A Matter of Semantics: Country and Western Lyrics

Ole E T

I recently had occasion to take a short trip with a guitar-picker friend.  I think we were discussing cabbages and kings, or maybe the most recent football joke … when Ernest Tubb came on the old-time country music station we had on the radio:

And when you look at me with those stars in your eyes
I could waltz across Texas with you

Ole ET sang through the speakers.

The conversation turned to the wonderful play on words that runs throughout the Country and Western genre. We considered writing a song entitled Don’t Put No Plastic Flowers On Mama’s Grave … but I doubt that we ever will!   

We took turns naming some of our favorites ( favorite titles or lines, mind you … not necessarily favorite songs! ) … There are some really bad ones:

When we get back to the farm, that’s when we are really gonna go to town …

You Were Only A Splinter As I Slid Down The Bannister Of Life

You’re a Hard Dog To Keep Under The Porch … and

If you wanna keep your beer cold … put it next to my ex-wife


Some play-on-word songs, of course, that were huge hits:

 David Allen Coe’s  I’m The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised  and  Gary Stewart doing  She’s Actin’ Single….. I’m Drinkin’ Doubles  or  Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down, Merle Haggard.

Some of the best play-on-word lyrics have to be heard in the context of the chorus , or at least several lines:

Cause I’ve got it throught my head ……. Tracy Lawrence 

I just can’t break it to my heart.  

I don’t know when I’ve been so blue                Crystal Gale
Don’t know what’s come over you
You’ve found someone new
And don’t it make my brown eyes blue

once a day, all day long                Martina McBride

and once a night, from dusk till dawn ……………

or Mark Chestnut’s

It’s too hot to fish, too hot for golf … And too damn cold at home.

While others  make their point with just the one phrase:

Which Part of No Don’t You Understand .. Lorrie Morgan

So here’s a quarter, call someone who cares …. Travis Tritt

and … Cause I got friends in low places …. Garth Brooks

David Allen Coe, in his song You Never Even Call Me By My Name, written by Steve Goodman, says it is all about:

 mama, or trains, or prison, or gittin’ drunk. Well, he (Steve Goodman) sat down and wrote another verse to the song and he sent it to me and after reading itI realized that my friend had written the perfect country and western song, and I felt obliged to include it on this albumn. The last verse goes like this here:

Well, I was drunk the day my Mom got otta prison. And I went to pick her in the rain. But, before I could get to the station in my pickup truck, she got runned over by a damned old train. 

I have long contended that any good country song is about:  Hurtin’, Cheatin’, Drinkin’, Po-Boy-Tryin’-To-Go-Home.  Take a look at your favorites … see if they fit the pattern. I think I left out trucks and trains; they (David Allen and Steve)  might have left out cheating.

 My favorite play-on-words song, however, is a Roy Clark piece.  Larry Kingston and Ed Nix were writing a serious song  re: a fellow whose lady was leaving him. The man is in serious pain. The writers  have seven-and-a-half great lines:

 I’ve made a small fortune and you squandered it all.   You shamed me till I fell about one inch tall.   But I thought I loved  you and I hoped you would change.    So I gritted my teeth and didn’t complain

Now you come to me with a simple goodbye.   You tell me you’re leaving me but you won’t tell me why.   We’re here at the station and you’re getting on … 

They had a writer’s block and couldn’t agree on the next line (s). In frustration Ed Nix wrote down the line (s):

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone !

That big diesel motor is playing my song … Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone.


About Tom Honea

the south mississippi i grew up in did not yet have paved roads or telephones or televisions. it did have great story tellers, on front porches in the summer or around the fire place in the winter. we were poverty stricken, financially but not culturally. we didn't know it. everybody up and down the road was in the same boat. . after forty years of day jobs i am approaching my "fishing years." i plan to spend them writing. i have a finished and edited deep south novel in the "marketing" stages. currently i'm deep into a WW II home front piece set in the Hampton Roads, VA area. notes and character sketches are already underway for "From Hiroshima to Elvis" ( the ten years after the war ) on the coastal areas of South Carolina. . visit asheville ... come and see me.
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3 Responses to A Matter of Semantics: Country and Western Lyrics

  1. John says:

    Drop-kick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life…?
    I got the world by the tail on a down hill drag…?
    I’m my own grandpa !…?
    All classics .

  2. Bob Mustin says:

    Sounds like we need to add D-I-V-O-R-C-E to pick-ups, drinkin’, guns, and fishin’.

  3. Lynne Bryant says:

    Great post, Tom! One of my favorites is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s: “Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes you’re the bug.” Pretty much sums it up.

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