My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Hank Williams Jr. – ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack’

51rF-K-UoXL1985’s Sweet Dreams is somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to biographical films about musicians, in that the real Patsy Cline’s vocals are used for the soundtrack. Usually the actor attempts to do a reasonable impersonation of the subject: Sissy Spacek did it in Coal Miner’s Daughter and and Joaquin Phoenix did it in Walk the Line. 1964’s Hank Williams biopic Your Cheatin’ Heart starring George Hamilton, took a third approach by hiring a third party to do the singing. The producers went with the logical choice, Hank Williams Jr., who does a reasonable impression of his late father. It’s an impressive effort, considering that Hank Jr. was only 15 years old at the time.

I generally dislike musical impersonations, but soundtrack albums do need to be considered in their context and in a more forgiving manner. Your Cheatin’ Heart was Hank Jr.’s second album for MGM; the first had been released earlier the same year and also consisted of his father’s material. At that point in time, MGM was mainly interested in making him into a clone of his father.

There is no questioning that the material itself is top-notch. It’s also apparent, even at this early stage in his career, that the son had a stronger voice than the father. While I’d rather listen to Hank Jr. singing these songs as Hank Jr and not pretending to be his father, it’s impossible not to enjoy this album. The arrangements were all updated make them more contemporary — and in 1964 that meant Nashville Sound choruses and string sections, which certainly were not true to Hank Sr.’s era, but thankfully the producers were admirably restrained in using them. The only thing I really found objectionable was the saxophone on “Jambalaya (on the Bayou)” and “Hey Good Lookin'”, which would be more appropriate on a Bill Haley and the Comets recording. Fortunately, there are alternate versions of both songs without the saxophone.

Rhino Records reissued the album on CD in 1997 and included previously unreleased acoustic versions of most of the album’s songs. I have a soft spot for stripped-down versions of pretty much any song, so I particularly enjoyed listening to these, even though it makes the listening experience a bit repetitious. “There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight” does not appear on the original soundtrack album so its inclusion on the CD is a bonafide bonus.

As well done as these songs are, they are mainly interesting because they show the origins of an artist who would entirely reinvent himself over the course of his career. In 1964 Hank Jr. had not yet found his own voice, but I still prefer these early efforts to his 80s Southern rock party anthems.

Grade: A-

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4 responses to “Album Review: Hank Williams Jr. – ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack’

  1. Ken January 5, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    Hank Jr. was not the first choice to perform the songs for this movie. George Hamilton, the actor that played Hank Sr., wanted to perform the soundtrack. But Wesley Rose from Acuff-Rose Publishing controlled the rights for Hank’s songs and likely at the behest of Audrey Williams he demanded that Hank Jr. sing his daddy’s songs for the film. Probably the best choice though it might have been interesting to hear how George would have interpreted the music. I agree that the instrumental backing for several tracks did not accurately reflect the 1947-52 time frame but the producers of the movie cared even less about being musically accurate than they did about telling the true story of Hank’s life.

    I saw “Your Cheatin’ Heart” on TV just a couple of years after it was released. The film made a huge impression on me. Already familiar with Hank Williams’ songs seeing the on-screen portrayal of his life story made me appreciate his music even more. Still remember how sad I was when Hank died at the end of the film. I knew little about Hank Williams at that time and was very happy that they had made a movie to tell his life story. However a few years later I was very disappointed to learn that most of that movie was a complete fabrication especially the final scene with Audrey and the kids waiting to be reunited with Hank at his New Year’s Day 1953 concert. At that time the movie was filmed no books had yet been written about Hank’s REAL life story so MGM got away with that fantasy. Other than Hank Sr’s songs there is almost nothing historically accurate about the film. I saw the movie again a few years ago, Now that I know the true Hank Williams story I laughed out loud several times. Audrey manipulated the script writers to make herself look better to the extent of failing to include that Hank married his second wife Billie Jean just three months before he died. The film is like Wikipedia – fun to look at but don’t expect accuracy.

  2. Paul W Dennis January 6, 2016 at 6:56 am

    I too saw YOUR CHEATIN’ HEART on television, probably at about the same time Ken saw it.One of my Dad’s acquaintances had played in various bands around Nashville for a decade after being discharged from the Navy after WW2. He eventually settled in Norfolk VA where he ran a music store and gave guitar lessons. He told us that Hank had remarried after Audrey. When I saw the film, that was the only part I knew to be untrue.

    Actor George Hamilton did cut a record album a few years later. It was a good decision to have Hank Jr voice the soundtrack. As a a singer, Hamilton had a great tan.

  3. luckyoldsun January 7, 2016 at 1:56 am

    “It’s also apparent, …, that the son had a stronger voice than the father. ”
    Not sure what you mean there. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that the comment is in reference to how LOUD each could sing and not to the relative quality of their singing voices!

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