A Brief History Of...Loneliness in Classic Country

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Jan 27 2008, 21h57

The description and playlist below are from the weekly radio show (A Brief History Of…) that my friend and I host on WSUM 91.7 fm Madison. We selected songs we felt were either historically important or just representative of each specific topic. Please comment if you feel we missed something or just to give your opinion. Remember, however, that we do this show in an hour (about 50 minutes of music). Track length is a major factor in our decisions (shorter is usually better). Thanks!

A Brief History of…Loneliness in Classic Country looks at the most common theme in this great American genre. This show differs from most of the others in that it is not primarily chronological. It focuses instead on songs that exemplify the clichéd forms of loneliness from throughout the period. Those familiar country music formulas include the drama of a break-up, the isolation of imprisonment, the homeward desires of being on the road, and the traditional solution to any of these problems, alcohol. In fairness to the genre, the final segment includes songs that embrace forms of loneliness.

Show Theme Introduction:
Long Gone Lonesome Blues by Hank Williams (1950)

Various Ways of Telling a Lonely Story:
Act Naturally by Buck Owens (1963)
Galveston by Glen Campbell (1969). Note the obvious string arrangement of "Galveston." By the late 60s, much of country music was similarily overprodued.
Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain by Willie Nelson (1975). The spare production of this "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" stood in direct contrast to the rest of contemporary country in 1975 (which still sounded somewhat similar to "Galveston").
She Thinks I Still Care by George Jones (1962)

The Female Perspective:
I Fall To Pieces by Patsy Cline (1961)
In the following two tracks, both female protagonists are lonely despite being in a relationship (something a male artist would never write about). Their responses to their lonely feelings are, however, quite different.
Stand By Your Man by Tammy Wynette (1968)
The Pill by Loretta Lynn (1975)

Causes of Loneliness - Prison:
Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash (1956)
Mama Tried by Merle Haggard (1968)

Causes of Loneliness - On the Road:
Six Days On The Road by Dave Dudley (1963)
East Bound And Down by Jerry Reed (1977). Ok, so this song isn't really about loneliness, but it's a great trucking song and it's the theme song from the best Burt Reynolds movie ever (Smokey and the Bandit).

Common Solution to Loneliness - Alcohol:
You're Still on My Mind by The Byrds (with new member Gram Parsons from their album Sweetheart Of The Rodeo) (1968)
Sunday Morning Coming Down by Johnny Cash (1970). This is possibly the loneliest song ever recorded. It's included here for the famous lyrics: "Well, I woke up Sunday morning / With no way to hold my head that didn't hurt. / And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad, / So I had one more for dessert / ... / I'd smoked my mind the night before / With cigarettes and songs I'd been picking..."

The Opposite View on Loneliness - Make the Best of It:
I'll Be Your Baby Tonight by Bob Dylan (1967). To paraphrase, "We're both lonely, we have booze, we might as well just forget we're lonely and have each other for one night."
On The Road Again by Willie Nelson (1980). The positive view of being on the road.
Joshua by Dolly Parton (1971). Lonely people can still find love.
Flowers on the Wall by The Statler Brothers (1966). If you're lonely, you might as well just lose your mind.

The Lonely Star Musician:
Honky Tonk Heroes by Waylon Jennings (1973)

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