Thirty years ago, my best friend’s parents subscribed to Phoenix’s first cable television service, a single station called ON TV. It had a very limited schedule of programming; in fact, some days they just ran the same movie all day, over and over. What I remember most clearly was Robert Altman’s “Nashville” running on an endless loop. We must have seen that movie a half dozen times, but never all the way through at one time. The funny thing is, when I finally saw “Nashville” years later from beginning to end, it didn’t strike me as all that different than when I saw it in discontinuous hunks.
“Nashville,” for folks who haven’t seen it, is about the country music business of the early seventies, but like a lot of the great films of the day, it’s also about the need to tell stories in new ways. “Nashville” is charged with awareness that the old simple answers don’t make enough sense any more. Back then, it seems we spent a lot of time trying to come to grips with feelings we just couldn’t quite get our arms around. In the end, we had to let it go. We called it “loss of innocence” and moved on.
The songs in this collection, all from the late sixties and early seventies, are like that to me. Their depth and complexity don’t merely reflect a greater sophistication on the part of Nashville’s songwriting brigade. The lovers and losers in these songs seem to stand in for a something greater, a world cast adrift and haunted by a gnawing sense of irrevocability. The upbeat songs have a wistfulness informed by happier times, while the sad ones seem to hold out no chance of redemption.
Of course, country music really did turn upside down in the early seventies. Its abrupt pop crossover brought an influx of fresh talent, new sounds and unfamiliar territory. Previously unrepentant honky tonkers like Ray Price could suddenly score easy listening hits with material by counterculture “outlaws” like Kris Kristofferson. And for every record that placed on the pop charts, there were scores of retreads. The radio was full of songs mining the maudlin happy hearth of “Little Green Apples” or the epic suburban tragedy of “Honey,” as every country artist tried for the brass ring of crossover success.
The old “me decade” of the seventies has long since been replaced by the new “me reality,” and most folks nowadays consider the old identity struggles of generations past to be quaint at best — that is, if they’re even aware they happened. In fact, as complicated as the era may have seemed to those of us who lived through it, the seventies don’t come close to the clusterfuck that constitutes modern daily living. So then, consider these songs as a tribute to a simpler complicated time — a brief moment when we paused to reflect on the losses of a past still in view. Though we didn’t know it then, we still had a lot more yet to lose.
The Lover’s Song – Ned Miller
Things Go Better With Love – Jeannie C. Riley
Us – Anita Carter
Angel’s Sunday – Jim Ed Brown
Restless Melissa – Hugh X. Lewis
As Soon As I Hang Up The Phone – Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty
Wish I Didn’t Have To Miss You – Jack Greene & Jeannie Seely
The Most Uncomplicated Goodbye I’ve Ever Heard – Henson Cargill
Swiss Cottage Place – Roger Miller
The First Day – Jane Morgan
Loser’s Cocktail – Dick Curless
Back Then – Wanda Jackson
It Meant Nothing To Me – Diana Trask
Keep Me In Mind – Lynn Anderson