Following in the footsteps of my "Playlist: Alice Cooper" blog a few days ago, which got far more readers and response than I expected, I want to do it again and take a look at what I view as the "must-hear" songs of another truly iconic legend of music, the only and only original "Country Music Outlaw", Waylon Jennings. In a career that spanned close to forty years, with 67 studio albums, 21 compilation albums and 25 # 1 singles, Waylon was truly a man among men and one of the best around. He wasn't country and he wasn't rock. He was just Waylon.
I first discovered Waylon's music around 1976. Mind you that I was only ten years old and all of my peers (can a ten year old have peers?) were into the hard rock sounds of Led Zeppelin or Alice Cooper (another one of my favorites) or Lynyrd Skynyrd. And there were a few getting into the dance and disco sounds that were dominating at the time and making an impression. I listened to all of that music too, but nestled among the Alice albums I "borrowed" from my older sisters and the Rod Stewart's, David Bowie's, and Elton John's, there was this grizzly old country dude with a black hat and the always present cigarette hanging from the mouth, making some damn good music that stood out far and beyond anything else on the country radio stations of the time.
So what I'm going to do here is go down the list of Walyon's career and list thirteen songs that I feel that everyone should hear at some point in their life. And if you're not a fan of country music or Walyon Jennings, after listening to these songs, I don't know what to say because these songs were not necessarily hits and most of them didn't chart or didn't get any airplay, but they revealed the heart and soul of what country music should be and is supposed to be.
He was an original among legends and a phenom among icons. Along with friends, Willie, Johnny, Hank and his wife, Jessi Colter, he turned the country music industry on it's tail and forced changes that kept the genre alive when it was on life support. There's only one and he did it better than anyone. This is Waylon...
Nashville Bum: This song comes from the 1966 movie soundtrack "Nashville Rebel", which was a movie starring, guess who - Waylon Jennings. With only a couple of years in Nashville to his credit, Waylon was cast as not only the lead actor for this low-budget movie, but also wrote the soundtrack too, much like George Strait did for the movie, "Pure Country" many years later. The movie didn't do very well, but the soundtrack actually managed to chart and Waylon started getting attention. This particular song is quite simply what it sounds like - a young singer / songwriter comes to Nashville and struggles and endures to become a star. It's funny and entertaining, but insightful as well. This was Waylon trying to find his way and find his sound and although it's years before Waylon's name became a household word, it shows that he was off to a great start.
The Dark Side Of Fame: This comes from the 1967 album, "Waylon: The One And Only", which was reissued in 1978 as "The Dark Side of Fame". It's just a chilling and moving song that talks about the sacrifices and struggle to make it in Nashville or anywhere actually and how someone who appears to have it all might not really have anything where it counts. If I ever make an album (and Lord help us if I do), this is another song that I'd like to cover, although I know I could never do it justice as Waylon did. If Waylon had stopped performing right after releasing this song, he still could have called his career a success because with this song, he got it just right.
Bob Wills Is Still The King: This live track from the 1975 "Dreaming My Dreams" album is an example of the magic Waylon had in connecting with the live crowds and how rough & ready songs, with little polish and a raw gritty feel, if done right, could bring the house down. Waylon pays tribute to one of his childhood heroes, Bob Wills, a true Texas icon, as well as gets in a shout out to Willie Nelson in the process too. He's just Walyon, having fun and rocking hard, and nobody does it better - not then and not now.
If You See Me Getting Smaller: This comes from the 1977 "Ol' Waylon" album and it sounds to me like Waylon, who was firmly entrapped in the clutches of cocaine addiction at this point of his career, was starting to realize that he needed a break and some time to get away. It's a public acknowledgement that things were hard and he was losing himself into the drugs and into the dark side of the business. It's a good song that I've listened to time and time again when I was feeling overwhelmed.
Don't Ya'll Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out Of Hand: This comes from the 1978 "I've Always Been Crazy" album and it's classic Waylon dealing with the frustration that, after the success of himself and Willie, everyone and anyone at the time started wanting to be "an outlaw", trying to cash in on their bandwagon. It's just Waylon's way of dealing wth the craziness of the entire situation. And also, Waylon gets in a few lines about how the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) conducted a raid on his studio and really screwed up the entire case. They had him, but their own incompetence messed things up and Waylon was found not guilty of criminal charges. And then he made a hit song, essentially confessing about the whole situation. A good fun song and Waylon at his best.
It's All Right: From 1980's "Music Man" album, this is just Waylon and his band, the steel guitar rocking hard and having fun. As the lyrics of the song itself say, "I've been singing about some friends of mine and the stories could be wrong / Well I made 'em up and I lie alot, but I got me a pretty good song". A lot of namedropping and a lot of energy and fun, crammed into a two minute song. A "pretty good song" indeed.
Wild Side Of Life: This is a duet with wife Jessi Colter, a musical icon in her own right, from the duet album by Waylon and Jessi from 1981, called "Leather and Lace". Just a note here. Stevie Nicks, of Fleetwood Mac fame, wrote a song called "Leather and Lace" especially for Waylon and Jessi for this album, hence the title, but ended up keeping the song for herself and released it as a single on her first solo album.
As for this song, you take a classic song "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels", let Jessi add some lyrics (the Wild Side of Life part), put them together with two great singers who just mesh and go so well together, in voice and in life, and cut them loose. Everytime that Waylon and Jessi sang together, you could feel the passion and energy for each other in their songs. This song really exemplified the whole scenario and is only second to "Storms Never Last" as the ultimate Waylon - Jessi duet, at least in my eyes.
Write Your Own Songs: This comes from the duet album called "Willie and Waylon: WW II", released in 1982. This is the second duet album with these two men and although it charted, it was obvious at this point that Willie and Waylon both were starting to fade from the charts and begin the downside of their careers. But at this point,I don't think they really cared. This song is an example of classic tongue in cheek lyrics and a few rather blatant lyrics as well where they are telling the music companies and exeutives that they're going to do things their own way and that they (the music executives) need to (literally) get their head out of their asses and listen to the artists and if they can't do that, respect the artists, they can just write their own songs and kiss the artists (Waylon & Willie's) asses. The song ruffled quite a few feathers in the Nashville establishment and I'm suprised that it made it to an album. But I'm glad it did. Waylon was well known for being extremely blunt when he had something to say and with this song, both he and Willie Nelson took it to a new level. Gotta love it!
Leave Them Boys Alone: This is a song recorded with friends Hank Williams Jr. and legend Ernest Tubb (Tubb's last recording) from the 1983 "Waylon and Company" album. It's exactly what it says with Waylon and Hank rolling off their list of accomplishments and Ernest backing them up, saying that their songs and sales prove that they know what they're doing. Hank Williams did, Waylon does, and Hank Jr. does as well. It's a message for the powers-that-be to quit criticizing and complaining and just shut their mouths and enjoy the music and the success. Classic Waylon doing what he does best - putting people in their place and scoring a hit at the same time.
The Eagle: This comes from the album, "The Eagle", released in 1990. Waylon had been dropped from the major record labels at this point and was considered to be a has-been. This is the way that the newly clean Waylon, having kicked his cocaine habit and recovered from all his financial problems, sent a message to everyone that he might not be what he was, but he was still a definite force to be reckoned with and the best thing for everyone to do is just back off. Great symbolism in the song and just a great song altogether.
Shooter's Theme: This comes from the 1993 album, "Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals and Dirt", a childrens' album that Waylon released after realizing just how much he loved his son Shooter, who is now a legitimate country-rock star in his own right, and as a way to just pay homage to children in general, who's company, once he got clean, Waylon realized that he tended to prefer over the company of adults. The entire album is great and although it's made for kids, it's thoroughly enjoyable and fun to listen to for adults as well, reminding us of how the way we see things and the way that kids see things can be so totally different at times. In this song, it's just a love song between a father and his son and nobody does a love song better than Waylon.
You Don't Mess Around With Me: A rough and rowdy song from the 1994 album, "Waymore's Blues - Part II" that is a throwback to the earlier, outlaw sound that Waylon perfected so early in his career. This song was used on a soundtrack for some movie at the time (can't remember which one) and was his last single to ever chart. Waylon's career was winding down after problems with diabetes, blood pressure and heart attacks and I guess this was just one final hurrah to let everyone know that he's still the same Billy Bad-Ass and not to be taken lightly or forgotten about.
Ain't No Road Too Long: This comes from the soundtrack for the movie "Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird" Waylon has a featured role in that movie as well, playing a Turkey Truck driver who Bird Bird encounters in his efforts to get back to Sesame Street. It's Waylon, Big Bird, Grover and the rest of the Sesame Street cast and it's exactly what you'd expect - AWESOME!
And there you go. My opinions of what I feel are the consumate "Waylon Jennings" songs that every person needs to hear at least once. Any Waylon music is good music - the man wore his heart on his sleeve and didn't hold back an ounce for anyone. The legacy continues today with wife Jessi Colter, who is an incredible songwriter and singer in her own right and son Shooter Jennings, who has his own sound, his own style of music, but is equally as cantankerous and unwilling to compromise as his father was.
If you get a chance, go to ITunes or You-Tube and listen to these songs and feel the magic and power that radiate from them. You'll be so glad that you did. It's not country - it's not rock - it's just Waylon. And that's really all we need.
Rest In Peace
June 15, 1937 - February 13, 2002