George Strait – I Hate Everything

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Mainstream country music isn’t a genre that I know in-depth – the only exception being Johnny Cash. And I really didn’t come on board with The Man in Black until his Rick Rubin years, which appealed to geeky hipsters everywhere. Anyway, years ago I was driving home from Snoqualmie Falls (you know them from the intro of Twin Peaks) and happened to be scanning the radio stations for something to listen to. The scanning landed on the country music station which just so happened to be playing I Hate Everything by George Strait. Now, I’ll be honest – I hadn’t heard anything from George Strait at that point and to this day I am fairly unfamiliar with his body of work. At any rate, I Hate Everything is a perfect country song written by Gary Harrison and Keith Stegall. It was released as a single in July of 2004 as the lead single from Strait’s 50 Number Ones compilation. The song features Strait’s emotive vocals, mournful fiddle accompaniment, and perfect lyrics. The lyrics embody a story of a man drinking at a bar who can’t get over his wife leaving him for another man. The song has a twist ending in a way as the narrator relating the story decides to go home to work out everything with his spouse. It’s just about a perfect song, and you’ll be singing along (and maybe smirking at the repetition of the song’s title). “I hate my job, I hate my life and if it weren’t for my two kids I’d hate my ex-wife / I know I should move on and try to start again / But I just can’t get over her leaving me for him / Then he shook his head and looked down at his ring and said I hate everything”. The song hit #1 on the country charts and #35 on the Billboard Hot 100.

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Johnny Cash – Out Among The Stars

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Posthumous releases by acclaimed musicians are as reliable as me having a cup of coffee in the morning. Typically there is a rush released album shortly after the artist bids farewell to this mortal coil, perhaps it even retains the quality the artist was known for. Each subsequent album dips in quality. For every Tupac Shakur, there are a few exceptions to the rule. John Lennon’s after death recording career maintained his exacting standards, and it seems that Johnny Cash is following suit. Not counting the Bootleg series, Out Among The Stars is the 3rd full studio album released since his death, and the 1st in over 4 years.

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Johnny Cash – Delia’s Gone

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Today marks 10 years since Johnny Cash left us so I thought I’d interrupt the regularly scheduled reviews to post a special Attack of the Killer Track! article. There was a certain sense of symmetry in following up a Nine Inch Nails review with a piece about The Man in Black that I couldn’t resist. In the early 90’s Johnny Cash’s popularity was on a downturn, his 1991 album The Mystery of Life only receiving an initial pressing of 500 copies from Mercury Records. This paved the way for the comeback of Johnny Cash with 1994’s Rick Rubin production, American Recordings. Rick Rubin of course was closely associated with the Beastie Boys and Run D.M.C in the mid 80’s (and currently mugging in the new Eminem video). Rubin urged Cash to record in a minimalist setting, which suited the stark material. Rubbing up against material penned by Glenn Danzig, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and Cash himself was a Karl Silbersdorf and Dick Toops song that Cash had previously recorded in 1962. The basis of the song was the murder of Delia Green on Christmas Day in 1900. Delia’s Gone was the epitome of “Outlaw Country” – stark, unsettling, with vivid imagery. The story of love gone wrong with a final resolution – this is gangsta rap as filtered through Johnny Cash (which Bono of U2 hinted at in his essay included with the Love, God, Murder box set). Johnny Cash of course also covered U2’s “One”, and THAT video was directed by Anton Corbijn who directed the video for “Delia’s Gone”. The video stars Kate Moss in the role of Delia and it really is a masterpiece of sound & vision. Shake the image of the Johnny Cash who covered Nine Inch Nails “Hurt” towards the end of his life. In its stead, listen to Outlaw Johnny Cash singing these verses:

She was low down and trifling
And she was cold and mean
Kind of evil make me want to grab my sub machine
Delia’s gone, one more round Delia’s gone

First time I shot her I shot her in the side
Hard to watch her suffer
But with the second shot she died
Delia’s gone, one more round Delia’s gone

Johnny Cash – God’s Gonna Cut You Down

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Posthumous albums by major artists can present a challenge to the fans of those artists. Sure, I can appreciate the records Tupac Shakur cut during his lifetime but do we really need an endless parade of archival material that wasn’t suitable for release during his lifetime? So it goes. It was with great trepidation in mid 2006 when I bought American V: A Hundred Highways – the 1st record of unreleased Johnny Cash material that he cut just prior to his death on September 12, 2003. I needn’t have worried so much – not only was the album of stunning quality, it was also his 1st #1 record since 1969’s Johnny Cash at San Quentin. Personally speaking (and this is my site after all), it gave a track that will go on every CASH mix I make until the day I die – “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”. The track is notable for featuring an intoxicating mix of militant & gospel based sounds, Johnny’s righteous voice driving the point home with every syllable. The song is based on a traditional folk tune and has been recorded by quite a few artists in the past (Johnny Cash’s Sun Records buddy Elvis Presley being the most notable). None of them approached the material from this angle – this is the best version ever laid to tape. The video is notable for featuring a ridiculous amount of celebrities, driving home the point that the love of Johnny Cash is a universal condition (and one that doesn’t need to be treated). It gives me chills to hear Johnny Cash sing these words:

He called my name and my heart stood still
When he said, “John go do My will!”

Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down

John Denver – Take Me Home, Country Roads

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

When you move far away from where you were raised your mind tends to hold onto certain memories, images, and songs that remind you of the innocence of youth. As a kid my brother and I would sing John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads at the top of our lungs on our various family outings (at least 15 years after it initially was released). My brother ended up moving to New Zealand and I’m in Washington State – but the familiar folk-country acoustic guitar tune along with John Denver’s unique voice always bring me back to suburban Philadelphia and the mid 80’s. The song was written by Danoff and Nivert with Johnny Cash in mind. Once John Denver heard it, he persuaded the duo to give him the song instead (Johnny Cash & John Denver did an acoustic duet version a decade or so later that is outstanding). A bit of country, a bit of folk, a bit of pop – it made a slow crawl on the charts before finally peaking at #2 in mid 1971. The song is a source of pride for everyone that hails from West Virginia because of the lyrics, though the country road that inspired the lyrics is in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C. Isn’t returning to your roots the universal appeal of the song though? When I am on an airplane flying 3000 miles to Philadelphia, I always hear John Denver in my head singing this little ditty. Key lyrics:

I hear her voice in the morning hour she calls me, the radio reminds me of my home far away.
And driving down the road I get a feeling that I should have been home yesterday, yesterday.
Country roads, take me home to the place I belong.
West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home, country roads.