Sunday, May 29, 2011

War and Memory: Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town

Mel Tillis: Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town

[Out of print, it seems]

“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” was a hit for Kenny Rogers and The New Edition in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War, and so was perceived by many to be about that conflict. When country singer Mel Tillis, who wrote the song, first released it in January 1967, the “old crazy Asian war” he was referring to was the Korean conflict of the early 1950s.

The storyline is simple: a man returned from doing his “patriotic chore” without his legs, and his wife Ruby is sleeping with other men while he is cooped up at home. And she doesn’t care about how he feels at all. No wonder he has fantasies of putting Ruby into the ground.

Tillis, who released the song in January 1967, said he based the lyrics on a couple in his neighbourhood. In real life, the man was wounded in Germany in Word War 2, not in Korea. Tillis spared us the bitter end of the story: the ex-GI killed his straying wife and then himself.

Mel Tillis re-recorded the song in 1976 with an outstanding banjo solo. It is worth seeking out.

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