Another Playlist!?!

I wasn’t going to do a playlist drawn from Gregory’s chapter, because most of the country songs he mentions are pretty bad songs. But Bill Malone gives us a more balanced picture and talks about some artists from the current generation of country performers whose politics are more unambiguously tilted left. That inspired me to put together a mix that gives us a very brief and very incomplete survey of country music populism. You’ll find it here.

We open up with Blind Alfred Reed singing How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? He recorded it in 1929, and unfortunately it’s still a good question. The recording was to have been included on the never-quite-finished (don’t ask!) Volume 4 of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.

I wasn’t going to do this playlist without including Okie From Muskogee. But I also included another Haggard tune, A Working Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today, that brings Alfred Reed up to date: what are the politics of this song?

Gregory mentions Tom T. Hall’s Vietnam song, Mama Tell Them What We’re Fighting For, but doesn’t mention America the Ugly. It’s not one of Tom T.’s most elegantly crafted songs, but it gets the point across. I don’t think George Wallace would have used it at one of his rallies.

Yes, Hank Williams, Jr. is an insufferable blowhard. Yes, he just got fired from Monday Night Football for comparing Obama with Hitler. But Dixie on My Mind is the only song on this playlist that makes me turn the volume up every time I hear it. And even here the bluster is mixed with a sort of populist plea for a simpler, less materialistic way of life.

Wasteland of the Free was on Iris DeMent’s 3rd CD, The Way I Should, which covered a number of politically-related topics. Since then (1996), she’s released only one CD, a collection of gospel songs.

John Prine is a national treasure, and Paradise is deservedly one of his best-loved songs. It appeared on his first album, all the way back in 1971.

Travelin’ Soldier was number 1 on the country charts when Natalie Maines insulted George W. Bush at a Dixie Chicks show in London in 2003. The next week it was number 3, and the week after that it was number 9,000,000, as country DJs burned Chicks records and boycotted their music. Kind of ironic that speaking out against the Iraq War got them boycotted at the same time that this song was number 1. The political implications of that are too much for me.

Closing it out is the inimitable Steve Earle, with Christmas in Washington. You’ll never hear any carollers singing this one. He’s doing a Foley Square show in NY this evening for Occupy Wall Street.

You’ve got to watch this video. It’s another side of Iris DeMent, a great live version of Let the Mystery Be from her wonderful first album. Please enjoy!

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2 Responses to “Another Playlist!?!”

  1. Jeff Schiffman Says:

    Great list. Thanks. If anyone wants to see and hear the wonderful Iris Dement and the equally wonderful John Prine paired up, please watch In Spite Of Ourselves, also on youTube. Prine wrote it; it’s bawdy and memorable. Dement is married to Greg Brown, another underrated but excellent singer/writer.

    • Don Bashline Says:

      Thank you, Jeff – The In Spite of Ourselves CD has a bunch of duets – Prine sings with Emmylou Harris, Connie Smith, Lucinda Williams, Patty Loveless, and even more. It’s a classic.

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