1977 was the peak of Johnny Paycheck’s career, seeing the success of his signature song, the only chart topping single of his career. The album from which it came was also his most successful, his only platinum record, and was arguably his best. By now Billy Sherrill knew what kind of production suited Paycheck, and he gives him the right backings for this excellent selection of songs.
‘Take This Job And Shove It’, written by fellow Outlaw David Allan Coe, is a true country classic which is still instantly recognisable – and relatable – today. More casual country fans may think of it solely as an assertive blue collar walkout from an underpaid, boring factory job with bosses he despises, but at heart it is a heartbreak song. The narrator’s motivation is the woman he loves. He has been enduring the job he loathes in order to try and make a home for her – but now she has left, he plans on making is true feelings known. Paycheck’s growling delivery is completely convincing. The song had such a popular impact it even loosely inspired a movie a few years later, in which both Paycheck and Coe had cameo roles.
The spoken ‘Colorado Kool-Aid’ is a rather bizarre intended-to-be-funny tale of a bar fight in which the narrator’s Mexican friend cuts off a drunken aggressor’s ear as payback for the latter spitting beer at him:
If you’re ever ridin’ down in south Texas
And decide to stop and drink some Colorado Kool-Aid
And maybe talk to some Mexicans
And you get the urge to get a little tough
You better make damn sure you got your knife-proof ear-muff
Hey, ain’t that right, big man?
I said, ain’t that right, big man?
Ah, hell he can’t hear
Nnot on this side anyway, he ain’t got no ear
It was the B side to the physical single of ‘Take This Job And Shove It’, and it got some airplay in its own right.
The album’s other single, the booze-drenched Bobby Braddock’s ‘Georgia In A Jug’, was less successful, peaking at #17, even though it is an excellent song. Younger fans may know it better from Blake Shelton’s cover. Like ‘Take This Job’, it appears to be one kind of song, in this case a drinking song, with an underlying narrative of heartbreak over the woman who has left. Mexican horns, Caribbean steel drums, and Hawaiian steel are used sparingly, and tastefully, to illustrate the exotic destinations the happy couple will never now visit in real life. A similar alcoholic tour, this time of the US, to try and get over a woman, take space in ‘The Spirits Of St Louis’.
Another superb song, ‘From Cotton To Satin (From Birmingham To Manhattan)’ (covered by Gene Watson a few years later) is about a marriage which founders due to financial pressures. The poor farmer hero scrapes together just enough to take his wife on a vacation to New York City, where she dumps him for a rich man. Ironically, just after she has done so, his Alabama farm turns out to be the site of an oilwell.
‘Barstool Mountain’ was written by Donn Tankersley and Wayne Carson (who recorded it first), and also recorded by Moe Bandy. A classic honky tonk ballad about “drinking away I love you”, it’s another great tune.
‘The Fool Strikes Again’ (written by Steve Davis, Mark Sherrill and Gary Cobb) is a delicate ballad about a loyal wife whose man continually lets her down:
Lady Luck never smiles on those who cheat to win
Every time I get her back
The devil tempts me into sin
And with a smile on his face
The fool strikes again
It was subsequently a single for Charlie Rich, although not a particularly successful one.
‘When I Had A Home To Go’, penned by Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton, might depict the same relationship a little later. The wealthy protagonist admits to the bartender,
She loved me more than life itself
But the liquid diet I was on starved our love to death
So it’s not hard to figure out why my baby’s gone
‘Cause when I had a home to go to
I never did go home
Luckily for him, she actually seeks him out in the bar where he has taken refuge, and offers him a second chance, and he has suffered enough to take it up:
So forget the double
Keep the change
And you can call me gone
Cause while I’ve got a home to go to
This time I’m going home
‘The Four F Blues’ is more light hearted, with Paycheck cheerfully playing the field:
I ain’t never seen a woman that didn’t like the 4-F blues
Ooh I like to find ’em, fool ’em, free ’em and forget ’em
And love ’em till they’re satisfied
Then look around for something new
‘The Man From Bowling Green’ is a nice, rather sad story song written by Max D Barnes and Troy Seals., about a naïve young girl seduced by an older man, a musician who moves swiftly on once he has got what he wanted.
This is a great album, which I strongly recommend. If you have nothing else by Johnny Paycheck nin your collection, this is the album to go for. You can find it on a joint CD with Armed And Crazy, and half the tracks from Mr Hag Told My Story, reviews for both which will follow later this week.