Song 191, Sunday, 3/23/2014 -- Mama Tried by Merle Haggard, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual is a bunch of stills of Merle, and I really like the one of him holding a guitar while standing by a stream -- the perspective of the pose reminds me of a similar picture Su Polo took of me (which appears on the Bio/Press/Contact page of this website). I also like the picture of him sitting on a bench, which reminds me of some of the footage of me sitting on a bench that shows up in the music video of As Long As Merle is Still Haggard. Last week I posted a song by Waylon Jennings, and in doing so, I realized that I hadn't previously included any songs by him, Merle, Willie, or Charlie Pride. Since I mention all of them in the chorus of the Merle song, and they've all done songs that I really like, it seemed like I ought to get at least one song by each of them onto this list, and especially Merle. This song tops my list of Merle favorites, at least in part because of the lines about riding a freight train. Merle had an adventurous youth, as the Pure Prairie League song I'll Fix Your Flat Tire, Merle happens to mention, though I'm not sure about the telephone booth part, but that adventurous youth included riding freight trains, and also doing a stretch at San Quentin Prison in 1958, where he turned 21, though he was not doing life without parole. While at San Quentin, he got to see a Johnny Cash performance, and that inspired him to join the prison country band, though he had already developed an interest in singing country music. I've read that when Merle met Johnny Cash for the first time, he mentioned that he saw him at San Quentin. Cash, thinking that Merle was referring to his 1969 show there (which yielded the live LP At San Quentin), said he didn't remember Merle being on that show, and Merle replied that he was in the audience (at a much earlier concert, of course). Fortunately for Merle, and for people who like country music, Hag got himself into a slightly-less-adventurous lifestyle in the early 1960s that led to songs like this. I got to see Merle playing at a small club in Manhattan a couple of times in the late 1990s, and he and his band were putting on a pretty good show then, as I would expect they probably are still doing these days as well. On a related note, you can find the As Long as Merle is Still Haggard video here.
Song 190, Sunday, 3/16/2014 -- Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way? by Waylon Jennings, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. As the early '70s became the mid-'70s, Chicago-area radio just seemed to get worse, but still, spending time in traffic back then usually meant depending on the radio for music. Generally I would switch between stations searching for a song I liked, or at least one I could stand to listen to, and once in a while I found a gem. On an afternoon some time in 1975, DJ Larry Lujack played this song, but before he did, he gave it a really good introduction. On air, Lujack had a very sarcastic manner, and on this particular afternoon, he mentioned that listeners had been commenting that he didn't seem to think much of the music he played. He then said that as he saw it, rock and roll was getting worse, not better (I silently nodded in agreement), but his job was to air songs listeners wanted to hear, so if it made the charts and got requests, he'd play it no matter how he felt about it. But hey, were there any new songs that he did like? Well, here's one... Before those opening chords, I knew nothing about Waylon, his past connections with Buddy Holly, or his contemporary collaborations with Willie, but not long into this song, I knew I not only had to get the record, I had to find out more about the guy who made it. I would soon start adding Waylon LPs to my collection, and finding out a lot more about the man and his music. In this era, I heard a lot of Been on the Road Too Long songs, and most of them didn’t move me at all, but once in a while, someone like Jennings would actually breathe some genuine life experience into the tired old cliches. In this song, Waylon calls up the ghost of one of the original country singer-songwriters and pays homage to that spirit while also painting a clear picture of his own day-to-day struggles. If you like country music, then most likely you too have some favorite Hank songs, just as Waylon did, and as I do. One sad side note -- I knew that Waylon died in February of 2002, but I only learned today that Larry Lujack died in December of 2013. On a second side note, this post is a 2nd sly reference to my song As Long as Merle is Still Haggard, and you can find the video for that song here.
Song 189, Friday, 3/7/2014 -- Green, Green by The New Christy Minstrels, written by Barry McGuire and Randy Sparks. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. As a rule, my family didn't listen to the radio much during my younger years, and so in the era before the Beatles came along, I mainly heard songs from the radio in public places, or on visits to friends. Once in a while they did turn the radio on in the car going somewhere, though, and I think that's how I first heard this song, when it came along in the summer of 1963, and it then suddenly became a reason for me to try to get them to put the radio on. I had heard and learned a few other folk and country songs over the previous year, but this was the first hit song that I really, really learned. After only hearing it a few times, I had the words memorized and I would sing along with it, much to the amusement of my parents and grandparents. They must have truly enjoyed hearing their primary-school-age son deliver lines like I told my mama on the day I was born, "Don't you cry when you see I'm gone." I even tried to imitate Barry McGuire's rough-edged voice, but I couldn't really get it down. About 6 months later, the Beatles would open up a whole new world for me, and a new-found adoration of rock-and-roll, which I thought they and the other English bands had invented. That would so overshadow my previous enjoyment of a handful of folk songs that when Eve of Destruction blasted out of a transistor radio only 2 years after Green, Green, I didn't even recognize the singer. At the time that Green, Green came along, though, I quickly learned every word he was singing, and I tried to sound like him when I sang along, though I really couldn't sound like him, no matter how hard I tried. That summer, though, it was a lot of fun hearing that song and singing along in the family car on the way to somewhere, which would not happen when the English Invasion came along the following winter.
Song 188, Sunday, 3/2/2014 -- Wild Things by Cris Williamson, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual is just a still of the cover of The Changer and the Changed, but the video gives you a really good song to listen to even if the visual doesn't give you much to look at. I posted this song today to offer some contrast to last week's post, in a song with almost the same title. In the late '70s one of my folkie singer/songwriter friends, Nancy Milin, performed this song one night, probably at either Freight and Salvage or La Val's Pizza, which were the 2 major venues for our circle at the time. I liked the tune a lot, so I asked her about it, and not long after hearing it I got a copy of the CW album. The song offers a more serious and thoughtful tone, in contrast to the playful and raucous feel of the Troggs recording, as a cautionary tale about the reality of trying to live with a wild thing. The Wild Thing of the Troggs tune makes everything groovy, but then Cris Williamson reminds us that Wild Things can turn on you, and that no matter how much you might love the see the spirit of a wild thing, as we all so often do, in the end, you've got to set them free. She reminds us that wild things can have sharp teeth, and that they live another way. This song also made me do a bit of soul-searching, asking myself if I had hurt someone close to me by following the call of the wild, and having to admit to myself that surely I had, whether I had meant to do so or not.
Song 187, Sunday, 2/23/2014 -- Wild Thing by The Troggs, written by Chip Taylor. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Who doesn't love this song? Or, to put it another way, if you don't love this song, then the love of rock and roll is not in you. It practically exploded out of the radio in the summer of 1966, at a time when I also was watching the TV show Batman quite a bit. The following summer I got to go to Expo 67 in Montreal, which was fun in a lot of ways, and while there, at one point the radio played Wild Thing as a golden oldie from the previous summer, so now when I hear this song, it takes me back to that moment in Montreal and also makes me think about the Batman TV show as well. Chip Taylor is the stage name for the songwriter who wrote this tune, James Wesley Voight, and he is the brother of actor Jon Voight and the uncle of actress Angelina Jolie. He's written a number of other notable songs, such as Try (Just a Little Bit Harder) from Janis Joplin's Kozmic Blues album, the 1966 Hollies hit I Can't Let Go, the 1968 Merilee Rush hit Angel of the Morning, and Waylon Jennings' recording Sweet Dream Woman that he covered on his 1972 Good Hearted Woman album. I once heard Chip talking about Wild Thing, and he gave a quick rundown about how he came to write it, after which he recorded a quick home demo of it and then mailed it off, all in a very short time. After he mailed the demo to a friend in England, he didn't give the song another thought until suddenly, nearly a year after he posted that demo, an English band cover of it came blasting out of his radio one day -- a cover version that he loved just as much as the rest of us did. On a side note, in the fall of 1966, after Wild Thing had peaked, Chip, who was not born with the name Taylor, got involved in a project with someone who was born with that name. He and his partner Al Gorgoni produced a session for James Taylor's band, and while the single Brighten Your Night with My Day/Night Owl from that session did not make a dent in the charts, a few years later, after the success of Sweet Baby James, the recordings from that session surfaced as an album called James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine. I once owned the record, and I would recommend it only to high-end JT fans -- if you absolutely have to have a copy of everything he ever did, then you'll probably want that too, but much better versions of those songs surfaced on the Apple album James Taylor, so getting the Flying Machine record is on about the same level as collecting Basement Tapes bootlegs is to a Dylan fan, or maybe even one level above that.
Song 185, Sunday, 2/9/2014 -- Drive All Night by Kelly Flint, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. When I started this playlist in June of 2013, posting a song every day of the week, Friday was Friend's Day on the playlist, so now that I only post 1 song per week, I post a song by a friend once every 7 weeks, so this song is one of those. Kelly and I were never close friends, but we were both part of the Fast Folk songwriter circle in the early 1990s. I well remember, somewhere around the turn of the '90s, the first night Kelly Flint walked into the Thursday night song swap that Jack Hardy used to host at his apartment on Houston Street in Manhattan, because when the circle came around to her, she sang this song. When she finished, it took a few moments before anyone said anything, I think because we all felt that it was one of the most moving songs any of us had ever heard. Kelly didn't talk about the story behind the song, and if she ever shared it with anyone in that group, they never confided it to me, so I don't know that story, but I'm quite sure that she wrote this song about something that happened to someone she knew. Songwriters can sometimes write strong and moving songs purely from imagination, but I don't think I've ever heard a song conjured up from a writer's imagination that conveys the depth of feeling I hear in this piece.