I am a Jew. I’m an atheist and I last set foot in a synagogue some time during the Clinton administration, but when Richard Spencer and his Aryan ilk emerge victorious from the coming race war, I’m getting stuffed in the oven just like a rabbi who just burped up some pastrami from Barney Greengrass. In other words, if you’re a Jew you’re a Jew, and it’s not a matter of degree. You’re in or you’re out.
I’m also a New Yorker, born and raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. This is a redundant statement, because if you’re a lifelong New Yorker, of even if you’ve only lived here for 10 years, congratulations. You’re also a Jew. This is a fact that applies to the citizens of this great metropolis across the board, even if the citizen in question is named Patrick O’Flannery. The ash on your forehead isn’t fooling us, buddy. We know what’s what.
Despite my upbringing and unassailable pedigree as a New York Jew, at some time in my 20s I started developing a taste for country music, for reasons that remain mysterious to me to this day. It’s certainly not because I was brought up with it, because I wasn’t. My parents listened mostly to classical music or the occasional song or two by Edith Piaf, and my sister listened to new wave music almost exclusively. My peers in high school were either bi-level haircut goth types or burnouts who went to see Laser Zeppelin so they could sniff rush for a full hour.
Regardless, every time I heard country music, something in me responded. As I came out of the closet and bravely went public with this, I would find myself at the receiving end of a barrage of questions. “WHY?” they would ask me, as if I had just told them that grandpa has inoperable cancer. “WHY???”
There was no why. I just liked it, involuntarily, reason and logic be damned.
With the advent of the internet and social media, I have made the acquaintance of other citizens of my fair city who also enjoy this music, although perhaps not to the degree that I do. After all, it’s hard to know what’s out there, and most Pandora stations purporting to offer country music mostly poop out garbage like Kid Rock, who apparently got the “country” label because he sampled Lynyrd Skynyrd once, or something like that.
The Z Review is in a unique position to address this injustice. Not only are we partially based in New York City, but we’re crawling with Jews. Indeed, from the head honchos on down to the lowliest mailroom clerk, we are balls deep in Jews, and not the “I live in Seattle” assimilated kind. We have pointy proboscises, twinkling tallises and mountainous menorahs, and any one of us could give Steve Bannon a chest-clutching case of tsuris.
With that in mind, let this New York Jew of The Z Review offer the following list of REAL goddamn country songs to get your collection going. The songs are in no particular order, but they are guaranteed not to Jew you out of one iota of country goodness.
The Kendalls – “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away”
This is the most famous song and biggest hit ever recorded by The Kendalls, a family act featuring the sweet, angelic voice of one Jeannie Kendall. Essential to your enjoyment of the song is the knowledge that the other Kendall accompanying her on guitar and harmony vocals is none other than her late father Royce. The two of them sang songs about cheating and fucking, like any good father and daughter act.
The Louvin Brothers – “Knoxville Girl”
The Louvin Brothers were made up of siblings Ira and Charlie, who sang deeply religious songs and blood-curdling murder ballads with equal conviction. “Knoxville Girl,” in fact, is sung so beautifully that it’s easy to overlook the fact that the lyrics read like a snuff film. Fun fact: Ira Louvin once tried to strangle his wife with a telephone cord, so she shot him four times in the chest. He was such an ornery prick that he lived. He ultimately died in a drunk driving accident, ironically while there was a warrant out for his arrest for drunk driving.
Junior Brown – “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead”
Unlike many on this list, Junior Brown is still alive and tours frequently, so seeing him in a non-country environment like New York City or London is pretty easy to do. It’s also highly recommended because he’s a fantastic guitar player and excellent showman, and every performance is top notch. He never really had any hits, but “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead” is the closest thing to it, and if you see him live you’re guaranteed to see him play this classic on his “guit-steel,” a hybrid electric guitar and pedal steel that he invented himself.
George Jones & Melba Montgomery – “Lets Invite Them Over”
George Jones was considered one of the greatest country singers of all time. When it came to duets, his most famous partner was Tammy Wynette, to whom he was married until she got tired of his drunken bullshit and tossed him out on his ass. But while she was the most famous, his best duet partner was Melba Montgomery, with whom he sang this somewhat awkward ode to wife-swapping.
Johnny Paycheck – “Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone to Kill”
Johnny Paycheck is most famous for singing “Take This Job and Shove It.” But before his outlaw country days, he was a clean-cut crooner who you could almost take home to mom. Of course, taking him home to mom would mean explaining this chestnut of a song to her, which stands as one of country music’s most polite murder ballads. Fun fact: Paycheck spent some time in prison for shooting someone at a bar. The person he shot had committed the crime of asking Paycheck if he had ever eaten turtle soup. I mean, can you blame the guy?
Anita Carter – “Ring of Fire”
Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Ring of Fire” is the most famous, but Anita Carter sang it first and sang it best. She was Cash’s sister-in-law and a member of The Carter Sisters, but despite the connections she was never able to get famous on her own. This is a shame, since she had one of the purest voices ever recorded. Her music is worth scouring the internet for, and her 26-song compilation “Ring of Fire” by Germany’s Bear Family reissue label is worth every penny of the asking price.
Willie Nelson – “Sad Songs and Waltzes”
What’s worse than having the love of your life leave you? Writing the perfect song about it and having nobody buy it, that’s what. This is the intriguing premise of “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” one of hundreds of classic songs that Willie Nelson has churned out in his decades in the music biz. He knew a thing or two about songs not selling either – he toiled in clean-cut obscurity in Nashville for years before hitting 40, saying “fuck this shit” and moving back to Texas, where he finally hit it big as the long-haired hillbilly pothead we know and love today.
D-I-V-O-R-C-E – “Tammy Wynette”
Few singers doled out the heartache like The First Lady of Country Music herself, Tammy Wynette. Her entire back catalog reads like a comprehensive database of every form of misery known to humankind, and her voice sounded like she was about to burst into tears at any second. When she sang “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” you really got the feeling that she was a lot closer to the subject than a lot of the people who simply showed up at the studio, sang the song off some index cards and went home.
Loretta Lynn – “Fist City”
Loretta Lynn might have been married at 12 and became a grandmother by age 29, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t also capable of pounding the living shit out of the next floozy who looked at her husband with bedroom eyes. Exhibit A is 1968’s “Fist City,” in which she threatens detailed physical violence against some unnamed tart who has committed the unforgivable crime of making eye contact with her man. This wasn’t a one-time topic for her either, as songs like “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man” will attest.
David Allan Coe – “You Never Even Called Me by My Name”
There’s “outlaw country,” and then there’s Outlaw Country, as personified by David Allan Coe, who actually went to prison for a few years and has had some questionable associations that we’re not going to get into here. Coe has been releasing solid music for ages and most of his records from the 1970s have at least one gem on them, but “You Never Even Called Me by My Name” is the only one that actually features instructions for how to write the perfect country and western song. So, sit back, listen to the expert and make a mental note of how it’s done.