Country Music as a History lesson

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
another short article fro a writers group open mic night

Submitted: April 10, 2016

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Submitted: April 10, 2016



Country Music as a History Lesson

Country Music has always been a part of my life. I regard it is as the peoples music and it certainly has captured history as it happened.

In the lyrics the writers used phrases popular in their time and some don’t translate very well or last through changing times.

The best example I can think of is a line from the song Frankie and Johnny, the Jimmie Rogers version. After Frankie kills Johnny for cheating on her the song mentions the police coming with a rubber tired hack. For years I wondered what kind of vehicle it was referring to. I tried looking the phrase up but could never find anything. I finally had to ask my Dad and he told me it was a Model T police van with rubber tires, back then they were called hacks.

In the 30’s the Carter Family had a song called Keep on the Sunny Side. The essence of the song was to keep on the sunny side no matter what your troubles were. I have heard a commentary with Maybelle Carter also known as Mother Maybelle; in the interview she says she wrote the song during the depression to remind folks that better times were ahead.

During WWII a prime example of how much patriotism people felt is shown in a song called” There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere”. The singer mentions a lot of the American heroes like Washington, Lincoln and Perry. He wants to take the Axis down a peg but as he says don’t judge him by his twisted legs. Obviously even the crippled are motivated to get involved.

During the 50’s mores were starting to change especially with more women entering the work force. The traditional view of marriage was still prevalent though. Hank Thompson sang a song called the Wild side of Life. It describes a woman who decides she likes the bar scene a whole lot more than she likes being married. The aggrieved husband says he figured she’d never make a good wife and loves waiting to be anybody’s baby. From the tone of the song this is not the way a good girl acts.

A few years later though Kitty Wells answered back with a song called It Wasn’t God who made Honky Tonk Angels. She says that if married men would quit acting single there wouldn’t be any honky tonk angels. She does say it is a pity all the blame gets put on the women. It is repeated again that if married men would quit acting single she would have still been a trusting wife.

I think the 50’s were also the end of the line for a lot of the train songs. In country music there a bunch of them and you just don’t hear them today. Some of the best were The Wabash Cannonball, The Wreck of the Old 97, The Golden Rocket, The City of New Orleans, The Rock Island Line and The Orange Blossom Special named after certain trains. Those guys got really good at imitating the sound of a train whistle and you can hear the wheels clicking and clacking in some of them. Of course a rather famous big band artist had a good smattering of train songs in his repertoire. I will let y’all think about whom that was.

In the 60’s even though the big events like the space race and Vietnam were going on I can’t really think of any songs that talk about them.

What was being talked about was divorce evidenced by Tammy Wynette’s D.I.V.O.R.C.E. I think Merle Haggard slipped in a social commentary with Okie from Muskogee.

In the early 70’s as country was starting to be turned more pop there was a bit of a fight between new female freedom and traditional values. I would submit Harper Valley PTA, Loretta Lynn’s Momma’s Got the Pill and Donna Fargo’s the Happiest Girl in the USA.

As some of you may know Harper Valley PTA talks about a mother who really sticks it to her local Teachers Association. It starts with a letter brought home mentioning the mother is wearing her skirts too short and going out at night a lot. As we learn the town is literally a Payton Place where a lot of stuff is going on. The husband seems to have a drinking problem because he is at the bar very late again.

In Momma’s Got the Pill Loretta lays it on. She talks about being promised to see the world but all she’s seen is a bed and a big doctor bill. She mentions the maternity dress is going in the garbage and her new clothes won’t have so much yardage. She actually calls herself a brooder house and it is going to get shut down and hubby won’t be able to crow so much. As the song closes she says the sun is setting and she is looking forward to the night. This song caused a lot of talk when it came out.










© Copyright 2018 Dale Sands. All rights reserved.

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