Thursday, May 31, 2018


Lawks, did I love this song, at least in it's Kenny Rogers edition, SWITD, both he and I being both too young to realise how utterly naff he would become as an artist. The croaky vocals, the nashville motorik shuffle of the drums, the bim bom bass and all those pauses, all absolutely terrific. (OK, I could abide without the girly chorus.) In truth, it wasn't even this version I heard first, I having been bought a curious E.P. of chart hits copied by almost soundalikes, including a shocking version of Elton's 'Your Song', all the more ironic as it was doing such work where dear old Reggie made his first steps in the biz. But, as ever, I digress, the KR version being still a song that gives me joy. I can't quite recall but have a sneaky feeling that he even sang the song sitting down, even from a wheelchair, do give the lyric that much more gravitas. Good taste was still an optional extra in those days.

The song actually has some history ahead of that. Written by Mel Tillis, it was first recorded by Waylon Jennings in 1966, and first a (country) hit for Johnny Darrell a year later. Both versions have distinctly differing arrangements from Rogers'. Clearly controversial for its day and its notoriously conservative C&W audiences, talk of 'crazy asian wars" raised eyebrows when the draft was sucking up young men for Vietnam. Those earlier versions passed me by, an ocean away, but Kenny Rogers fired straight into the UK charts and my consciousness in 1969, hitting the pole position and then staying in the top 20 for nearly half a year, selling a million copies along the way. And, although apparently a vehicle for rising star Rogers to break into the Nashville scene, for me, as a 12 year old, it was sufficiently uncountry to appeal to my youthful tastes. (It was a at least another 5 years before the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers could break me of my prejudice, country smacking then of my mother's Jim Reeves discs.)

In preparing for this piece I discovered a couple of other facts about the song. Or rather about a couple of response records, this being very much a then vogue. So there was 'Billy, I've Got to Go to Town' and, later still, 'Ruby Dean.' The former, sung by Geraldine Stevens, showed, of course, how Ruby's husband had got it all wrong and that she was and would remain ever faithful to her damaged man. The latter, odder still, not least as it was sung by R&B man, Bobby Womack, in which the voice of Ruby and Billy's son is seemingly entreating his mother to stop seeing other men. I'm wishing now for further contemporaneous song commentary from friends and neighbours. 'They always seemed such a quiet couple, kept themselves to themselves....' Even the police could do a version, and then, in true documentary style, the viewpoints of a retired detective and a criminologist. I, to this day, uncertain as to whether he he ever did put her in the ground or turned the gun back on himself. Both, maybe? A missed opportunity for Ruby, the movie, for sure.

There have been a number of subsequent versions, from acts as diverse as the Killers, Cake and Leonard Nimoy, all, especially the last, disappointingly karaoke. However, for me, it is always Kenny and his First Edition that is the absolute gem. I'm going to go listen to it again.

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