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Song Swarm – Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down

September 26th, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

smcd

If you were to put me on the spot and demand that I choose one all-time favourite song, I suppose my default answer would be “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”, the Kris Kristofferson version.

One may argue about whether it would feature in a shortlist of best song ever; still it resonates with me on many levels, including as a soundtrack in a particular time in my life. And it is, of course, a great song which ought to feature in a shortlist of best song ever.

Like many early Kristofferson songs, it was first recorded not by the composer but by others, because early in his career KK didn’t regard himself primarily as a singer. In fact, he thought he was a terrible singer. In the event, his limitations are also his strength, with that whisky-soaked, soulful voice giving his lyrics a sense of having been lived. But KK knew he had good tunes and that he wanted to write songs for a living.

It might have been different. The son of an army officer, Kristofferson was earmarked for a military career, and served a stint as a helicopter pilot for Uncle Sam. Before that he was a Rhodes scholar, graduating from Oxford with a degree in philosophy. He was offered a job lecturing at the military academy at West Point. Instead, he left the army, and, having been inspired by a meeting with Johnny Cash after a concert, Kristofferson moved with his family to Nashville to try his hand at the music business.

Things did not start promisingly: in 1966 he landed a job at Columbia Records — as a janitor.  But in between sweeping floors and polishing door handles, he gave Cash some of his songs, thereby violating strict company policy. Cash was encouraging but didn’t use any of the songs — in fact, according to Kristofferson, Cash said that he threw them into a lake. Still, it was the genesis of a profound friendship.

kristoffersonA year later, Kristofferson flew helicopters again, for an oil company. He also began a tentative recording career with Epic Records, and finally his songs were started to be recorded by other artists. One day, Kristofferson decided to try and impress Cash again, so he flew a helicopter to Cash’s house to give him some tapes. Cash wasn’t home, though that didn’t stop him from telling a great tale about Kristofferson exiting the chopper with a demo in one hand and a beer in the other.

Still, Cash started to create a buzz around KK, referring to him repeatedly on his TV show. Cash’s introduction of Kristofferson at the Newport Folk Festival especially helped kickstart KK’s recording career.

Cash, of course, recorded “Sunday Morning Coming Down” (as he corrected the title) in 1970, and won a Grammy for it. Cash resisted pressure to change the line “wishing, Lord, that I was stoned” to “…I was home” in deference to the song’s writer; he however had the kid “playing with”, not “cussing at”, the can that he was kicking.

The song was originally recorded the previous year by Ray Stevens, who had a minor hit with it. Following Cash’s hit and KK’s version, several artists tried their hand at the song, with varying degrees of accomplishment. Some are featured here, and many tend to play loose with the lyrics.

So, here are 36 versions of Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, some of them live recordings.

Ray Stevens (1969) • Johnny Cash (live • 1970) • Johnny Cash (1970) • Kris Kristofferson (1970) • Roy Clark (1970) • Freddy Weller (1970) • Lynn Anderson (1970) • Mark Lindsay (1970) • Sammi Smith (1970) • Janis Joplin (1970) • Hank Ballard (1970) • Tom Jones • Glen Campbell & Nancy Sinatra (1970) • R. Dean Taylor (1971) • Waylon Jennings (1971) • Hank Snow (1971) • Margie Brandon (1971) • Ernie Smith (1971) • John Mogensen (as Søndag morgen 1971) • Kristofferson & Friends (1973) • Pavel Bobek (as Nedělní ráno • 1973) • Frankie Laine (1978) • Johnny Cash & Kris Kristofferson (live • 1980) • Johnny Paycheck (1980) • Louis Neefs (as Zondagmiddag • 1980) • David Allan Coe (1998) • Shawn Mullins (1998) • Alvin Youngblood Hart (2003) • Kris Kristofferson & Foo Fighters (2005) • Floyd Red Crow Westerman (2006) • Jeff Walker und Die Flüffers (2006) • Me First and the Gimme Gimmes (2006) • Mark Chesnutt (2010) • Jerry Lee Lewis (2010) • Marissa Nadler (2010) • Willie Nelson (2011) • Brandi Carlile (live • 2012) • Gretchen Wilson (2012)

GET IT
(PW in comments)

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  1. halfhearteddude
    September 26th, 2013 at 07:03 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. Bo
    September 26th, 2013 at 07:57 | #2

    Thanks for this one. I would have included Joe Ely’s version also (XIT – Ten in Texas)

  3. September 26th, 2013 at 14:11 | #3

    Amazing. The Johnny Cash hit version of this has emotional depths I haven’t fully plumbed in over 40 years of listening to it, and I look forward to hearing other takes on it.

  4. JohnnyDiego
    September 26th, 2013 at 14:57 | #4

    Thanks for Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. I thought you might miss them. Should have known better.

  5. J. Loslo
    September 26th, 2013 at 18:28 | #5

    Such a great song. My introduction to Alvin Youngblood Hart was this version.

    One of my favorites is Trisha Yearwood’s, from the Johnny Cash tribute concert:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSiWRFjA8S0

  6. Charlie
    September 27th, 2013 at 15:56 | #6

    thank you my brother had KK first album in his collection and i played the hell out of it when I was around 12 or 13 he gave it to me and I still have it. Great song great artist great collection

  7. Peter Batchelor
    September 28th, 2013 at 02:07 | #7

    Hi Amd,
    I have the Hank Ballard version, if you would like I can email you a mp3 copy of it.
    Cheers,
    Pete

  8. halfhearteddude
    September 28th, 2013 at 13:42 | #8

    I’d be delighted, Peter.

  9. Hugh Candyside
    September 28th, 2013 at 18:04 | #9

    Great post as usual, thanks. The only version I had that wasn’t on your list was Jonboy Langford and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts. Nice version.

  10. KeithL
    September 30th, 2013 at 09:36 | #10

    One of my favourite versions (not on your list) is the one by The Handsome Family. They recorded it for the “Nothing Left to Lose” KK tribute album in 2002, and it cropped up again on their “Smothered & Covered” album the following year.

  11. dogbreath
    October 2nd, 2013 at 13:05 | #11

    An eminently suitable song for a swarm indeed & perfect for playing on a, er, Sunday morning at any time of year. Talking of his whiskey-soaked voice, it sounds ever more ravaged, emotional and fragile on his latest album. Cheers for this compilation!

  12. jenny
    October 6th, 2013 at 06:01 | #12

    thanks!!! love this song, and my favorite cover is by Crooked Fingers off of their Reservoir Songs ep. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFusOXmP86s

    give it a listen. thanks again!

  13. Lordy
    May 27th, 2014 at 23:02 | #13

    I love your song swarms!!

  14. Mike
    June 22nd, 2016 at 23:56 | #14

    Any chance for a reup on this gem?

  15. halfhearteddude
    June 23rd, 2016 at 11:43 | #15

    Re-upped, especially for you.

  16. Mike
    June 24th, 2016 at 01:27 | #16

    Thank you so much!!!!

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