Thursday, July 29, 2010

Carl Smith

Carl Smith When I found Carl Smith’s Greatest Hits at some second hand shop I’d never heard of Carl Smith. So I looked him up and found that in August of 1959 the song 10,000 Drums had reached number 19 in Toronto, and that he’d put 3 songs into the Billboard top 100, the highest placing being the aforesaid drum song, which crept up to 43, not quite the promised land of the top 40. Alas, none of the 3 songs were on the album, though most of the tracks had been hits on the country charts.

It was serendipity that I happened to have acquired a copy of a K-Tel album, a collection of great country hits, which happened to have 10,000 Drums. The last track, Tomorrow Night seems to have come from somewhere else as well, though for the life of me I can’t remember where.

And so a collection is born…

Carl Smith:

Ten Thousand Drums – This was the closet Smith had to a pop hit, it just missed the top 40. That was in the summer of 1959. The song is about the American war of independence, and it’s kind of a copy of The Battle Of New Orleans, but without the flippancy, which may be why it wasn’t a bigger hit.
Hey Joe! – This is not good, not good at all. This is an uptempo, jubilant, joyful, exuberant song about envy and betrayal of friendship, not to mention (but I am mentioning it!) superficiality. I love it. Not the Billy Roberts song, the one that was a hit for The Leaves and for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, not that one. The Searchers covered this on their live album. Number 1 on the country chart in 1953.
There She Goes – A hit for Jerry Wallace and a country hit for Patsy Cline. A song of remorse and regret, as the breakup is distilled into a single moment – “She’s walking away…” Smith put this in the country top 10 in 1955
Oh Lonesome Times – I don’t quite understand this one. He’s running around, he says, but blame old lonesome times. Wha? From 1955.
Are You Teasing Me – Another song of romantic insecurity. When he says “teasing,” he means “leading me on.” Number 1 country in 1952. I love the fiddles on this.
I Feel Like Cryin’ – Another heartbreak song. Interesting, isn’t it, how men have no trouble crying in popular music, though here, admittedly, he only “feels” like it.
Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way – This is how they sang about sex before it was ok to sing about sex. He promises marriage and everything. His first number 1, in 1951.
Doorstep To Heaven – A touching song of a highly dysfunctional relationship. Being together, he says was “living hell.” But then a potential reconciliation is the “doorstep to heaven.” He demurs, in the end, citing the lethal jealousy that poisoned their lives. Jealousy is easy to sing about, but really it’s a stand-in for the dysfunction of your choice: anger, depression, selfishness, take your pick. From 1956.
The Little Girl In My Hometown – Yet another song about leaving the girl behind for the bright lights, then coming back when it’s too late. Johnny Cash did Ballad Of A Teenage Queen, Tommy Roe did The Folk Singer, Conway Twitty did Don’t Cry Joni, and Jimmie Rodgers did Tucumcari. Won’t these guys ever learn?
If You Saw Her Through My Eyes – Don’t judge. That’s the moral. Then at the end he admits his guilt. Not that he’s judging, but that he’s the cause of whatever is wrong with the woman whom others are judging. What the heck did he do, sell her into slavery?
You’re Free To Go – Sure she is, and he doesn’t have to give her permission. But in his own heart, yes he does. He has to be able to say and mean it. He doesn’t mean it yet in the song, but that’s ok. He just needs to keep saying it long enough.
Getting’ Even – Difficult to tell what’s going on here, except that it’s a sermon against vindictiveness. It sounds like he’s going for a bit of a rock and roll sound, with an electric guitar solo, but the thing sounds so odd, like they’re trying to figure out how it works.
I Overlooked An Orchid – He was chasing Ginger, and Maryann was there the whole time.
Tomorrow Night – A song of romantic constancy. It’s the male side of Will You Love Me Tomorrow.

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