This is a new feature called Classic Cuts that we’re excited to debut. Once or twice a week, I’m going to recommend a handful of songs from country music’s past that I believe are worthy of your attention. I’m going to be using a liberal definition of “classic.” Basically any song that I consider good from country music’s past is eligible, from the early days of the 1930s to stuff that’s as recent as last year. I don’t really differentiate between singles and non-singles, mainstream and non-mainstream artists, pure country and fringe country artists, etc. It’s all just music to me. I’m going to try to cover as many artists, subgenres, and eras as possible and as evenly as possible.
CMM usually covers music from an album perspective, but there’s a couple reasons why I’m talking about individual songs here. Firstly, country music was slow to become an album genre compared to rock, and for the most part, pre-’70s country music is very song-oriented. As a result, much of the music of that era is available today only as part of compilations. Secondly, even though I’m an album listener, I just find it easier in general to talk about and describe individual songs. Note that in pretty much every instance I recommend you check out the entire album if applicable.
And without further ado, here’s the first edition of Classic Cuts. In the future, I plan to highlight one or two more songs than I do here, but I’m really anxious to publish this first edition. Anyway, please let me know if you dig any of these songs.
Jean Shepard – Why Did You Wait
(written by Bettie Westergard)
From This is Jean Shepard (1959)
How about a good ol’ cheatin’ song? The narrator “Why Did You Wait” is a young mother with a newborn daughter whose husband is running around on her, and she doesn’t understand why he waited until they were married and had a child before he started pulling this stuff. With lines like “I’d rather be dead than to tell her the news, your daddy’s traded us for bright lights and booze”, you know it’s country music all right.
Waylon Jennings – Six White Horses
(written by Bobby Bond)
From The Taker/Tulsa (1971)
Many people believe that Waylon’s “outlaw” period started with the release of Lonesome, On’ry and Mean in 1973, but it was actually with 1971’s The Taker/Tulsa that he began to wrestle creative control away from meddling Nashville producers and develop his famous sound. While this album contains some of Waylon’s most enduring songs and some well-chosen Kristofferson covers, it’s the little-known gem of “Six White Horses” that totally blew me away. This story of an old man waiting to hear news of his soldier son’s fate in the war has to be among the most effective ballads I’ve ever heard in some time.
Uncle Tupleo – Life Worth Living
(written by Mike Heidorn, Jay Farrar, and Jeff Tweedy)
From No Depression (1990)
Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@andythedrifter) may know that this year I’ve been making an effort to become better versed in alt-country. Well, I decided to take on Uncle Tupelo’s terrific debut for the first time, and I’m sure glad I did. Like many of the tracks on No Depression, “Life Worth Living” combines the blue-collar pathos typical of traditional country with an excellent melody and some alternative rock-leaning production.
Patty Loveless – Ships
(written by Gretchen Peters)
From When Fallen Angels Fly (1994)
Patty Loveless is one of country’s great vocalists, and an excellent song chooser to boot. When you pair her voice up with Gretchen Peters’ words, the result is magic. “Ships” tells the story of two middle-aged people who have been unlucky in love but happen to meet serendipitously at a Las Vegas casino and strike up a relationship. Unlike the “hookup” songs on today’s country radio involving shallow twentysomethings, the story of Eddie and Lilly’s ships finally coming in seems entirely believable and is enhanced by Peters’ attention to detail and Loveless’s masterful interpretive skills. “Ships” is not the only Gretchen Peters song on this album – “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am” is equally great – but I thought I’d give the spotlight to the much lesser-known of the two.