Released in August 1987, King’s Record Shop was one of Rosanne’s most successful albums and her last collection of all-new mainstream country material before she parted ways with Nashville and began to release less commercial music in the singer-songwriter mode. Named after a record shop in Louisville, Kentucky, owned by Gene King, the younger brother of Pee Wee King (of “Tennessee Waltz” fame), it became her second gold album — her first since 1981’s Seven Year Ache, and the first time in country music history that an album by a female artist produced four #1 hits.
Like most of her previous albums, King’s Record Shop was produced by Rodney Crowell and is an eclectic mix of country, rock, and pop, drawing upon the talents of songwriters from both inside and outside the Nashville community, as well as some of Cash’s and Crowell’s original compositions, and one from Rosanne’s famous father, the Man In Black himself. The first single, “The Way We Make A Broken Heart” had been recorded a few years ago as a duet between Rosanne and the song’s writer John Hiatt. Rosanne’s solo version is pop-country perfection; something about the arrangement and Rosanne’s performance is reminiscent of Patsy Cline. It quickly became her sixth #1 hit and remains my all-time favorite Rosanne Cash recording. The second single, a cover of Johnny Cash’s 1961 hit “Tennessee Flat Top Box”, has become one of Rosanne’s best-loved recordings. She recorded it at Crowell’s suggestion, unaware that her father had written it; she had been under the impression that it was an old song that had long been in the public domain. Today it is one of her best-remembered hits, along with “Seven Year Ache”, and is one of the most traditional offerings in her catalog.
“If You Change Your Mind”, written by Rosanne with Hank DeVito, was the album’s third single. It hasn’t aged as well as some of the other songs on the album, primarily due to the somewhat intrusive drum machine that is present throughout the track, but it is nonetheless a very well-written and well-performed song. I recall being initially somewhat less enthusiastic about the fourth and final single, “Runaway Train”, but over the years I have come to appreciate it for the well-written masterpiece that it is. Though less rooted in country music than the other singles, its lyrics are rich with imagery, using a runaway train as a metaphor for a relationship spiraling out of control. It was written by John Stewart (not the guy from The Daily Show on Comedy Central), who had become well-known as a member of The Kingston Trio in the 60s, and as the writer of the 1967 Monkees hit “Daydream Believer”.
The success of King’s Record Shop is impressive, partly because it does not fit the neotraditionalist template that had a firm grasp on Nashville at the time. It’s a carefully assembled collection of pop, rock, and a handful of songs that were just country enough to be accepted by country radio. Columbia made wise decisions in choosing the singles — as evidenced by the fact that all four were chart-toppers — in stark contrast to today, when an album’s worst and least-interesting tracks are commonly sent to radio. The album cuts of King’s Record Shop are more experimental in nature (though “Rosie Strikes Back” had the potential to be a hit single), reflecting Rosanne’s tastes which often fell outside the realm of country music. Among the more interesting cuts are her own composition, the introspective “The Real Me” and Rodney Crowell’s “I Don’t Have To Crawl”, which had previously been recorded by Emmylou Harris. Also enjoyable is “Rosie Strikes Back” in which the narrator urges a battered woman to flee from an abusive relationship. Less interesting are “Somewhere, Sometime”, which was written by Rosanne, the rocker “Green, Yellow and Red” and Benmont Tench’s “Why Don’t You Quit Leaving Me Alone”, which closed out the original version of the album.
The album’s 2005 re-release includes three bonus tracks: “707”, which had been the B-side of “The Way We Make A Broken Heart”, and live versions of “Runaway Train” and “Green, Yellow and Red”. None of these tracks is worth buying the album over again if you already have the 10-track original version.
Prior to 1987, I’d enjoyed listening to Rosanne’s radio hits, but it was King’s Record Shop, or more specifically “The Way We Make A Broken Heart”, that finally compelled me to buy one of her albums. It remains the best album in her catalog, and I’ve always thought it was a pity that she didn’t do more music in this vein before changing direction.
It is easy to find, if you don’t already have it, from vendors such as Amazon and iTunes, and worth adding to your collection.