Daddy Sang Tenor, Crazy In Love: The Top Twelve Songs at 2:35


9. Jan. 2009, 6:58

My father was a champion serial monogamist. After he and my mother divorced, he got married five more times, each time ending in another divorce, except for the last one, which ended in a heart attack. He was an English teacher, a wrestling coach, a sharp poker player, and a lover of country music.

Growing up, I would visit him once or twice a year, and we would talk about music a little, but I really couldn't relate to the stuff he liked. I was into the Beatles, and KISS, and Aerosmith: you know, more sophisticated fare than that cornpone old-man shit. One time he took down his guitar and played me a song, and I just sat there squinting and grinning. Squinting to try and understand this music my dad was so passionate about, a passion that made him want to share it with me even though he knew I wouldn't get it, and grinning to reassure him that it was OK, I was digging it, even though he was no dummy (and a poker player) so he could obviously see through that fake grin.

The problem with country, if I could have articulated it then: those people are stupid and crazy and in love with cliches, and they don’t even know it! I don’t know why I was able to tolerate the stupid craziness of rock music clichés while dismissing the same qualities in country. I guess you don't recognize the cliches that you're in love with, especially when you're thirteen years old and you already know what's good about music.

I wish I could have understood country music earlier, or that my dad had lived long enough for me to get it, because I would have enjoyed sharing that with him. I think I would have asked him how much he believed in the country music idea of love, which is assertive, and possessive, and signified by rings of fire around cold, cold hearts, and lonely teardrops from blue eyes crying in the rain. Country music love is like going all in with a poker hand, knowing you're going to win the whole pot or go out busted. Dad, you busted every time, but you kept trying. Keep on walkin' after midnight, old man; you'll find her.


Programming Note
This is the strongest group of songs since 3:40; the top four in particular all seem like #1s to me, and the quality goes so deep that a pretty good Elvis Costello song ("Lip Service") didn't even sniff this list.

The Top Twelve Songs at 2:35

1) Walkin' After Midnight
Some songs get a zeitgeist bonus, by arriving at the sound the world wants at the right time, while other songs tap into something more eternal. "Walkin' After Midnight" is of the latter type. Patsy Cline plays the archetypal forlorn scorned lover; it seems like there ought to be medieval woodcuts of this woman, walking in the middle of the night and crying.

2) Sweet Dreams
Same woman, same story as above, only now she’s getting (troubled) sleep instead of staying up late. There are lots of crazy in love songs, but Patsy’s miraculous voice raises the emotional stakes to a gothic level, like selections from a tragic country opera.

3) Ring of Fire
Johnny Cash claims that the Mexican horns came to him in a dream, which seems appropriate for divine inspiration. This is love as both transformative and dangerous, like a dare two people take when they either want to live the rest of their lives in happiness together or die painfully in the attempt. All in, baby, all in. Apparently Johnny and June actually took that dare in real life, and lived to sing about it.

4) She's Like Heroin to Me
Shall I compare thee to a ruined vein? The Gun Club's Jeffrey Lee Pierce created one of the pinnacles of cowpunk, and also a transcendent love song. Yes, I really mean it. On first listen, you might think it’s just a facile comparison of the lover to a drug, but there are so many great lines (“I’ve been a real good tombstone, but now I’m blown away” or “I’m like the Indian wind along the telegraph lines”), and there’s an argument with God, and the band plays like they’re bursting into flames, all crammed into two and a half minutes of howling twang.

5) Superball
Helium’s song is all about the contrast between the gloomy, ominous verse and the sugarpop release of the chorus, in which bruised guitar, breathy vocals, and candy keys swirl a dense confection of sound.

6) Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee
Jerry Lee Lewis plays the piano like he’s illustrating the pleasures of sin, in a contest where you get extra points for finishing first.

7) Twist and Crawl
It's just a reggae reversal (bass carrying the melody and guitar with the rhythm) applied to pop, but it's a great trick pulled off with flair. The dub version of this is also wonderful.

8) Dead Melodies
Chamber blues, Beck’s exhausted and dessicated voice contrasting with the lush, baroque arrangement. When Mutations came out, I was in the depths of my worst-ever depression, and this song animated what I felt in my giddiest moments: the numb comfort of luxuriating in sadness.

9) Walk Right In
Is this song about smoking pot? Because if it is, it’s the squarest pot-smoking song of all time, and that’s exactly what makes it so cool.

10) Nadine
One of the great Chuck Berry songs, yes, but the really interesting thing about this song is the ambiguous relationship between the singer and “Nadine” (if that is in fact her real name). The chorus implies a previous relationship (“Every time I see you darling you got something else to do”), but I wonder if the whole thing is imagined. Guy sees a pretty girl walking down the street and instantly fantasizes a detailed and personal romantic drama, down to the girl’s name. Oh, it sounds crazy, but if I’m betting, I say he doesn’t even get off the bus. He tells the story to himself. And that’s only a teensy bit crazy.

11) Baby We're Really In Love
More psycho country I’m-in-love behavior, running around in circles and turning in fire alarms. Not one of Hank’s very best, but his second tier is still better than most folks’ first.

12) Hill Country Theme
The Reivers split the difference between country and surf, and come up with a fine cowboy surf instrumental.

These Here Would Have Made Most Any Other List

East Of Eden
Could You Be The One?
Are You Afraid to Die

Now, Go! commenters!


  • Auto_Da_Fe

    Oddly enough, your post was posted while my parents (who consider all music an irrelevance, tolerated only as a bed for square dancing) were staying with me – and hence I’ve been away from listening, and Normal service resumes today though (briefly – abroad on business next week). This length wasn’t classic for me. Lots that is good, but perhaps only one song that I consider really great. And for some reason, nothing countryish at all. 1) John Cale - Thoughtless Kind. The version from Music for a New Society. One of my mostloved albums. 2) Big Star - O Dana. From another album that comes from the point where misery meets beauty. 3) David McWilliams - Days of Pearly Spencer. Pioneering the singing-through-megaphone style later popularised by nobody very much. 4) The Viletones - Possibilities. 1977. I was a Canadian in London, being carried away by the glories of punk rock. One of my school friends was going to holiday in Caanada that summer – I asked him to bring me back any Canadian punk singles he could find. In due course, he brought me the first Half Japanese EP (I know – not Canadian but...), C.N. Tower by The Poles, and the first Viletones single. This, on the B-side, was pick of the bunch by a country mile. 5) Nick Lowe - So It Goes. Pure pop for now people, as the Stiff Records slogan propounded. 6) The Koala - Poppa Duke Tyler. Picked this album up in a bargain bin in the late 70s, because it looked psychedelic enough to be worth the investment of 99 cents, and didn’t see any ssign that another copy existed for nearly 30 years. At one point I tried to rerelease it and, EMI (who originally released it) denied any knowledge of it. Now they’ve reissued it, and I still love every track. Apparently they were New Yorkers who rather reluctantly went along with the record company’s idea that they should pretend to be Australian. Deserves a front row seat in the late 60s psych pantheon. 7) Kim Fowley - Searching for Human in tight Blue Jeans. From my favourite KF album, the sadly never reissued Snake Document Masquerade. 8) Faine Jade - I Lived Tomorrow Yesterday. Best track by psych pop obscurities. 9) Onie Wheeler - Onie's Bop. I use an excerpt from the chorus of this as the ringtone on my cellphone. 10) Lancelot Link & The Evolution Revolution - Sha-La Love You. All the clues suggest that this bubblegum classic is performed by cartoon monkeys.... bloody hell!! Just looked it up on Wikipedia – it was real chimps! Now there is a TV programme I need to see.

    13. Jan. 2009, 19:36
  • rockrobster23

    Ack, thanks for the compliment! James, as usual your list is full of stuff I'll need to keep my eyes open for. Funny that there's no country there! I was saving the dad story for a week with lots of country on it, and this seemed like the one. I am way behind on the next installment. I've been talking to a girl. She does not like country music, but no one is perfect.

    14. Jan. 2009, 19:57
  • jcshepard

    Help Me Make It Through The Night sums up the '70s so well, or at least the part of the 70s that acted like the 60s. I like Nickel Creek's Spit On A Stranger because it's so, how do I say this.... Spiteful. I doubt Mr. Monroe would have approved. And of course, at the top of my 2:35, Townes Van Zandt was just a waiting 'round to die, off Live At The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas.

    14. Jan. 2009, 22:05
  • rockrobster23

    JC, did you know "Spit on a Stranger" was a Pavement cover? I've always wondered why they picked *that one,* as I don't think it's one of Pavement's good songs, but on the other hand *Pavement* thought it was good because they chose it as a single. I considered that live version "Waiting Around to Die," which is terrific and would have finished somewhere in the #5-7 range on this list, but I decided it wasn't different enough from the studio version to warrant getting on two different lists. I'm pretty sure the studio version will make the 2:45 list. Next post will take a little while, and it will have limited appeal. Heh heh. I'm experimenting with the format and if you know the source material I'm working from, you'll probably be delighted. Otherwise mystified.

    16. Jan. 2009, 19:34
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