Sunday, October 14, 2018


Ain't this just the saddest song, a heartfelt plea, no, a searing moan, from a fading and failing heart, stranded out on the road, miles from home, and in probably the wrong direction? Hear it again here, in demo format, and it is way bleaker still, a last gasp, a vainglorious grasping at an unattainable rose-tinted past. Magnificent.

In truth I know little about Rich beyond this song. This version featured here is a late career 1993 reprise which, give or take the choir, exudes just a bit more pathos than the 1973 original or the better known 1975 version. It was quite a shock to discover this song was actually the work of a then quite young man. He first cropped up on Sun records, starting out, nominally, as a rocker, ahead of cementing his name in the Nashville 60s 'Countrypolitan' movement. I have also discovered he was behind this shocker of a song, an ear worm that can destroy any moment: I usually find myself singing it as I go shopping or mow the lawn, then finding it sticks with me for days, to the eternal annoyance of all I come into contact with. (And, no, I am not going to grace it by name, for fear of triggering another bout.) In fact, he had a number of careers, across a number of labels and styles, although all broadly within the country canon. It is also fair to say he was a colourful figure, that euphemism so beloved of obituary writers for unrepentant boozehounds. He died, fairly suddenly, of a pulmonary embolism, in transit for, ironically, not home, but going on vacation.

It is a song that hasn't had that many covers, the ones I have being on a Jools Holland country LP, featuring sometime popstrel Sam, daughter of Joe, Brown and on Mark Knopfler's early side project, the Notting Hillbillies. The first, clearly more a showcase for the bandleader's ivory tinkling, the latter  just a bit too slow for comfort. But the one that stands out for me is the one below, as performed by Scotland's majestic Battlefield Band, where the song seems to be drenched in hues of expatriate regret, almost a genetic memory of the homeland, tugging ceaselessly at the heartstrings of the vast scots-irish diaspora, no matter how many generations since the auld country became little more than a distant dream.


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