Smoke on the Water

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You'll find a lot of patriotic and conservative sentiments expressed in country and western music. As a rebuttal to a metroconservative who bemoans conservative celebration of the culture of the common man (think NASCAR, Wal-Mart, and Blue Collar Comedy), Clinton W. Taylor presents, on the American Spectator's website, a selection of 15 "great country songs with great conservative ideas."

As his number one selection, Taylor, once a DJ at KMAD, the "Greatest Little Station in the Chickasaw Nation," picks the song Smoke on the Water. This isn't the Deep Purple song of the same name. This one was recorded in 1945 by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, and a year before that it was a hit for Red Foley. It was written by Zeke Clements and Earl Nunn.

Of this politically incorrect song, with its references to "heathen gods," Taylor writes:

If you ever set out to find out just what it would take to get yourself excommunicated from the Unitarians, I bet playing this song while you did it would help.

Here's a link to the original lyrics for Smoke on the Water, including the fierce second verse that Taylor mentions was dropped from the Bob Wills version.

(If you come back here in a day or two, you may be able to hear a bit of the song. UPDATE: As promised, for a limited time, a very low-quality 350 KB MP3.)

(If this is correct, the twin lead guitarists on that song are Jimmy Wyble and Cameron Hill.)

Country and Western is music for grownups. It's about the only current genre where you'll find songs about responsibility, fidelity, love of country, parenthood, old age, and the consequences of folly.

Taylor's description of his number 15 song reminded me of another song that deals with fidelity. A little over a year ago I first heard a Randy Travis song called On the Other Hand. The song's point of view is that of a married man who is very tempted to stray, but he musters the strength to stop and leave before he goes too far. Here's the chorus:

On the other hand, There's a golden band
To remind me of someone who would not understand
On the one hand I could stay and be your loving man
But the reason I must go is on the other hand

When I first heard that song, I was struck by the contrast with a pop song that dealt with a similar temptation -- the Beatles' Chains, by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. In Chains, the singer's love for his girlfriend binds him from going after the desirable girl to whom the song is addressed.

But in On the Other Hand, there's no hint of chains of love binding the singer to his wife -- he sings of passion that has died. Instead of being bound by emotion, he's bound by the objective fact of his vows before God and man, symbolized by that golden band on the other hand. Instead of passion being trumped by stronger passion, as in the Beatles' song, here you have passion being subjected to duty by an act of the will. And that is very much a conservative idea.


W. Author Profile Page said:

Lord knows I love, love, love country music. That list may be patriotic and conservative, but about half of those songs simply aren't very good.

For instance, I admire Toby Keith as a songwriter. But "The Angry American" is not close to one of his best songs.

And I find it interesting that Merle Haggard, the man that made that list four times, has a new song out called "America First," that contains these lyrics:

"Yeah, men in position are backin' away:
Freedom is stuck in reverse.
Let's get out of Iraq and get back on the track,
And let's rebuild America first."

I paraphrase and amend a saying about Walter Cronkite in the 1960s: If you lose Merle Haggard, you've lost the nation.

Having listened to country music for many, many years, it's more of a populist form than a conservative form. It's mercurial, blue-collar music, which fits my upbringing and many others'.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 26, 2006 1:13 AM.

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