My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Armed and Crazy’

Johnny Paycheck followed his most successful album, Take This Job and Shove It, with Armed and Crazy exactly a year later. The album was produced, as per usual, by Billy Sherrell.

The record saw two single releases. “Friend, Lover, Wife,” a mid-tempo ballad about a man’s straight-laced other half, peaked at #7. “The Outlaw’s Prayer,” an excellent recitation in which a man is banished from a church because of his appearance, stalled at #27.

The title track is a sonically adventurous mess that fails on every level. The song attempts to extend Paycheck’s outlaw image, but it tries too hard and devolves into a mix of unappealing loud noise. “Mainline” is better, with audible harmonica throughout, but it’s still not very good. “Just Makin’ Love Don’t Make It Love” is an AC-leaning ballad that feels uninspired, to say the least.

“Thanks To The Cathouse (I’m In The Doghouse With You)” has a strong lyric and clever title, but is bogged down by heavy production that intrudes on the overall listening experience. The track would’ve been far more enjoyable if the proceedings had been a bit more tasteful and let the song breathe. “Leave It To Me” isn’t much better, succumbing to Sherrill’s need to get in the way of Paycheck’s performance.

“Me and the IRS” is an excellent workingman’s anthem that perfectly balances comedy and reality. The uptick in quality continues with “Let’s Have A Hand for the Little Lady,” a rocker that succeeds on its melody and Paycheck’s energetic vocal. “Look What the Dog Drug In” is easily the album’s strongest track (along with “The Outlaw’s Prayer”) and would’ve made a terrific single.

Armed and Crazy is a strange album full of adventurous production that usually is not in service of the song. Sherrill used many of the techniques that were popular in the day and they don’t hold up to modern times. I can see why this album wasn’t a smash hit, it just doesn’t have a magical spark. There are a few good tracks, but that’s not enough to save the album as a whole.

Grade: B- 

7 responses to “Album Review: Johnny Paycheck – ‘Armed and Crazy’

  1. Occasional Hope June 28, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    The Outlaw’s Prayer is the best song.

  2. Luckyoldsun July 1, 2017 at 4:08 am

    “The Outlaw’s Prayer” has one of the most wonderful couplets ever:
    “A while ago, a saw a wino over there in the alley, all bent over in tears
    And I thought how one stained glass window, from this Church, would feed his family for years.”
    The listener can just visualize the wino’s kids as they gratefully scarf down their daily ration of glass.
    And the wino as his tears turn into tears of joy. Truly awe-inspiring.

    • Paul W Dennis July 1, 2017 at 8:54 am

      You’re right, of course.

      For me, “Outlaw’s Prayer” is the one bright spot on an otherwise mediocre album

  3. Ken July 2, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    In my opinion “The Outlaw’s Prayer” and the even more dreadful “Colorado Kool Aid” are two of Paycheck’s worst recordings. When I first heard “The Outlaw’s Prayer” on this album in 1978 I assumed that Paycheck was sharing a very personal experience with his fans. The manner that Paycheck recited the words of the story seemed so real and so true. How sad and outrageous that a house of worship would deny entry to anyone because of their appearance. How could a congregation turn their backs on another of God’s children that came to worship the same loving and forgiving God that they believed in.

    But my friends at Epic Records clued me in that there was not one word of truth in that entire story. It was a fantasy concocted and created by songwriter Glenn Sutton and Johnny’s producer Billy Sherrill. The genesis of the song was recounted earlier this year in a newspaper article printed in the Texarkana Gazette:

    “A lot of songs have been written at the suggestion of an artist or a record producer, and according to Glenn Sutton, Johnny Paycheck’s “The Outlaw’s Prayer” was one of those tunes. Sutton commented, “Billy Sherrill had a Johnny Paycheck recording session booked for 6 p.m.and he called me at 2 o’clock and told me that he and Paycheck were having a beer together at a little joint and for me to come over and join them. So I went over there and Billy started telling me that Paycheck is sort of known as an outlaw and crazy, and for me to try to come up with something with an outlaw thing to it—maybe even a prayer type thing or something. So I went back to my office and worked on it awhile and got the basics down. I met them at the studio at 20 minutes ’til six and showed it to them. Billy changed a few things in it and decided to put the melody to “Sweet Hour Of Prayer” behind it and Paycheck recorded it that night.”

    When I discovered that my opinion turned from sympathy for Paycheck’s situation to feeling I was duped and manipulated. Granted that most songs are not 100% reality based and a certain amount of creative license is always taken by songwriters. But in this song Paycheck uses a completely false narrative to insult religion and those that attend church. Worse yet given Paycheck’s hedonistic lifestyle at that time I truly doubt that he spent any time in a house of worship yet he uses his celebrity pulpit to insult those that do. I have heard many stories of congregations that have reached out to those less fortunate with acts of kindness and compassion but don’t recall actually hearing that someone was asked to leave a church because of their appearance. It may have happened but I’m not aware of it. And even if it happened once it’s not indicative of everyone that attends church.

    In the years since this record was released I’ve heard many folks refer to this song and assume it’s a true story. Some use it to point out religious hypocrisy without realizing it’s a made-up tale. To be honest I’ve always gotten the feeling that a lot of those folks that do that probably don’t attend church anyway. No question that religions have shortcomings. But to cite this ridiculous made-up story as an example of religious malpractice is wrong.

    • Paul W Dennis July 2, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      You’re getting too deep here – I never assumed this was a persona experience for Paycheck, I just liked the song

      I also like “White Christmas” and “Easter Parade” even though the writer of both tunes (Irving Berlin) was Jewish

  4. Luckyoldsun July 2, 2017 at 11:37 pm

    I agree with Paul, as far as I don’t think an adult should expect that a song–whether it’s Dallas Frazier’s “Hickory Holler’s Tramp” or Johnny Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag” or “Outlaw’s Prayer” is based on any actual specific personal experience of the writer. But I AGREE WITH KEN!!! (Yay!!) that “Outlaw’s Prayer” is an awful song. Not because it “fooled” me, but because it’s sludgy, manipulative and you can see everything coming from a mile away. The hypocritical churchgoers theme is a common one in book, movie and song and was done with wit and style by Cal Smith in “The Lord Knows I’m Drinking,” written by the great Bill Anderson.

    • Ken July 3, 2017 at 9:13 am

      To be clear (if you re-read my previous post) I stated that “most songs are not 100% reality based.” I never said that EVERY song is true or accurate or based in reality. That is YOUR misinterpretation.

      The point I made is that because Paycheck recited the narrative in the first person, and it did indeed reflect his true life persona (including his appearance) and he references his own song in the lyrics (Take This Job & Shove It) the song was perceived differently than had he told the story in the third person from a perspective of an observer. In most songs it’s fairly obvious when the singer is simply telling a made-up story (such as Hickory Hollers Tramp) or when it’s a song that is indeed based on reality (Ballad Of Ira Hayes) But “Outlaw’s Prayer” seems plausible given Paycheck’s persona so the lines were blurred. I’ll wager that there were more folks that believed it to be a true story rather than a work of fiction. Moreover most folks probably never realized that Paycheck did not compose it.

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