RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Monday, October 12

A Case of Country #1s - January 1944 through December 1945

[This is a project I'm undertaking as part of my Patreon, but posting here. Please support my Patreon if you dig ridiculous stuff like this, or me.]

When that Lil Nas X song about the Old Town Road blew up a few years back, and became a manufactured controversy about country music, and race, and music lists, it spiraled me down a mental rabbit hole of country music history, short term memory in pop culture – not just in the digital era but really all along, how the pop country music industry has always engineered consciousness. Of course, it then begins to reflect consciousness, and it becomes that chicken and egg thing where you no longer know if collective consciousness has been manipulated by pop culture, or pop culture just reflects how fucked up collective thinking is. This seems especially applicable in our current political climate, where nothing is real, and you just have competing forms of self-assured analysis, none of it based as entirely as factual sources of truth as it’d like to believe.
So I started going through the history of country music number one songs, which itself was a complicated story. Billboard Magazine has always been the source of truth for hit songs, and what’s considered their first country music hit singles chart was published in the January 8, 1944, issue. But at that time, it calculated the most played jukebox songs, without a clear methodology, other than “a selected group of juke box operators whose locations require folk records,” and entitled it the Most Played Juke Box Folk Records.
There’s a certain drunkenness that’s always been associated with country music – both real alcoholic indulgences, as well being drunk off patriotic fervor, and poisoned with working class mythologies that perhaps served earlier generations well, but don’t really do shit nowadays, impotent at impregnating success in life after the last forty years of whatever the fuck kind of economy this is. But I thought about how country music in the background of my childhood was inextricably linked to partying, and creating this notion of what it meant to be a real country boy. It helped enable me to follow in my genetic path of being a drunkard, there’s no doubt about it. So being I’m gonna hit my tenth anniversary of sobriety later this month, I figured I’d go through these country number ones in batches of 24, or a Case of Country #1s, just like I used to plow through a case of beer, easily, in a weekend. And although I often went through more than a case of beer, we’re gonna stick to 24 for each episode of this.
I wrestled with the idea of doing this as a podcast as well, thinking about having a woman co-host with me to add banter and input. But ultimately, these write-ups wouldn’t make sense without the songs themselves to refer to, and if I did such a podcast and it became known on the radar of the masses, every episode would get dragged down by copyright violations and DMCA notices. The country music industry is called an industry and not an art for a reason. It’s about squeezing money out the people.
This first case of country #1s begins with that first Juke Box Folk Records list in Billboard, in January of 1944, and stretches through to just before Christmas of 1945. This period was dominated by World War II, with Emperor Hirohito surrendering in September of 1945. My grandfather served in World War II, as a scout troop, sergeant first class (or whatever that one with the six stripes is – as high as you can get as an enlisted man). We even have a picture of Hirohito signing the papers that my grandfather got by trading some cigarettes with some dude that took it. I think my aunt has all that stuff now. Franklin Roosevelt was in his fourth term as President at the beginning of this case, but died in April of 1945. Vice President Harry Truman took over at that point. So that’s a pretty big pair of events – the end of World War II, and the only four-term President ever dying – that took place in this period. It feels like forever ago. And it sounds like it too.

#1: “Pistol Packin’ Mama” by Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters

“Pistol Packin’ Mama” was a song that Al Dexter wrote the lyrics to, to the traditional “Boil Them Cabbage Down” song. At one point in my marriage, my wife briefly took fiddle lessons, and our second kid was still a baby, so she’d always be in the back yard, often in overalls, practicing “Boil Them Cabbage Down” on a violin. You know the difference between fiddle and violin? How much money you have. It’s strictly a class difference based on what you’re playing with it, and technically my ex-wife was using a violin, because that’s what it was to her parents. Of course, playing in a rural Virginia back yard in overalls suggests she had made the class transition downward to fiddle. When we were dating still, I was working at one point on a warehouse renovation in Farmville, Virginia, after having moved back to live in a trailer at the edge of a trailer park owned by a dude named Lindy Hamlett. Everybody I worked with was on work release from the private regional jail, including a dude I went to high school with, named Finchum, but called Monster in jail because he looked like the Cryptkeeper a little bit. My ex-wife came to visit me one time, driving a Jeep Cherokee, which was a few years old, but even the existence of her in a Jeep Cherokee meant Monster said to me, as we saw her pull up outside the third-story warehouse window, “Damn Raven, she rich.” NOT FOR LONG, MONSTER; NOT FOR LONG!
Not sure how much open class awareness there was in America in 1944, though I guess my grandfather’s military history is relevant, with that distinction between enlisted and wealthier men who enrolled in officers’ schools like West Point or the Naval Academy. Both my grandfathers were enlisted men actually, with my mother’s father being a cook, and having lost a finger by accidentally cutting it off, but he always just said he lost it in the war. But Al Dexter used this traditional folk song melody, and wrote lyrics about an angry, crazy woman (who to be honest, sounds kinda hot), who “broke my windshield” and is toting around a gun. (In fact, it’s very fitting that we have the use of what’s called a colloquial apostrophe in the very first country number one, with “packing” changed to “packin’”, to further reach down to them common folk. You already have the single filter of that, and Al Dexter’s version of this (as well as versions by Don Baxter, Sid Peltyn, and even some guy named Freddie “Schnickelfritz” Fisher) song all made number one at the same period, from January 8 through March. But the grandest version was the super-group pairing of the time, where Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters cut a version together. Both were big stars at the time – far bigger than Dexter. This ends up being a theme in country music – a lesser-known artist writing a hit song, and then somebody more famous redoing it. In fact, this became so common that the industry ended up having up-and-coming artists who played shows on off-nights like Tuesday or Wednesday around Nashville, while working as songwriters for record labels, writing hits for established artists.
This version of this song though, is polished as fuck, and sounds as big bandy as it does country, which I guess is fitting for 75 years ago. There is a really great cowbell pop in the break at one spot though. That shit is crystal clear dope. I wanna sample it.

#2: “Ration Blues” by Louis Jordan

When the Juke Box Folk song list first started, it was not segregated by race, which is why we have a few black artists show up until February of 1945, when the list was split into a Juke Box Folk Records list and Juke Box Race Records list. White “Folk” and “Black” people were purposely split up. But in the very beginning, a guy like Louis Jordan could still make this list as the number one artist. In fact, Louis Jordan was so popular in these music industry days, he was known of The King of the Jukebox, and worked with superstars like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, and even crossed the racial threshold and did some duets with Bing Crosby. Billboard had already ran a Harlem Hit Parade hits list for a few years, which was an informal poll of Harlem record store owners. And Louis Jordan had a previous number one hit on that list, and this was his second for the Harlem Hit Parade list, which historically morphed into the Hot R&B/Hip Hop songs list of today. But “Ration Blues” actually landed at number one at that as well as the Juke Box Folk Records list, so in a sense, it’s the rare example of a song that was the top hit in both Rhythm & Blues as well as Country & Western. This particular song is more instrumental than not, and when Jordan is singing, it’s way different than Crosby’s well-ironed crooning. The horn is this song has an extremely fat ass, and it’s always good to remember that the banjo was originally an African instrument.

#3: “Rosalita” by Al Dexter

Al Dexter was a Texas bar owner who put the term “honky tonk” into usage, recording “Honky Tonk Blues” way the fuck back in the day. He wrote “Pistol Packin’ Mama” which was used as stadium theme music for the ’43 New York Yankees. Then a movie came out by the same name, where Dexter got a quarter million royalty payment off that alone. The song was just an overwhelming hit at the time, considering it was still making number one with multiple versions through the first part of 1944. “Rosalita” is actually the B-side to Dexter’s version of the song, recorded with his band called The Troopers. But B-side won again, and got Dexter another hit song.
This also is our first straight up cowboy song we come across, and is sung with the narrator’s perspective pining for a brown-skinned woman in the Rio Grande Valley. Obviously, there’s a time-relevant patriarchal condescension to it, with Dexter singing he’d “come back to you”. But let’s be honest here – Dexter would’ve ultimately been happier if he’d abandoned the world of whiteness and respectability and ran off with Rosalita, joining the tri-racial mulatto culture that defines all of the Americas except these United States.

#4: “They Took the Stars Out of Heaven” by Floyd Tillman

This was Floyd Tillman’s one and only number one hit, recorded with his backing band His Playboys, and it’s string heavy, but nice to have a strong attention to instrumentality still. Not much to it other than ol’ Floyd’s singing about some woman who got made out of celestial lights.
Tillman himself was the son of a Texas sharecropper, who went to San Antonio to play lead guitar with Adolph Hofner western swing band. He learned singing and songwriting while part of that band, and was a popular backing band member around Texas, before breaking out his own front, as the featured vocalist for Pappy Selph’s Blue Ridge Playboys in the late ‘30s. He wrote a hit song then, which led to his own Decca Records contract, and this was the only number one song he had.

#5: “So Long Pal” by Al Dexter

Fuckin’ Al Dexter again, with this follow-up single to the “Pistol Packin’ Mama” hysteria of the time. By this point, he sounds like a condescending shithead, which is understandable I guess because dude was living fat as fuck off royalties, in 1940s dollars. “So Long Pal” actually moved in and out of the top Juke Box Folk Records number one slot for thirteen weeks, from March 25 through September 23 of 1944. I honestly had never even heard of Al Dexter before this shit, but he obviously was the Drake of back then.

#6: “Too Late to Worry” by Al Dexter

“Too Late to Worry” is the B-side to “So Long Pal”, but also clocked the top spot on the list for three weeks, back and forthing with the A-side, which leads one to believe if this was truly a jukebox listing, people were just sitting there playing both sides of this record all the goddamned time. For me personally, more fun than thinking further about Al Dexter is to imagine the mechanisms of various jukeboxes, who load up a 45 rpm 7-inch single, and play it, according to what selections customers have made. Then to play the other side, it has to remove the single, load it back up in the main collection of slots, retrieve it again, and lay it out for the B-side to play.
I bought a jukebox one time, which had a broken motherboard on it, but was in great shape otherwise, which I had wanted to fix. The inside mechanism looked like an old school box fan basically, with a hundred slots for 45s. I used to joke that it was gonna be my ipod, which held 200 songs maximum. Actually the hope of getting that jukebox fixed was what led me to start buying old 45s off ebay, in anticipation of it being functional. I called an old dude who worked on shit like that, but it never got fixed, and my ex-wife got sick of it being in the front room, so I put it on the front porch. Then she got sick of it being on the front porch, so I put it in the field, where it slowly rotted. Those old jukeboxes were made solid, because it took forever to open its insides to the elements, and it still is mostly standing there out in the field, underneath the red maple where I built a giant pile of rocks too. All told, even though I never got the jukebox fixed, it might be the best $10 I ever spent in my entire life (non-LSD category).
Both “Pistol Packin’ Mama”/”Rosalita” and “So Long Pal”/”Too Late to Worry” are the rare record industry examples of what was called a two-sided hit, as well, where both sides of a release made number one.

#7: “Straighten Up and Fly Right” by The King Cole Trio

We all know Nat King Cole now, but back in the early days, he was still part of what was called the King Cole Trio, which was built around his piano playing with bassist Wesley Prince and guitarist Oscar Moore. This particular song was written by Cole, with Irving Mills, and built off stories Cole had heard as a kid, where his preacher father had used black folk tales of a buzzard giving different animals rides, and a classic trickster monkey almost choking the buzzard to death. The song was one of Cole’s first breakout vocal performances, and spent ten weeks at number one on the Harlem Hit Parade list, as well as six weeks on the Juke Box Folks Records list. The piano solo is sick as shit too. I knew Nat King Cole had that smooth as voice but I guess I’d never been exposed to how ill he was on the keys too.
Strangely, The Andrews Sisters released a version of this song as well, which has got to sound insane, with this story and these lyrics, but I’m not bothering to seek it out to hear. I’ve got eight decades of country music to work through already.

#8: “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” by Louis Jordan

Jordan gets his second country number one with “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby”, which sat in the top spot for five weeks in the summer of 1944. It’s similar in title and melody to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson singing “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t” in the 1932 film Harlem is Heaven, but the lyrics are different, and the melody – though similar – veers far enough away, Louis Jordan and Billy Austin got the writing credits for it. Jordan’s backing band at the time was called His Tympany Five. This particular song is probably most famous in our modern consciousness as being sung by Tom the cat in a Tom & Jerry short cartoon. It’s also the last song performed by a black artist before Billboard broke the Juke Box Folk Records list into separate versions for black folks and hillbillies, in February of the following year. There’s a brief guitar pop at the beginning of this song that was decades ahead of schedule, sounding like a 1960s rock blast. Between this and the Nat King Cole piano solo, it’s no wonder the list was segregated, so that vanilla shit like Al Dexter wasn’t made irrelevant.
“Women are creatures” is a lyric in this song, which is a good time to lay out Jordan’s marital history. His first wife was a woman named Julia, who gave birth to a daughter shortly after their wedding, which turned out to not be Louis’s child. He then married a woman named Ida, who he stayed with for almost ten years, until she sued him for bigamy in 1943. Jordan claimed she knew he was already married though, but Jordan had to pay her $30,000. She started billing herself as a performer as Mrs. Louis Jordan, but Jordan put a stop to that by putting a stop to her payments on that court settlement. His third wife was a childhood sweetheart named Fleecie (about as true-sounding Arkadelphia, Arkansas, name as one could have). Fleecie figured out Louis was having an affair with a dancer named Vicky, so attacked him with a knife. He married Vicky in 1951, but they separated in 1960. His last wife Martha, another dancer, was sealed in 1966. He had a shitload of tax problems, and didn’t have writing credits for many of his biggest songs, with Fleecie, the wife who stabbed him, having writing credits on a lot of them, to avoid a previous publishing deal Jordan had signed. Fleecie kept ownership of the songs after the divorce. And on the other side of that is Bill Doggett, former Tympany Five pianist, who says he wrote one of Jordan’s biggest pre-hot singles list songs, “Saturday Night Fish Fry”, but Jordan took writing credits. The record industry has always been shady as fuck. But all these women problems and relationships are probably best summed up by this fact, for Louis Jordan, the Arkadelphia, Arkansas, country boy musician who traveled the country off his musical talents. He died in Los Angeles, but was buried in St. Louis, Missouri, because that was where the family of his last wife Martha was from. I’m sure if ol’ Louis got buried too close to anyone who could shimmy their bone hips, he’s probably done talked enough shit to get a sixth wife in the Mt. Olive Cemetery by now.

#9: “Soldier’s Last Letter” by Ernest Tubb

Ernest Tubb, aka The Texas Troubadour, was a longtime music star, and pioneer of the country music sound. This particular song is a story about a mother who lost her son in the war – highly relevant as World War II had been raging for years by this point. The mom just wants all the sons protected, and “God keep America free”. This is our first example of the jingoistic effect of country music, supporting the war causes of the nation. It’s weird to hear to my 21st Century ears, having been radicalized against this empire by the greed and avarice of the wealthy, but not surprising that a music industry heavyweight who was well-established by 1944 would drop such a song. It gets worse though.

#10: “Smoke on the Water” by Red Foley

Red Foley was just another Kentucky country boy, born in Blue Lick, who won a talent contest, and stumbled into hosting old radio “barn dance” style shows. He made the transition into TV as well, as that format developed, and actually has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – one for his music career, and one for his television career. But this song, which was considered a patriotic anthem of the time, with 13 weeks at number one, is just a scorched Earth ode to destroying all enemies. Foley’s voice has swagger, which makes lyrics about killing off the rising sun, with “nothing left for the buzzards” creepily enjoyable as music, not as content. The song itself was written by Zeke Clements, a western musician known as The Dixie Yodeler. But Foley’s version was a smash hit, solidifying Foley’s career. In fact, off the strength of this military might jingle, Foley actually became the first person to record in Nashville, at WSM-AM’s Studio B. By 1946, he had moved to Nashville, and was hosting Grand Ole Opry segments on the radio.
I can’t even begin to explain how fucked this song is though, in retrospect. I mean, I guess we had clearly delineated good guys and bad guys at that point, but fuck, lovingly singing about the complete annihilation of other people is a bit jarring.

#11: “I’m Wastin’ My Tears on You” by Tex Ritter

What could knock a war anthem off the top spot in late 1944? How about Jack Tripper’s dad complaining about being in love with a woman who just don’t give a fuck? Tex Ritter had long been a radio and movie star, but this was his first actual country number one single. Years later, in the same Billboard magazine that compiled these lists, he said this song was where he reached his sound that locked him as a star. The song itself is post-colonial pop cultural romanticizing of the settler-colonial pioneer spirit – lots of guns and being out on the range. But Tex fell in love with a wild woman who won’t reciprocate those feelings no more. So he’s being a rhythmic sad sack of shit about it.

#12: “I’m Losing My Mind Over You” by Al Dexter

Well, lookie-here, it’s fucking Al Dexter again. This was his third single, and technically fifth release, since both those other ones were double-sided hits. “I’m Losing My Mind Over You” repeated that feat, sitting in the number one spot for six weeks, after Ritter’s previous number one had done the same. It’s actually interesting to hear this right after the Tex Ritter song, because it’s basically the exact same song, except Dexter’s is a shittier version of the same story, and he’s too refined to use a colloquial apostrophe. The break is formulaic as fuck, but I guess it works, because other than “Pistol Packin’ Mama”, this is probably the most personally palatable of Dexter tracks I heard. The B-side of this, “I’ll Wait For You Dear”, only made it two number two, breaking that string of double-sided hits, and hopefully putting an end to me listening to Al Dexter songs, forever.

#13: “There’s a New Moon Over My Shoulder” by Jimmie Davis

Jimmie Davis wrote this song, with two others, and it was the B-side to Tex Ritter’s “I’m Wastin’ My Tears On You”. Somehow it was Davis’s version that cracked the number one slot in March of 1945. The Davis version has awkward pacing, but does drop some serious new moon knowledge. I’m not sure how often I’ve heard dudes talking about new moons in real life in recent memory. There’s a wonderfully jaunty piano solo, followed by a touch of sad steel guitar, and then some of that whiny horn that always makes you think of a dude moving a toilet plunger on the end of it. But ultimately, Davis is still counting the moons since a woman left him, sleeping in a lonely house, and the dumbass needs to move on. He needs some 1945 Tinder.

#14: “Shame on You” by Spade Cooley

Spade Cooley was a Cherokee/white mixed man born in Oklahoma, but schooled at an Indian school in Oregon. His family was part of the Okie migration to California during the Dust Bowl in the ‘30s, and Cooley found his way into big bands there, developing a western swing style, while working under Jimmy Wakely as part of His Western Band. “Shame On You” is a song of a condemnation for an unfaithful girlfriend, written by Cooley, recorded in December of 1944, and Cooley’s first time taking over Wakely’s band. The song bounced on and off the number one spot from March through July of 1944, I guess with so many men being off at the war against their own free will, the idea of a cheating ass woman being chastised horribly a popular theme in the moment.
Interesting side note – this was the first song whose rights were owned by Hill & Range publishing, which ended up being a dominant force in country music, including owning most all of Elvis Presley’s country music recordings. Cooley himself ended up starring in a large number of western movies, having a ruggedly handsome look that translated well to the screen. He ended up marrying a singer in his band named Ella Mae Evans. Both had had their own affairs over the years, always distrusting the other. In March of 1961, Ella Mae admitted to a friend that she’d had an ongoing affair with Roy Rogers almost a decade earlier, but still while married to Cooley. She asked Spade for a divorce, and they filed for it, with Spade filing for custody of their three children. About a week later though, in front of their oldest child, Melody, Spade beat Ella Mae’s head against the floor, stomped on her, and then crushed a lit cigarette against her skin to confirm she was dead. He told the cops she fell in the shower, but he was charged with murder, and his career was ended. He was scheduled to be paroled in February of 1970, and because of that (and probably as part of it as well), he got a 72-hour furlough in November of 1969, around Thanksgiving, to play a sheriffs association benefit in Oakland. During the intermission, he had a heart attack and died backstage. At least he died outside of prison though. Maybe he planned it that way all along. I kinda hate Spade Cooley though, because this song is judgmental as fuck, and even more so when you realize the singer ended up murdering his wife 16 years later.

#15: “Smoke on the Water” by Bob Wills

I guess Red Foley’s raw version wasn’t good enough for America’s end of war efforts, so the music industry pulled out all the polished guns, to get Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, to drop a super-produced, smiley-faced version of the scorched Earth anthem, to really rally everybody around the flag, and hydrogen bomb, and TOTAL DESTRUCTION OF ALL OUR ENEMIES ON THIS EARTH. So this became a number one song in April of 1945, complete with a woman background singer who drops these weird ad-lib hype syllables here and there. The song doesn’t sound as completely fucked as Foley’s version, because it’s so goddamned happy sounding. And boy does Bob Wills really ramp it up on that last verse.

#16: “At Mail Call Today” by Gene Autry

Gene Autry’s peak was before the music industry rolled out, but his role as a cowboy movie star helped create the country music industry. “At Mail Call Today” was his lone number one on the Juke Box Folk list, and is a sad ass song about a soldier getting a Dear John letter from his cheating ass partner back home. By this point, Autry was in autopilot though, and as my girlfriend pointed out, the song rides that “On Top of Old Smoky” melody, to a painfully slow pace. Like this song made me want to die it was so slow. Pop music is only about three minutes long, but this felt eternal. My girlfriend’s hound dog was sleeping on the floor, and appeared to be running in his dreams. Initially we thought this was a sign of endorsement, but by the end of the forever-and-a-half three minutes, we realized Hank the hound dog was probably just trying to get away from the sounds sneaking into his peaceful subconscious state.

#17: “Stars and Stripes of Iwo Jima” by Bob Wills

I think I forgot to mention previously about Bob Wills how he looks like Phil Hartman and Troy McClure combined. His face is about as manufactured as a black-and-white face can get. This song shot to the top of the charts for a single week, not even two months after the actual Battle of Iwo Jima took place, and about a month before Emperor Hirohito signed the surrender papers. It’s interesting how the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima is the visual legacy of ending World War II, not the rubble of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (also about a month away when this was number one). The mythology of the first helped justify the literal scorched Earth of the second. So of course Bob Wills was singing this one.
It’s also weird to think of America in the context of world geopolitics now, because there are no outright good or bad guys anymore – just these blurred lines. I guess as Howard Zinn said, history is told by the winners, so if there was another world conflict, whoever won would have their own version of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. But it’s also interesting in the context of how everybody was like “what the fuck?” when Toby Keith turned into the knucklehead war anthem guy after 9/11. There was a historical precedent for that in country music – we just hadn’t had any cause that seemed as outright justified since World War II really. Korea and Vietnam had unclear justifications, and ended up being quagmires to one extent or another.
Also strangely, this song slid into number one, but was preceded and followed by Autry’s “At Mail Call Today”, which means folks (lol, literally) had this pro-American anthem slide up in the middle of thinking about some woman giving up on her man who was off fighting the war. But also of note is the weird howling woman background singer in Bob Wills’ band, who has even more of a weird role in this song. With Wills being as polished and produced as music could get at that time, this crazy woman with weird ad-lib hype howls is very intriguing to me. To be honest, I am wondering about her vagina hairs.

#18: “Oklahoma Hills” by Jack Guthrie

“Oklahoma Hills” bounced in and out of number one for six weeks total, and was proclaimed Oklahoma’s official Folk Song at one point. Writing credits are complicated, because both the famous Woody Guthrie, as well as this singer, Jack, who was Woody’s cousin, have writing credits. The two of them moved with their family to California during the Dust Bowl, and had a radio show called Oke & Woody Show. “Oke” was Jack’s nickname, a highly unoriginal one for an Okie moved to California. This particular song, in our current woke politics state, is obviously problematic, with a cowboy riding his pony around the Indian reservation, “a cowboy’s life is my occupation” which could be seen as meaning an actual occupation, like Palestine. Nonetheless, Woody became well-known as more of a folk singer, with a certain anti-establishment bent. Jack, however, reworked the lyrics to this one, and made a western swing track out of it, which became the most famous version of the song. Perhaps because of this,  even though the story is Woody actually wrote the song, Jack has been given co-writing credits because his version of it became the most popular and known.
The song itself, though dated, and weird politically knowing what we know about indigenous history in American, isn’t that bad. Jack Guthrie has an honest-sounding twang, and is going all in on the song, not sounding mailed in like Bing Crosby or Al Dexter would, most likely because he has personal history with the song, both in its composition as well as actually being a cowboy from Oklahoma. As this song became a hit though, Jack was actually in the army and stationed in the Pacific. Once he got out of the service, he came back and tried to live off the fame of this, recording more music and touring the west coast, but he died in 1948 from tuberculosis.

#19: “You Two-Timed Me One Time Too Often” by Tex Ritter

Tex Ritter hits the top spot again, with another song about having a cheating partner, and having to “turn you loose” because of that, with the nice double entendre of looseness. This feels like a shittier version of his earlier cheating ass number one from this list. The lyrics have a really great flow to them, but his delivery feels horrible, far too slow and dragging. This song was actually the first number one country hit written by a woman though – Jenny Lou Carson – who off the strength of this song hitting number one, became one of country music’s most prolific songwriters in the decade after. Very interesting to realize, as women performers didn’t really breakaway into their own stardom at this point, that this type of song – about the unfaithful partner – would be written by a woman, but repackaged with a male performer. The song spent a total of 11 weeks at number one, from late summer through Thanksgiving, 1945.

#20: “With Tears in My Eyes” by Wesley Tuttle

“With Tears in My Eyes” was Wesley Tuttle’s one and only number one song, with a switch on the cheating woman story. This time, the singer was the cheater, and the woman up and left him because she found out. So ol’ Wesley is laying there, crying, because he lost his love.
Tuttle was born and raised in California, and was most famous for being one of the dudes that did the yodeling for the dwarfs in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He’d learned music early on in life, but when he was six, while helping his dad in a California butcher shop, he got his right hand stuck in a meat grinder. The accident took all but his thumb and pinkie on his right hand, so had to learn how to play left-handed. He was only the third country musician to be signed to Capitol Records, after Jack Guthrie and Tex Ritter, and he got himself a $300 prosthetic hand for a publicity photo at the time. “But I never did use it again. I still have it, but my dog has chewed on it pretty bad,” he said years later. If that ain’t country, you can kiss my ass.
Fittingly, this song actually sounds almost suicidal, except there’s an extra jaunty piano solo in there, which switches it from “I’m going to kill myself” to “fuck it, let’s have another beer.” This song, and the tradition it is part of, is why America is so drunk.

#21: “Shame on You” by Red Foley and the Lawrence Welk Orchestra

Spade Cooley’s “Shame on You” made a one-week second stint at number one, this time with the full polish and production of country music superstar Red Foley being backed by the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. That pairing of early music luminaries also did a version of “At Mail Call Today” on the B-side. The extreme judgmental overuse of the word “shame” is even more noticeable in this blanched re-working of the violence-prone Spade Cooley’s original. But it also makes me wish there was a Lawrence Welk-style orchestra to rework today’s big obscene hits, although I guess that’s what Disney Radio does. Does Disney Radio even still exist?

#22: “Sioux City Sue” by Dick Thomas

A strange country song about a dude driving cattle from Nebraska, but gets involved with a woman called “Sioux City Sue”, which seems odd because she actually lives in Sioux City, Iowa, which is not all that small a place. Why would you refer to yourself as the place you live in, when you are still there? I could understand being Sioux City Sue if you were in like Chicago, or St. Paul. But she’s still in Sioux City, Iowa, calling herself Sioux City Sue. Or maybe the singer is just stupid. But she also had red hair and blue eyes, which is a combination I fear in people to be honest. Even weirder to me is, I guess the cattle all got slaughtered, but this dude is just hanging around Sioux City still, roping and branding Sue instead. Doesn’t he have to go back to work again? How’s he gonna provide for this woman he’s treating like uncooperative cattle? But then Dick Thomas just starts yodeling like a madman, leaving all these questions unanswered.

Thomas wrote the music, and a guy named Ray Freedman wrote the lyrics. It was Thomas’s only number one, and Gene Autry sang it in his first movie he made after the war. Bing Crosby even dropped a version of it by the end of the year, which hit number three on the pop charts. The song became a country music standard, but leaves a lot of unanswered logistical questions to this day.

#23: “It’s Been So Long Darling” by Ernest Tubb

Ernest Tubb is back with his second number one song, another painfully slow ditty. The highlight of the song for me is when Tubb goes “do it pretty, Jimmy” and whoever Jimmy is comes in with a nice woeful steel guitar solo that briefly relieves the listener of the misery of Tubb’s screwed but not chopped vocals that drag the life out of the song. I wanted the rest to just be one long ass period of Jimmy doing it pretty, but nope, we get more Ernest Tubb, over and over, like three verses too many. Somehow it spent four weeks as the top Juke Box Folk Song of America. I am burned the fuck out on this old ass country music too.

#24: “Silver Dew on the Blue Grass Tonight” by Bob Wills

Bob Wills’ third number one was actually the B-side to an instrumental release called “Texas Playboy Rag”. It spent three weeks at number one at the end of 1945/beginning of 1946. This song has a pretty great musical structure, leading me to believe The Texas Playboys were probably a pretty great group, as Bob Wills seemed to have an unlimited budget back then. I kinda wanna look up the “Texas Playboys Rag” but I’m not going to. No need to further indoctrinate myself with American mythologies through ancient country folk musics. The weird backing woman singer does an extra Jerry Clower-esque “ahhh haa” yell that every rural American with an Appalachian background in their sperm or ovarian genetic history knows how to do. And the guitar part with the hook is actually good too. The whole thing worked so well I didn’t even realize it was another war anthem until too late.

A fitting ending to our first case of country number ones – accidentally being indoctrinated with reverence for America’s might. It’s also somewhat fitting that the actual country music industry, as measured in a hot singles chart, was born as the last World War ended, conditioning us collectively through popular culture. I’ve got 75 years left to get to the present day, and hard to say how fast I can tolerate doing these cases of number ones. Definitely suffering a hangover after this first case.


Double t said...

Great piece of writing. Do you know about the Cocaine and Rhinestones podcast? It covers the history of country music. The Spade Cooley episode is a damn good one.

Raven Mack said...

I don't. I'm not the biggest podcast fan but I might look that up.