Friday, October 28, 2011

See Randy Fox's List of 10 Classic Country Albums for a 'Happy' Halloween

Posted By on Fri, Oct 28, 2011 at 12:37 PM

SpookyScary.jpg
If you happened to see the cover story in this week's dead-tree edition (emphasis on dead), perhaps you've already digested Scene contributor Randy Fox's list of 10 classic country albums for a "happy" Halloween. (Maybe this one's a little obvious, but when I was growing up, my dad used to play JC's "Long Black Veil" for me in order to give me a spook — here's a great version of the Man in Black singing it with Joni Mitchell on the first episode of his show back in '69, although Dave Matthews performing it with Emmylou Harris is definitely technically much more frightening.)

Anyway, when it comes to hillbilly music's "obsession with songs of orphaned children, lost mothers, betrayed lovers, train wrecks, coal-mining disasters, flood, fire, famine, ghosts, the devil, insanity and murder," the fantastic Mr. Fox certainly seems to know what he's talking about. For Fox's full, fleshed-out blurbs on his favorite Halloween-related classic country albums, be sure to check the cover story. But just for shits and gigs, let's have a look at the 10 albums Fox deemed spooky enough for print. See them after the jump.

1. People Take Warning! Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs, 1913-1938 (Tompkins Square)

Pretty much one-stop shopping for all your pre-World War II songs of doom, death and destruction — conveniently divided into three discs with themes of manmade disasters, natural disasters and murder. Of course, this set also contains a lot of country blues, some popular vocals and even one song about the Titanic (sung in Yiddish!). But considering that the 1920s were when music started to be defined by genre to serve the needs of record companies, it's fascinating to view the full mix of American music that "hillbilly" crawled forth from ... and just how weird "the old weird America" truly was.

2. Dock Boggs, Legendary Singer & Banjo Player (Smithsonian Folkways)

Dock Boggs could transform any song that he sang into a cry of agony and torment from the pits of hell — and those were the upbeat numbers! When he turned his attention to songs of untimely death or senseless murder like "Sugar Baby" or his rendition of "Pretty Polly," he could make the hellhounds on Robert Johnson's trail sound almost like yapping Yorkies by comparison. Powerful stuff, but not recommended for late-night listening all alone with a jug of wood alcohol.

3. Hank Williams, Alone & Forsaken (Mercury Nashville)

Although Jimmie Rodgers may have been the original "tragic troubadour" of country music, Hank Williams outdid him on just about every score. Let's face it, all Jimmie had was suffering from tuberculosis for years and eventually dropping dead from it. But ol' Hank had physical deformity, alcohol and drug addiction, a mean-as-the-devil wife, and a lonely, haunting death in the back of a long black Cadillac. (Well, OK, it was actually blue, but we're "printing the legend" here.) Hank may have written all manner of country songs, but here's the dark stuff all in one space for your hillbilly-goth listening pleasure.

4. The Louvin Brothers, Tragic Songs of Life/Satan Is Real (Raven Records)

Two absolute classic LPs by the Louvin Brothers, originally released in 1958 and 1959.

Tragic Songs collects a variety of folk ballads and 19th century songs, updated with Ira and Charlie Louvin's wonderful vocal harmonies and arrangements that make the songs seem as timeless as their subject matter. Satan Is Real fulfills the promise of its famous album cover and more as it swings between gazes into the abyss and visions of glory — a pretty succinct description of the life of Ira Louvin. Essential listening for October and every month of the year.

5. Monster Bop (Buffalo Bop)

Probably the best all-around collection of early rockabilly and rock 'n' roll tracks dealing with rockin' and boppin' wolfmen, Frankensteins, Draculers, and other assorted haints and boogers. No need for the "Monster Mash" when you're diggin' "The Midnight Monster Hop" by Jack & Jim, or checking out the rather bloodless action of "The Skeleton Fight" by Mack Allen Smith.

6. Johnny Cash, Murder (Sony)

One volume of three career-spanning anthologies compiled by the Man in Black himself, each focusing on three pillars of country music — Love, God and Murder. While Johnny Cash was certainly quite adept in making music about all three subjects, he is most remembered for the songs whose subject matter matches the somber hue of his wardrobe. This collection runs the gamut of Johnny's killin' songs, from first-person shooters like the classic mad rampage "Cocaine Blues" and the original 1962 version of "Delia's Gone" to historical lessons of murder and assassination like "Mister Garfield" and "Hardin Wouldn't Run" and even to quite literal gallows humor like "Joe Bean." Great music for any occasion, but I do recommend against the killing of anyone "just to watch him die."

7. Porter Wagoner, The Rubber Room (Omni Recording)

Porter Wagoner was an unacknowledged master of horror. Beneath the blond pompadour, behind the winning country-boy smile, and covered up by the sequined Nudie suits beat the heart of a psychopathic genius. This compilation collects the cream of "the darker stuff," and it can be a harrowing journey indeed. From the maddening, reverb-drenched insanity of "The Rubber Room" to the psychotic wife killer of "The First Mrs. Jones" — on through the jaw-dropping "George Leroy Chickashea," which could almost serve as a backstory for Javier Bardem's unstoppable assassin in No Country for Old Men — this is ... well, no country for old men. And remember, anytime Porter starts a recitation, someone is gonna die.

8. Johnny Paycheck, Nowhere to Run: The Little Darlin' Years 1966-1970 (Omni Recording)

This collection of Johnny Paycheck's superb 1960s recordings for the Little Darlin' label would make this list based solely on the inclusion of the straight-to-the-point (and it should be pointed out, quite polite) murder ballad, "(Pardon Me) I've Got Someone to Kill." But throw in the post-nuclear Armageddon epic "The Cave" and the dead-man-floating cracker noir of "The Ballad of Frisco Bay," and you have the soundtrack for a great lost gonzo movie of hillbilly existentialist doom (which would have starred Warren Oates, of course).

9. Tanya Tucker, What's Your Mama's Name/Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone) (Collectables)

A twofer of Tanya's two best albums from her "jailbait unbound" period on Columbia Records, recorded when she was 14 and 15 years old and dripping with the cracked genius of producer Billy Sherrill. If you always thought "Delta Dawn" had a bit of a dark Southern gothic air to it, just wait until you hear the likes of "Blood Red and Goin' Down," the diary of a young girl as she accompanies her father on the hunt for her cheatin' mother with no thought of reconciliation on daddy's mind. Or the magnum opus "No Man's Land," a song that manages to cover rape, frigidity, revenge, murder and eternal damnation in slightly longer than three-and-a-half minutes. These are songs that made dirty old fat men in white linen suits tug at their collars and mop sweat from their foreheads all over the South.

10. Shit Happens! Songs of Everyday Life (Bear Family)

Despite an unfortunate title and a package design that was obviously designed to appeal to the "country music is so bad, it's funny!" irony army, this is actually a thoughtful and thorough collection of country songs of family tragedy from the 1950s and '60s. It includes the astonishingly creepy and bizarre "Don't Make Me Go to Bed and I'll Be Good" by Hank Snow, which almost serves as an outline of the plot of the recent horror film Insidious (but without the cop-out ending). Just as worthy is the grand hillbilly opera of Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner's "Jeannie's Afraid of the Dark." Written by Parton, it's a song that shines the graveyard lantern on Dolly's skill at the macabre. All in all, 25 great tracks — with a body count that is even higher.

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