This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
JOHN PRINE is one of the finest, most admired and best loved songwriters for the last 50 years. Like most of his ilk, he’s probably the best interpreter of his songs but because so many people have performed them there’s bound to be some gems by others out there as well. I have a couple of those in the column as well as John’s own.
John was one of the few people who could write sensitive and accurate songs about old people when he was still a young man. Robbie Robertson from The Band was another who did that. I suspect all the others didn’t have the imagination to want to try to do that.
The song I’m talking about, and it’s not his only one in this genre, is Hello in There.
There have been many terrific versions of the song Paradise. Probably the best of these was by the Everly Brothers. John Denver had a good one, as did the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Good as these are I’ll go with John.
He recorded it twice, once on his debut album “John Prine”, the second on the more recent “German Afternoons”, where he performs it in semi-bluegrass style.
John was writing about environment concerns years before it was even considered in politics (okay, that’s not difficult as it’s barely mentioned even now).
On her album “Other Voices, Other Rooms” where she performs cover versions of other songwriters, Nanci Griffith sings one of the best cover versions of a song by John.
In this case she has the help of the man himself on Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.
John has fun speculating on what happened to Jesus during the time that the New Testament is silent on what happened to him. That’s fine by me as I believe that the rest of his life is equally speculative. Here is Jesus, The Missing Years.
The song Let’s Invite Them Over could make a pretty good plot for a TV soapie. John has the help of IRIS DEMENT on this one.
Of course we don’t know the attitude of the other couple, but as the song includes “again” I imagine that they’re okay with the situation.
This isn’t one of John’s songs, it was written by Onie Wheeler and was first recorded by George Jones and Melba Montgomery. John and Iris do it better.
Lake Marie is a multilayered song - it’s a love song intertwined with history, murder, legend and heartbreak. It’s ostensibly about a lake in the Chain O’Lakes near the Illinois/Wisconsin border, but it’s a lot more than that. This is a really great song.
BONNIE RAITT has recorded, and played in concert, quite a few of John’s songs.
She’s probably the best interpreter of his music except John himself, and on Angel From Montgomery Bonnie might even pip him at the post.
I grew up in a town about this size, so I know what John’s singing about. We left when I was about 13, but of course your formative years stay with you for the rest of your life.
To know what I’m talking about we should listen to John singing In a Town This Size with the help of DOLORES KEANE.
Back when John wrote Illegal Smile, what he was referring to certainly was illegal. Nowadays, there are a lot of place where it’s perfectly legal. I wonder if that removes the frisson of the song somewhat.
Normally, I would say that I really like to include LEE ANN WOMACK in a column, but I discovered that this is the first time I’ve done that. Thanks John, for getting me to do it.
Unfortunately, Lee Ann seems to be trying to be Dolly Parton rather than herself, but I’m including the song anyway. It’s a good old cheatin’ song, this time with someone from the past. Fifteen Years Ago.
Oh my, can John write sad songs that sound as real as any news story? Well, more real the way news is at the moment. You can picture Donald and Lydia quite readily, but that’s not unique to this one – John’s details in most of his songs make them stand out from most other writers’ material.