The KMM Blog features true crime writer Robert A. Waters’ analysis of cold unsolved cases and commentary about modern and historical crimes. Kidnapping. Murder. Mayhem. They're as old as human history, and as fascinating.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
The 11 Saddest Country Songs of All
by Robert A. Waters
Rolling Stone magazine recently
released what it called the “40 Saddest Country Songs of All Time.”
On the premise that “even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a
while,” they found a few good ones. Unfortunately, there were too
many modern-day songs and not enough older and alternative tunes.
Those who have read my blog for very long know that one of my
passions is old-time hillbilly music. It's what I grew up hearing
and what I still listen to. So here are 11 songs the Rolling
Stone article left out.
Hank III does his best to live up to
his grandfather's name. Hard living, hard drugging, and hard
drinking seems to be the norm of the Williams clan, but they have
country music embedded in their DNA. This song is straight country,
and straight-out sad. No wonder it never made a blip on the modern
Written by the blind country
songwriter, Leon Payne, this song is the defining statement about
Hank's life. It's ironic since Hank wrote most of his own songs. In
many religious songs, there is redemption for sin, but in this song,
there is no redemption—the singer is going straight to Hell. This
is real country music written by real country people
who had, fortunately, never heard “Imagine” by the Beatles.
These Texas-based singers nail this old
“cheating” song. Their version has the feel of, shall we say,
authenticity. In other words, it sounds like they've been there,
done that (not saying they have, just saying the song has that
“feel”). Written by L. E. White, numerous country stars have
recorded it, including Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, Willie Nelson,
and Tanya Tucker. But their versions are too commercial. I like the
Digby and Trevino raw, gritty version best.
Ted Daffan, a honky-tonk singer and
songwriter, penned this song in the 1940s. It's been recorded by
more than 100 country singers, including this version by Johnny Cash.
“Born to lose, I've lived my life in vain/Every dream has only
caused me pain...” Any song with those opening lines has to be sad
and has to be country.
Rolling Stone would NEVER admit
that a descendant of the great Southern General Thomas Jonathan
“Stonewall” Jackson could be a great country singer. But that he
is. “Leona” is written from the perspective of a cuckolded
husband and the tragic conclusion is right out of today's headlines.
Stonewall Jackson, the singer, had many hit songs, including
“Waterloo,” which crossed to the pop charts. Written by the well-known
Nashville songwriter, Cindy Walker, “Leona” never became a hit,
but is still one of my favorites.
Penned by country songwriters Jack
Anglin, Johnny Wright, and George Peck, this song is about a soldier
going off to war. If he comes back, he is reminded to meet his
sweetheart “down where the river bends.” Dwight Yoakam and Ralph
Stanley perform this bluegrass version of the song, and Stanley's high
tenor is guaranteed to send chills down your spine.
Written by Hank, this song
became a number one country hit for him, then crossed into the pop charts to
become Tony Bennett's first number one song. Hundreds of singers
have recorded it, and the song has become a standard, usually delivered with minimal feeling. Not so, Hank's version. The pain of his loss is raw and vicious and we know there'll be no happy endings here.
(How Rolling Stone could miss this song, I don't know.)
This song is a lament about a life gone
wrong by the singer who was called “too country for country music.”
While modern “country” singers listen to the Beatles, the
Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and rap, Oxford cut his teeth on real hillbilly
music—mostly Hank. God is the last resort for many a former
reprobate, and the title of this song says it all.
Any songwriter who can come up with a
title like “She Even Woke Me up to Say Goodbye,” has to be good.
Add to that “San Francisco Mabel Joy,” about a Georgia boy who
falls for a prostitute, kills her lover, and ends up doing 99 years in
prison, and you've got the makings ofreal
country music. It's a long, rambling song that could never make it
onto the country music charts.
This is arguably the greatest
country song of all time. Hank allegedly wrote it about his cheating
wife, Aubrey. Of course, the cheating was mutual, but... This song
has been recorded by almost every country singer in history. The
pain is palpable as Hank sings, “Your cheatin'
heart will tell on you.” Hank, who grew up dirt-poor in Alabama,
achieved fame and fortune beyond his wildest imaginings, but was
tormented by physical and emotional pain all his life. His songs
have been recorded by almost all country singers, and many pop
crooners. Going barefoot while selling peanuts during the
Depression, he could never have imagined the musical influence he
would exert. The writer of the Rolling Stone article should
be canned for not including this song.