Saturday, March 21, 2009

A late vote for "Lonesome''

Just wait a dad-gum minute. I'm having a delayed reaction to an earlier post that mentioned Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man'' atop CMT's 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music. They got it all wrong.

Now I love that 1968 standard with its whiny vocals and weepy steel guitar (though I fear American Idol judge Randy Jackson would call it ''pitchy.'') I plugged my share of change into the Wurlitzer to hear it, along with another Wynette classic that followed close behind: "D-I-V-O-R-C-E.'' The First Lady of Country Music deserves her due; both of those songs would be near the top of my list.

But author Paul Hemphill (another previous post) brought me to my senses in his revealing book "Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams.'' You would expect Hemphill to be an unabashed Hank sympathizer. A fellow Alabaman, he grew up in the blue collar South, witnessed as a kid the meteoric rise and fall of country music's greatest songwriter, and writes convincingly on subjects close to his pea-picking heart.

For its beautiful lyrics and raw-bone rendering, my vote goes to "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.''

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds to blue to fly
That midnight train is whining low
I'm so lonesome I could cry

Although it was Hank's personal favorite, "Lonesome'' was nowhere near his most popular or commercially successful song. In fact, it was released in 1949 as the B side to "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It'' and didn't make the Billboard charts until 1966 -- more than 12 years after his death.

But there are very few songs that evoke the pure emotions of that heart-wrenching dirge. "Never has so great a piece of songwriting been so egregiously overlooked,'' writes Hemphill.

I've never seen a night so long
When time goes crawling by
The moon just went behind a cloud
To hide its face and cry

Only four of Hank's songs made the CMT list: "Your Cheatin' Heart'' (No. 5), "Hey Good Lookin' '' (No. 18), "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry'' (No. 28), and "Lovesick Blues'' (No. 60).

Here is CMT's Top 10:
1. Stand By Your Man, Tammy Wynette
2. He Stopped Loving Her Today, George Jones
3. Crazy, Patsy Cline
4. Ring of Fire, Johnny Cash
5. Your Cheatin' Heart, Hank Williams
6. Friends In Low Places, Garth Brooks
7. I Fall To Pieces, Patsy Cline
8. Galveston, Glen Campbell
9. Behind Closed Doors, Charlie Rich
10. Blue Moon of Kentucky, Bill Monroe

You may not agree.


  1. Im gonna find me a river, one that's cold as ice.
    And when I find me that river, Lord Im gonna pay the price, oh Lord!
    Im goin' down in it three times, but Lord I'm only comin' up twice.

    Ain't none of these "hardcore" rock stars these days got nothin' on ol' Hank.

  2. no love for Bakersfield? that ain't right ...

  3. What I'd like to see is Strumbum's personal top 10.
    C'mon, give it up!

    The Master's list would include:
    Delta Dawn (Tanya Tucker), for sure
    And perhaps Hello Darlin' (Conway Twitty)
    And Sunday Morning Comin' Down (Kris Kristofferson)