Sunday, March 25, 2018

Steps & Stairs: Room at the Top of the Stairs

Ralph Stanley: Room at the Top of the Stairs


I have to admit that the announcement of our new theme did not bring any songs immediately to mind. I was being stubborn, I suppose, wanting to focus on the “stairs” part. The word “steps” has many metaphorical meanings that have nothing to do with stairs, and therefore gives us an out for this theme. But I had to do things the hard way. So, stairs it is.

I might have known that the notion of a room at the top of the stairs would appeal to country song writers. It suggests a gloomy attic, and begs the question of why anyone would be found there. Both Eddie Rabbit and Cal Smith, in separate songs with this title, find this hidden room to be the perfect location for an affair. But Ralph Stanley has this third song with the same title, and he sees the room as a refuge from a world that has treated his heroine unkindly. I like the fact that this song depicts a pair of lovers who are at least middle aged. The young love that is the subject of so many pop and country songs is the back story here, and it did not go well. But Stanley’s narrator wants more than anything to make up for that. Being a mature love song, we do not learn if he succeeds. Stanley’s narrator wants to win this lady’s heart, but his maturity means he has the wisdom to not try to force the issue.

It does not hurt that this is a fine example of bluegrass at its best. That is just what we would expect from Ralph Stanley. This one features some fine guitar work in particular. I can’t resist closing with another version of the song. This one is from a television appearance in 1990. Stanley would have been 63 that year, and 44 years into his legendary career. Many of his bandmates in this version might not have even been born in 1946, when Stanley made his first professional appearance. So this clip was probably chosen to close the show because it shows the passing of the musical torch from one generation to the next. It is probably true that none of Stanley’s band mates seen here are as well known as he was, but they are certainly worthy heirs.

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