chest. Then, as he is dying on the ground, Feleena appears by his side, giving him one final kiss as he dies in her arms.

“El Paso” was a high-water mark for Country & Western music, a moniker the genre would shed by the end of the sixties, as songs befitting the latter half became increasingly scarce. Robbins never limited himself to Western theme

s, but “El Paso” forever associated him with that style. In addition to being one of his longest-running No. 1 country singles, it topped the Hot 100 pop chart as well. Robbins won a Grammy for Best Country & Western Performance for the hit in 1960.

Over the course of his career, Robbins would revisit the storyline and themes of “El Paso” repeatedly, beginning with the concept album that accompanied “El Paso,” Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. He told Feleena's backstory in 1966, with the eight-minute “Feleena (From El Paso).” In the mid-seventies, he was inspired to write “El Paso City” as he flew over the town on an airplane. It recounted the story in third-person, from the perspective of a man who believes he is the reincarnate of the gunslinger in the original song. It was released in 1976, seventeen years after the original hit, and was a #1 country hit.

Meanwhile, “El Paso” built a legacy of its own. The Grateful Dead began performing it in 1969, and would do so hundreds of times over the next three decades, as it was their most requested song of all time. The city of El Paso also embraced the song, as it became the Fight song for The University of Texas at El Paso Miners. In 1998, the single was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and it remains the signature song of Robbins, a revered musical legend in his own right.

Listen: El Paso

Buy: El Paso

zp8497586rq

6 Comments

Filed under Classic Country Singles

"He Stopped Loving Her Today"

He Stopped Loving Her Today
George Jones
1980

Written by Bobby Braddock & Curly Putman

It's been called the greatest country single of all time, sung by the genre's greatest vocalist. But while it was an enormous hit, becoming George Jones' biggest record and signature song, it was surrounded by doubts before its release.

The song was about a man who carried a flame for a woman who had left him behind, vowing, “I'll love you 'til I die.” Told from the point of view of the man's friend, the various ways he holds on to her memory are documented. Just before the chorus, it seems like the lovesick fool has finally turned it around, as his friend recounts, “I went to see him just today. Oh, but I didn't see no tears. All dressed up to go away. First time I'd seen him smile in years.” Then the chorus brings the kicker: the man kept his word, and loved her until the day that he died. “Soon they'll carry him away. He stopped loving her today.”

The song was co-written by Bobby Braddock & Curly Putman, and had its origin in off-color funeral humor, before taking a serious turn as the songwriting progressed. Johnny Russell recorded it first, but his label refused to release it. At the time, the song ended after the first chorus. When Billy Sherrill heard it, he knew it was perfect for George Jones, who was in need of a comeback hit after some serious personal struggles. Sherrill requested that another verse be adde

d, which took the form of the woman he loved attending his funeral.

As the producer recounted to Tom Roland in The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits, Jones didn't want to record the song, and when he cut it, he said, “Nobody will by that morbid S.O.B.” Sherrill bet Jones $100 that he was wrong, and recalled, “I won that one hands down.”

The song was a massive hit, returning Jones to prominence on the country hit parade. It was his first solo #1 single in nearly six years. Until then, he'd only had gold albums with Tammy Wynette, but “He Stopped Loving Her Today” propelled the album I Am What i Am to platinum status. After twenty-five years on the charts, “Today” earned Jones his first major accolades from the country music industry. It was named Single of the Year by both the CMA and the ACM, and both organizations named Jones their Male Vocalist. Jones also won his first Grammy for the recording.

The songwriters weren't left out of the festivities, either. The CMA named “He Stopped Loving Her Today” Song of the Year twice – in 1980 and in 1981. It was also named Song of the Year by the ACM, and was nominated for Best Country Song at the Grammys. It has since become a country music standard, a tour de force performance by the man who is most often cited as the greatest country music vocalist in history.

Listen: He Stopped Loving Her Today

Buy: He Stopped Loving Her Today

zp8497586rq

17 Comments

Filed under Classic Country Singles