Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sad Song Mix: ain't gonna happen

Like I've said before, I love sad songs. Really, really, really love sad songs. And a favorite time waster on the the boat is compiling playlists. Some of these actually materialize as mix cd's for friends, but sometimes I just pick a loose theme and run with it. Tonight I decided to, you guessed it, make a sad song mix. I've told myself that I am going to make the ultimate cry your eyes out mix cd, but this aim is going miserably. First there is the issue with suddenly remembering songs which have to be on it that I know I don't have. You can't make the saddest cd ever without Kathy Matthea singing "There Were Roses" or Patty Loveless's "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive", both of which I should have, but don't have with me.

And then there is the issue of whether or not picking songs that make you cry because they are so touching is allowed. I don't mean horrid shit like "Butterfly Kisses" or "Holes in the Floor of Heaven" (which, being honest here, both of which I found touching-ish when I first heard them -I totally have a soft spot for cheesy sappy stuff like that- but they were beat to fucking hell on the radio and only sort of tolerable from the start), but stuff like Red Sovine's spoken word tear-jerk trucking tales like "Giddyup Go". Yes, just as patently cheesy and intentionally schlocky but the sincerity is sweetly subtle and doesn't feel quite so fakey-fake to me (maybe just because I grew up listening to it) and really, if you can listen to "Giddyup Go" or "Teddybear's Last Ride" without tearing up, you should be institutionalized. Same goes for "Christmas Carol", which oddly enough I would totally include on this mix if I had it, even though I wouldn't allow the other aforementioned touching tear-jerkers. It is kind of in its own league of make you cry retardedly songs, and strangely the first Christmas song I heard on the radio this year, after several years of not hearing it (and it is one of those songs that is only effective if you hear it randomly on the radio).

Anyway, I kind of decided that I was trying to find actual sad songs, not just weepy things (though again, "Christmas Carol" still counts. If you know what song I'm talking about, you know why). Things were going ok until I decided that I would peruse some George and Tammy. Now, when you want to break a heart with voices, those two have criminal talent. This only makes it more difficult. Sometimes they both get a little too goofy with their phrasing. Now George Jones totally clowns intentionally, and you can tell he knows he being cute with his words even when he's singing tragedy, but Tammy Wynette does not. She may know it is a gimmick, but damn if she doesn't sing those songs even more sincerely and deadpan, and faced with this delivery and these horrific messages in cute packages I can't decide whether to bawl or crack up.

I told myself that "He Stopped Loving Her Today" may in fact be one of the truly saddest songs ever written, but it is so omnipresent that it feels like cheating and doesn't have some of the oomph for me that other songs might, so I settled on "The Grand Tour" for Mr. Jones. Mrs. Wynette on the other hand, she is killing me. Seriously.

It is her cheeseball songs which kill you. "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" might be the most ridiculed song on earth because of how silly the concept of the song is, but on the other hand, it kind of rips your damn heart out exactly because of this goofiness letting the heartbreak story sneak up on you.
But you can only hear so many of these songs before you kind of just have to bust out laughing. "Kids Say the Darndest Things" and "She Didn't Color Daddy" and "I Don't Want to Play House" are each heartrending in their own right, but with her whole resume of songs in this vein, at a certain point you lose it.

But being country's power couple of heartbreak, their best stuff is together. "Two Story House" and "Golden Ring" both made the cut. Maybe they aren't exactly what I had in mind when I first started this mix, because either of them if you listen in passing sound cheerful. I remember having listened to them for years and then one day had them both on an album and really listened to them for the first time. I had to listen to them on repeat to just wallow in the horror of this quiet tragedy that slips up on you. "Golden Ring" might really be the true winner, though both are so wretched and effective because they are being sung by both sides at the same time, with no one party singled out as the offending party, instead the breakdown is presented as almost inevitable and unnecessary at the same time. Maybe this is what makes these songs so effective: we know the narrators have personal knowledge of this kind of tragedy, but they sing it from a neutral if sympathetic distance which make the wrong turns and misunderstanding seem so misguided and avoidable.

The whole project is unworkable though. I just remembered that I don't have Robert Earl Keen, Jr.'s "Billy Grey" which is pretty much unmatched as outlaw tragedy love song. Ok, that isn't true, Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" is right there neck and neck, though for some reason though I find it harder to imagine it inspiring tears.

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