Arty Hill is a Baltimore, Md., honky-tonker who has been playing regularly in Austin the past couple of years. He also reads Lonesome Onry and Mean's blog religiously and has already penned a couple of new songs
based on the goings-on in these pages
. He recently contacted LOM about Mike Stinson's list of great honky-tonk drinking songs
, noting that none of Stinson's featured women in the central roles.
Hill writes to LOM: "I really liked Mike's list of his favorite drinking songs. Then I started making mine, and quickly realized they were all about women. Drunk women. Ah well... I've sorta set up my own classification system."
The Big Bang
"The Wild Side of Life" - written by Arlie Carter and William Warren, as recorded by Hank Thompson; "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (and Loud Loud Music)" written by Max Fidler, Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, recorded by Joe and Rose Lee Maphis
"I always think of these tunes together. They're from the early '50s, when all songs about derelicts - let alone the female kind - still had shock value. And they're plain and simple, which is why they never sound dated. "You'd rather have a drink with the first guy you meet / And the only home you'll know is the club down the street." True yesterday, true today."
Old Testament Honky Tonk
"High on a Hilltop," written by Tommy Collins, c. 1966
"Buck Owens does a great version, but I'm partial to Merle [Haggard]'s. This is essentially a gospel tune, only it's the singer playing God, standing on a hilltop, passing judgment on his woman who's dancing in some barroom down below: 'But you see not the danger cause you're silly with booze/ And from high on a hilltop, I see the Devil in you.'"
Living In Denial
"Say it's Not You," written by Dallas Frazier, as recorded by George Jones
"During his tenure at Musicorp (1965-71), George recorded a host of benchmark country ballads - 'Walk Through This World With Me,' 'A Good Year for the Roses,' 'Beneath Still Waters,' 'When the Grass Grows Over Me,' 'Lonely Street, Tell Me My Lying Eyes Are Wrong,' and this pathetic little Dallas Frazier number.
"Here the guys at the local bar tell the singer some stories about a fallen woman. Then they mention her name, and he discovers it's none other than his sweetheart: 'Her name and yours is the same...' Heartbroken, he begs his woman to lie to him, tell him anything, only 'Say it's not true/ Darling, say it's not you.' Sorry George, it's her. And there's witnesses."
Taking The Blame
"The Image of Me," written by Wayne Kemp
"The Conway Twitty and George Jones versions are killer, but Charley Pride's Live at Panther Hall
version is my favorite. In this one, the singer takes full responsibility for the woman's downfall. And the description of the pathetic barfly she's become makes you cry and cringe at the same time: 'She drinks and she talks just a little too loud/ And with her pride gone, she tags along with any old crowd/ Yes, I know I'm to blame, and I feel so ashamed/ That I made her the image of me.'"
"Tarnished Angel" and "Into My Arms Again," written by Roger Miller, as recorded by George Jones
"George cut these masterpieces around 1961, and infused them with his deep understanding of Hank Williams and the blues. In 'Tarnished Angel,' he sings, 'Your halo is the neon, your heart a jukebox song/ Your Heaven is a honky-tonk, you love to live so wrong.' The slow tempo and tremolo guitar give the track a creepy, stoned edge, much darker than most country from that era.
"Then there's 'Into My Arms Again,' my all-time No. 1 honky-tonk song: 'The music from the honky-tonks, the lonely songs they play, come in though my window cause I live not far away.' The singer knows his woman is out there partying, and he pleads with her to leave the nightlife behind. 'I hope someday you'll think enough of me and try to change/ and come away from the honky-tonks, back into my arms again.'
To me, the combination of George Jones's soulful, two-plus octave range, and Roger Miller's plainspoken but elegant phrases remains unmatched in musical history."
The Big Beast
"Close Up the Honky Tonks," written by Red Simpson, as recorded by Buck Owens
"Yeah, I know it's been played a thousand times, but I'll gladly hear it a thousand more. Bottom line: Lock the doors or my bar-dancing gal is coming in. Lyrics are pretty much perfect.
"The way the second verse starts - 'I wish I had the power to turn back the time/ And live again the hours when she was all mine' - that's damn poetry by any standard. Play this loud to clear the room of fair-weather country fans, and order another round."