Author: Campbell, Bruce

Songs That Move....You

Songs, like smells, can be very evocative, bringing back poignant memories or impressions, when you least expect it.

Yesterday, I heard the Country Gentlemen’s version of “Bringing Mary Home” by chance on the way home from work. As I was enjoying John Duffey’s amazing voice, suddenly, I knew what was going to happen. When he came to the part of the song where the owner of the house told the narrator that he was the 13th person to bring Mary home, I broke out in goosebumps. (I hope that wasn’t a spoiler – I assume you’ve all heard it?)

I got to thinking: what other songs do this to me? I thought of a few, and some are pretty surprising. I suppose everyone has different triggers and certainly different memories of songs.

Rocky Top
I know, the forbidden song. But I just love the imagery of the song, and the driving optimism of it. Especially in the verse where they (The Osbornes, right?) sing so cheerfully about the stranger who won’t be coming down from Rocky Top after looking for a “moonshine still”. Gee, was murder ever depicted in such cheerily offhand way?

Footprints in the Snow
Bill Monroe, ever the master of touching stories in 3 minute increments, paints a picture of being a fan of winter after a lucky event many years prior when a loved one who had become lost, was found because of her footprints. Achingly elegant, and probably touched a lot of hearts in folks who have had similar close calls or scares.

Body and Soul
Another Monroe masterpiece, this one rooted in deep, deep grief. I remember from my own family, that Midwesterners do grief better than almost anyone. This touching paean to a lost love one unfolds patiently – first we glimpse the train that will carry her body, then we learn of her beauty, and then, in the third and final verse, the narrator comes to the realization that this was her last day and breaks down.

Handsome Molly
Another example of a touching story, told in very brief terms. Boy meets girl, falls for girl, then loses girl, so in fine bluegrass tradition, decides to ramble. In this case, he takes to sea. What I find remarkable about this one, is, the whole love affair (which may have been only in the boy’s head) seems to spring from occasional meetings in church, and somehow sprouted to such a degree, that when she finally spurns him, he can’t face it. It could be an idle threat I guess, but I think every boy knows how it feels to admire someone, imagine being with them, and be heartsick if they choose another.

Drink Up and Go Home
Jimmy Martin is one of my favorite songwriters, and he’s so different than Bill Monroe. He doesn’t have the simple honesty of Monroe – but he does have a wonderful sarcastic streak, and I think it shows in a lot of his songs. But his message here is sensible: quit complaining, somebody always has it worse than you. But his lines about being “fresh out of prison”, and references to another in the bar who’s “so blind he cain’t see” put the perfect Jimmy Martin touches on what appears to be a simple waltz. I say “appears” because it’s so hard to do Jimmy Martin songs justice!

Keep on Goin’
Another great Martin song, this one chock full of venom and spite, delivered in his inimitable style. He brags about how good he’s been feeling since the woman left, and I don’t think he’s being ironic. Or maybe he is? Is he serious when he tells her to “Keep on goin’”? Or is he just trying to hurt her as he was hurt? The genius of Jimmy Martin is, either way works as the song’s point of view. And the hard driving tempo and fast-trading fills makes sure there’s no time to wonder about it.

What songs get your emotions roiled, and memories flowing?

Posted:  8/6/2014

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