Country music going to the dogs? Woof, woof

Frank CagleFrank Talk

I’ve heard complaints about modern country music being too much about drinking, chasing women, drinking, driving pickup trucks, drinking – well you get the picture.


Tsk. Tsk. I get nostalgic for the uplifting country music of my youth.

Remember Porter Waggoner singing about the “cold hard facts of life.” Our hero comes home early and follows a stranger’s car to his home. He downs a bottle of booze then goes in to carve up his cheating wife and her lover with a butcher knife. He’s in a cell, going to hell, but he taught them the “cold hard facts of life.”

Frank Cagle

Hank Thompson sang a lament on wives who become honky-tonk angels, pursuing the wild side of life. He sang that he hadn’t known God made honky-tonk angels. But Kitty Wells replied in an answer song. It wasn’t God who made honky-tonk angels, she sang, it was “married men who think they’re still single.” And God had nothing to do with it. It’s married men who make a good girl go wrong. This song was so provocative it was banned by all the major radio networks. It still sold more records than any other country song at the time.

Leroy Van Dyke advised his lover to just “Walk on By” but (wait on the corner) because it’s “not good to know someone I’m not supposed to know.”

Thompson also sang about a cheating husband who “took his wife for a fool” and she “took me for everything I had.”

Cal Smith sang about the poor suburbanite, a scout leader, a Sunday school teacher with a loving wife baking cookies. But he’s thinking that “Margie’s at the Lincoln Park Inn.” And he knows why she’s there.

Modern country didn’t invent drinking songs. Cal also informed a nosy biddy named Mrs. Johnson that the “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking” and running around but he didn’t need her spreading it around.

Hank Thompson told the bartender he had just enough time for one more round and a “Six Pack to Go.” It was Saturday night you see, and you can’t buy beer on Sunday morning when your head hurts.

Loretta told her hubby not to come home “a-drinkin” with lovin’ on his mind. If he wanted that kind of loving he should go find it somewhere else. Tammy Wynette sang about D-I-V-O-R-C-E and her and little J-O-E were going away.

David Frizzell’s wife told him she was gonna hire a wino to decorate their home. Put in a bar along that wall and a neon sign pointing to the bathroom down the hall. Pickled eggs for dinner, so he’d feel more at home and have no need to roam.

When it comes to motel rendezvouses who can top the rhythmically perfect Third-Rate Romance, Low-Rent Rendezvous. “I’ll tell you that I love you if you want me too.” “I’ve never done this kind of thing before – have you? Yes, I have, but only a time or two.” They were indeed the Amazing Rhythm Aces. Best guitar licks this side of the Eagles’ Hotel California.

But country music never could abide hypocrisy. In the unlikely event that the PTA sends a letter home advising you that your skirts are too short, Jeannie C. Riley advises you to go to the PTA meeting and point out that all the PTA board members are drunken adulterers whose secretaries have to leave town and they should close their window shades – cause this is just a little Peyton Place and you’re all Harper Valley hypocrites. (You young people can google Peyton Place, it’s not a Manning sport’s bar – though it should be.)

One thing about the oldies that seems to have died off – that it’s cool to go to prison. You know, like alleged ex-con Johnny Cash singing at Folsom Prison. Or Merle Haggard doing life without parole, though “Mama Tried” to make him better. Or Merle singing about the death row inmate that wants to hear his favorite gospel song to “sing me back home before I die.”

Who can forget the immortal summation of all the elements of the perfect country song written by Steve Goodman: “Well I was DRUNK the day my MOM got out of PRISON. And I went to pick her up in the RAIN. But before I could get to the station in my PICKUP TRUCK, she got runned over by a damned old TRAIN.”

But my favorite oldies song title is a blues tune, not country. A married traveling salesman asking his friend “How come my dog don’t bark when you come around?”

On second thought, maybe modern country music hasn’t changed all that much, except to lose the steel guitars and hillbilly accents.

Democrats don’t need money: The Tennessee Journal reports that Marquita Bradshaw, who won the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, spent $21,617 defeating James Mackler who spent over a million dollars. It reminds me of when Republican Gov. Don Sundquist was running for re-election. The Democrats picked Mark Whitaker to challenge him. Whitaker was defeated by John Jay Hooker in the primary. John Jay told me he only spent $35, and that was to file to be on the ballot. Don’t run in a Democratic primary if you name starts with a “W.”

Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.

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