Clay’s Thoughts: The Irony Behind a Mega Country Hit
It was early Sunday morning when I was trying to get a jump start on the day and do some chores around the house before Hank and Elizabeth woke up. The forecast called for a dry day (finally) and temperatures in the 60's by afternoon. A great day to get outside and be productive. But first, coffee!
On my way to grab that early morning cup of motivation, I slowly rolled out of the driveway to greet the mixture of overnight fog and early morning sunshine breaking through the pine trees on our road.
As I normally do, I flipped on the iPod to shuffle through my favorite songs. An eclectic mixture of classic country and old school hip hop. One of the first albums I ever owned is "License to Ill" by The Beastie Boys and one of the most recent purchases was a greatest hits collection of Gene Watson songs.
As the truck (AKA jukebox on wheels) moved down the road, the playlist landed on a Keith Whitley song.
Maybe it was the way the sunrise was glistening off the hood of my Ram? Perhaps it was the fog and sunlight? Or maybe it was the group of deer that bounced through the field near the old red barn around the corner from the house as we drove by. But when the sound of that Stratocatser came though the speakers, I immediately grabbed the volume knob and pushed it to the max.
Hearing Country Music Differently
For years, I have mentioned that I hear country songs differently than any other music. Hearing Keith Whitley sing "Sad Songs and Waltzes" in the truck at that moment reaffirmed that feeling.
Keith Whitley passed away long before he should have. At just 35 years old, Whitley's passing left avoid that country music has struggled to fill over the last 28 years. True, there have been some amazing talents and some incredible songs. But few are able to do what a Keith Whitley song can do.
It's about getting to the soul. When a song can give you chills on the inside (you feel it to the core) as much as you get on the outside, it goes beyond what any chart or review can explain. The interesting fact about the Keith Whitley song "Sad Songs and Waltzes" is that HE DIDNT WRITE IT.
Written by Willie Nelson, the song tells the story about a song writer who claims to "not be a star" and that the song he is writing is so sad that it won't be heard because "sad songs and waltzes aren't selling this year." Reading between the lines, you get the impression that the writer knows it would be a hit. But lucky for the person he is writing it about, it won't be heard and won't be a hit. (Sad songs and Waltzes aren't selling..)
The irony! The song, the lyrics are some of the best ever written. The song has it all; melody, steel guitar, and hard hitting, heart wrenching lyrics we expect to hear on a chart topping song. However, I can't find any chart history for this one. It may not have even made it to radio airplay!
Keith Whitley was able to do what Willie Nelson failed to do. At least on this song. With all due respect, Whitley added soul to the song that Nelson (on a rare occasion) failed to deliver.
I challenge any listener to hear Whitley's version and not feel the passion and intensity Whitley put into his version.
To be fair, knowing what we know about Whitley's battle with addiction and his personal life, the emotion of the song has more meat to it. His untimely death as a result of his dependence on alcohol and his battle with depression fuels the relationship between the lyrics and the singer and brings the song to a level that few would ever be able to get to.
As the song played on repeat and the steel guitar whined, I sipped my morning coffee. Ready for the day but also filled with a replenished appreciation of why I love this music so much. Few people can say that they have ever felt the way Whitley felt when he sang this song or even how Willie Nelson felt when he wrote it. But there is no doubt, we have all had some sort of deep emotional situation we have been though tat connects us to the lyrics.
That is the essence of what traditional country music is. It's more about the passion between the lines, than the words themselves that grabs our attention and puts that chill in to our soul. Keith Whitley's version of "Sad Songs and Waltzes" is the perfect example.
Below is the Willie Nelson version: