Monday, February 11, 2008

10 Great Hits Nashville (Probably) Wouldn't Have Cut Today

"Pancho And Lefty" - written by Townes Van Zandt. Townes has two songs on this list, and he represents the quintessential writer that contemporary Nashville has eschewed. Why wouldn't this song get cut today? To begin with, who among the slick mainstream artists would be able to hear through Townes's version of the song and think it was a smash? Emmylou cut it first, but she's arguably the best song interpreter Nashville has ever seen and there's no one on the charts like her today. Willie and Merle covered it later, but again, these are two grizzled songwriting veterans. Where can you even find such a pairing of souls in Nashville now?

"The Carpenter" - written by Guy Clark. This brilliantly written song was a hit for John Conlee. Today they'd want this one to have a verse about Jesus.

"Sixteenth Avenue" - written by Thom Schuyler. When songwriters were the true heroes of Music Row this song said it all. Today, the denizens of Music Row's corporate writer rooms aren't considered heroes by most of the industry. The artists seem desperate to hide the fact that they don't write. Others insist on collaborating with the hitmakers to ensure maximum earnings and a piece of the pie. Then there's also that gnarly line : "God bless the boys who make the noise" In today's politically correct world every publisher on Music Row would probably want to change that one. "Persons" is a tough rhyme. Hey Thom, how about, "God bless the ones who write the puns"?

"If I Needed You"
- also written by Townes Van Zandt. Simply gorgeous. It was a duet hit for Don Williams and Emmylou. Today : "We don't want folk songs", "Not enough furniture in the lyric", "Too safe", "Not enough attitude".

"Good Old Boys Like Me"
- written by Bob McDill. Arguably the best song ever written about growing up in the reconstructed south. It was a hit for Don Williams (funny how he and Emmylou were able to recognize greatness), it contains the seminal line "Those Williams boys sure mean a lot to me, Hank and Tennessee" Today : "Who is Tennessee??" Oh, that's right, you're an American Idol winner...

"Old Violin" - written and recorded by Johnny Paycheck. Among my colleagues in Nashville, this song ranks as one of the all time best. Paycheck wrote it as he was about to be shipped off to jail. Today : nobody on the charts except George Strait is old enough to sing this one with any veracity, and I'm sorry, but with that boyish grin it just wouldn't work.

"The Highwayman" - written by Jimmy Webb and recorded by The Highwaymen. A song about reincarnation in the Bible belt today? Are you kidding? Might as well pitch Don Henry's "Dinosaur Shminosaur".

"Stand By Your Man" - co-written by Tammy Wynette and Billy Sherrill and recorded by Tammy. "Derided by the Feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Wynette in later years defended the song as not a call for women to place themselves second to men, but rather a suggestion that women attempt to overlook their husbands' shortcomings and faults if they truly love them. Wynette always defended her signature song. The song remained contentious into the early 1990s, when soon-to-be First Lady Hillary Clinton told CBS' 60 Minutes during an interview that she "wasn't some little woman 'standing by my man' like Tammy Wynette." Wynette demanded and later received an apology from Clinton." If this song came along today it would be rejected by every publisher on Music Row on grounds that it was quaint, unrealistic, old fashioned, and unliberated. Or to quote one Music Row sage, "That isn't how women between the ages of 18-30 feel between the hours of 8:00 and 10:00 am". Yes, and you've got all the statistics to back it useless sack of...

"A Boy Named Sue" - written by Shel Silverstein and recorded by the Man In Black, who was apparently quite secure in his masculinity. In an era rife with artists such as Troy Gentry who shot a tame bear in a cage and claimed he bagged the animal on a hunting trip to prove his masculinity, can you imagine anyone playing the role of Sue? Uh about John Rich in his full length mink coat?

"Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town"
- written by Mel Tillis and made famous by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, the song was actually a hit 3 times between 1967 and 1969. Today, soldiers are written about as if they're plastic toy heroes. They die honorably and leave proud wives at the graveside. Bullshit. Many live on the streets suffering from depression, they commit suicide in alarming numbers, they aren't even called "casualties" anymore, in fact the wounded are rarely mentioned by the news media at all. By the way, nearly 30,000 wounded vets have returned from Iraq at the time of this posting. The paralyzed vet in "Ruby" admits to a desire to shoot his unfaithful wife if he could only move. There have never been two more tragic characters in a song lyric. I don't think any artist in Nashville today would have the guts, empathy, or patriotism to record this raw-nerved masterpiece. We all know that what passes for patriotism these days is really just fear mongering. This is a song about the deepest fear imaginable this side of the final curtain.

copyright 2008 by craig bickhardt


Anonymous said...

"God bless the persons who do the versin'"

You're welcome...please send me my $10!


chromehead said...

See, folks, I told you Nathan was brilliant...

Anonymous said...

"Here's to the scribes who make the vibes"

"A toast to the exec who buys the dreck"

"Praise the lord and the lyrical horde"

"God bless the plight of those who co-write"

I will gladly now send back the $10


Anonymous said...

"To hell with the goons that can't pick the tunes"

"Here's to the dudes that write etudes"

chromehead said...

I sense a contest brewing...

Anonymous said...

Brilliant Craig.
Your words awakened me from this early morning fog I'm in as storms roll in...What a great writer you are...And such insight...So true...

McClain82 said...

I just recently moved to Nashville to further pursue my career as a songwriter/performer, and I don't know if I am encouraged or discouraged by your blogging. Whatever the end product might be it is damn good writing and definitely worth my time to keep up with.

SY said...

Loved reading this list and your take on the songs. Great insight. Pancho and Lefty brought back some great memories for me from my University days. Myself and my roommate were the only 18 year old Canadians who listened to country music and we loved Willie, played him all the time. Live version of Redheaded Stranger was a staple with beer. Hey, there's a song that could get cut today.....Toby Keith could pull that one off....He gets to say: "'Cause you can't hang a man for killin' a woman, who's tryin' to steal your horse" Now THAT is writing!!!!!!

chromehead said...

McClain82 : I love Nashville, I honestly do. I just like to poke holes in the town to let out some of it's hot air. I see it as a service to songwriters everywhere.

SY: Can you imagine any major label allowing any artist to record the "Red Headed Stranger" LP today? Thanks for reminding me!

Anonymous said...


I can say with utter confidence that my song cycle "You're NOT Lisa?" an exploration of the many extra-marital foibles of the current crop of "Worship" singers will be picked up and released by a major label. Alternate titles include "Pray for me from down there" and "Scared Yet?, Songs About Hell for Children"

Betsy Thorpe said...

For many years I lived in the shadow of Music street east of 16th Avenue, and over the years I watched in dismay as songwriters full of spirit and character, with guitars in hand slowly disappeared from the sidewalks of 16th Avenue. They were replaced by busy men talking on cell phones carrying brief cases, hurrying to their next corporate meeting.

If Hank Williams were to knock on every door on Music Row today, I doubt even one would allow him in.

Betsy Thorpe said...

one more thought.....

Reading what you wrote about "Ruby Don't Take Your Love To Town" trggered a memory.

When my daughter Ruby was about three years old ( 1983 or 84) she alway enjoyed listening to "Ruby Don't Take Your To Town", until one rainy night when we were driving from Dallas to Austin, and it played on the radio. After the song was over she announced from the back seat of the car "he is going to shoot her!"

Its still a great song.
And Pancho and Lefty is one of my favorite all time songs. I remember back in the 70s' it seemed like every solo artist in Austin had it on their play list.