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.