both kinds of music

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...country and western. It is a world-class no-duh to announce that Hank Williams was really, really good, but having spent the last couple of weeks listening to The Complete Hank Williams (I finished today), I don't think I can say anything much more eloquent than that. That could be the effect of listening to a bunch of Hank, who's as plain-spoken as almost any great lyricist I can think of. I don't know if there's a line I'd think of as "clever" up until, I don't know, "Too stubborn to ever show a sign/Because his heart is made of knotty pine" from "Kaw-Liga" (and that's VERY late Hank--it was released posthumously, and the box's booklet reproduces the review of it from I think Billboard, which is roughly "HOLY CRAP THIS IS GREAT"). (Hearing it sent me back to the Residents' version of "Kaw-Liga," which I've heard turn more than one party out.) But the simplest lines are the best ones with him. "I saw the light/I saw the light/No more darkness/No more night."

He treated every fourth-rate songlet that came his way like it was the most profound jolly thing he'd ever gotten to sing (and I'm still not sure why anyone would agree to perform some of that stuff in public). There's a two-minute chunk of ridiculousness called "Roly Poly" that I think his mentor Fred Rose wrote: "Roly poly/Daddy's little fatty/Think you're gonna be a man someday," etc. He totally Hank-izes it; when he sings it, it's a good song. In my weaker moments, I wonder if that should make it tougher for me to take, say, "You Win Again" seriously: maybe it's just his delivery that's selling it? (No. Duh, again. Note that "Roly Poly" didn't become a standard, e.g.)

I'd known a lot of the really famous songs from a 40-greatest-hits set I'd had for a while. So the Hank original that jumped out at me from the box when I wasn't paying attention was "I Could Never Be Ashamed of You"--looking at Amazon reveals that it's a little bit of a country standard (and how many of his songs aren't?), and that Johnny Cash's version has appeared on a bunch of records. But why have no women recorded it (or have they)? It's a kind of much more vicious second-person "Stand By Your Man"--the sexual dynamics are complicated enough that it could be spun as a doormat song, or as a... really bitter doormat song.

Also noted: he had his persona, voice, everything down from jumpstreet. The earliest recording in the box is a radio transcription of "Happy Rollin' Cowboy" (is that where the Du-Tels got it?) from 1939--when Hank was 16 years old. Or maybe 15. It sounds almost exactly like he did 13 years later. When Hank Williams was my age, he'd been dead for five years, as they say.

And now I've been seeing echoes of Hank in everything--there was a headline in a paper I was looking at on the bus today that riffed on "Cold Cold Heart." Simplicity will do that.

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"Roly Poly" was also (originally?) performed by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. I think it's on that Rhino double-disc set and the ASV collection but don't feel like checking right now.

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This page contains a single entry by Douglas published on February 2, 2004 1:33 AM.

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