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Posts Tagged ‘Hank Thompson’

Answer Records Vol. 5

April 7th, 2010 7 comments

Country music is a fertile field for answer records. So here we’ll look at three answer records from that genre. Kitty Well’s response to Hank Thompson was a massive hit, a breakthrough for country’s first female superstar that outsold the hit song it was responding to. And I defy anyone not to like, even secretly, these songs — few things annoy me so much than people claiming categorically that they hate “all country music”.

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Should he stay or should he go now?

Act 1: Jim Reeves – He’ll Have To Go (1960).mp3
Gentleman Jim is in a bar when he figures out that only a phone call can get his two-timin’ gal back to him. And with that mellifluous baritone the recipient of Jim’s call should not find it difficult to make a decision. To complicate matters, she presently is with another man, which Jim realises rather constrains her from telling him exactly how she feels. So he’ll do the talking, cunningly asking her to put her “sweet lips a little closer to the phone”, to create an atmosphere of intimacy, while he tells the barman “to turn the juke box way down low”. And so he puts an ultimatum to her, all she has to do is answer yes or no. If it is the former, than he — the he of the title — will have to be told to leave. If it’s no, Jim will put down the phone, whereafter he’d presumably order the barman to pump up the jam and fill a few glasses for a heartbroken fella learnin’ the blues.

Act 2: Jeanne Black – Hell Have To Stay (1960).mp3
Using the same melody, Jeanne gives her answer away in the title. But it’s not just a simple no. Jeanne explains to Jim exactly why “he’ll have to stay”. See, the night before, Jim and Jeanne had a date, but guess who didn’t show! Jeanne clearly is not one to take such a sleight lightly, nor is she short of potential suitors. Within a day of Jim standing her up — she demands no explanation — she has hooked up and ostensibly fallen in love with with the personal pronounced joker of the title, who right now must be feeling pretty smug. Jeanne does not hold back. Once she loved Jim, but he’s messed her around too much. She suspects cheating on his part: even now she suspects he’s “out again with someone else”, citing the softly playing juke box as evidence. But why would Jim phone her if he was already sorted out for the night? Jeanne won’t concern herself with questions of logic. It’s time to tell Jim they’re through: “I have found another love I know is true, and [to answer Jim’s question] he holds me much more tenderly than you. Loving you is not worth the price I have to pay. Someone else is in your place, he’ll have to stay.”

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A vow’s a vow’s a vow…

Act 1: Hank Locklin – Please Help Me, I’m Falling (1960).mp3
Oh shit, Hank is falling in love with somebody he can’t be with, and he cannot be with her because he belongs “to another whose arms have gone cold”.  He has made his vows “to have and to hold” (even if the arms are cold and legs presumably locked), and the mere act of  falling for somebody else would be sinful, apparently (that is some pretty dodgy theology there, I think). So he begs the object of his desire to “close the door to temptation; don’t let me walk in”. In other words, he wants her to go away. But he doesn’t really. “I mustn’t want you, but darling I do; please help me, I’m falling in love with you.” The confusion is evident, poor bastard.

Act 2: Skeeter Davis – (I Can’t Help) I’m Falling Too (1960).mp3
And if the object of your desire is Skeeter Davis (who on her album also responded to Jim Reeves in Jeanne Black’s stead, and who previously in this series featured responding to Ray Petersen, all on the same album), then falling in love can be easy. Skeeter reciprocates Hank’s love, and tells him so. Two poor souls in love but circumstances and morals prevent that love’s consummation. But Skeeter can be of no assistance in Hank’s predicament: “You say that you’re falling, but what can I do? You want me to help you, but I’m falling too.” So might an affair be on the cards? Not likely: “We could never be happy living in sin. Our love’s a temptation, but we just can’t win.” Sigh, no chance then. As you wish, Skeeter. As you wish.

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Answering the MCPs.

Act 1: Hank Thompson – Wild Side Of Life (1952).mp3
Hank has been left by his best girl, and he has to tell her how he feels. But he can’t do so by telephone, because she has told him not to phone her (in any case, she might go all Jeanne Black on him should he phone her), and not by letter, which Hank thinks she wouldn’t read. Confronting her face-to-face could lead to a restraining order, if one isn’t in effect already. And with Facebook still almost six decades in the future, Hank shall communicate through the ancient medium of song. And he won’t exercise much tact: “I didn’t know God made honky tonk angels, I might have known you’d never make a wife. You gave up the only one that ever loved you, and went back to the wild side of life.” Where Hank comes from, a honky tonk angel evidently is a very bad thing, a lady of promiscuous virtue even: “The glamour of the gay night life had lured you to the places where the wine and liquor flow, Where you’re waiting to be anybody’s baby, and give up the only love you’ll ever know.” It may be necessary to point out that Hank’s understanding of the “gay nightlife” may not coincide with ours.

Act 2: Kitty Wells – It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels (1952).mp3

Let’s remember that it’s 1952; women’s liberation is not really on the agenda yet, much less so in the conservative, Lawd-fearin’ world of country music. So when Kitty is challenging Thompson’s notions of the jezebel, which she has heard on the juke box (obviously not turned down low), she is challenging the whole patriarchal system. So, for starters, don’t blame God for the reality of “honky tonk angels”. It wasn’t Him who created them, but bad, two-timing, untrustworthy men. “Too many times married men think they’re still single. That has caused many a good girl to go wrong. It’s a shame that all the blame is on us women. It’s not true that only you men feel the same. From the start, most every heart that’s ever broken was because there always was a man to blame.” Kitty Wells’ song did not produce a comoplete change in attitudes .A decade and a half later, the women’s rights movement had gathered steam, but in country world, big-haired right-wingers like Tammy Wynette still counselled wives to stand be their man.

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