Saturday, February 2, 2013

George Jones -- "The Race Is On" (1964)

My Heart's out of the runnin'
True Love's scratched for another's sake
The race is on and it looks like Heartaches
And the winner loses all

The second stop on our tour of the seven most important popular music cities -- Nashville, Tennessee -- is just 215 miles east of our first stop, which was Memphis.

In the late fifties, Nashville record producers said good-bye to traditional honky-tonk style country records and started releasing "countrypolitan" records that were characterized by slicker production and a smoother sound.

Outside the famed RCA Studio B
on Nashville's "Music Row"
In particular, those records featured string sections, backup singers (or whole choruses), and lead vocals that sounded more like the crooners of the era (think Bing Crosby or Perry Como) and less like moonshine-guzzling hillbillies (think Roy Acuff and Hank Williams).

The "Nashville Sound" brought country music into the urban mainstream.  By 1960, more records were being produced in Nashville than in any other city in the United States other than New York City.

George Jones at age 31 (1962)
George Jones was more traditional than "countrypolitan," but he was phenomenally popular nonetheless.  Between 1959 and 1983, Jones had over a dozen #1 country hits and over 50 other singles that cracked the top ten.  Jones released ten top-ten singles in a row between 1980 and 1984 -- those ten singles made it to #1, #2, #8, #1, #5, #3, #1, #2, #3, and #2.  

Jones's marriage to female country superstar Tammy Wynette in 1969 was the Nashville equivalent and Jay-Z getting hitched to Beyoncé, or Richard Burton tying the knot with Liz Taylor, or Jimmy Connors marrying Chris Evert.

Did George Jones like to drink?  Does the Pope sh*t in the woods?

George's first #1 hit was titled "White Lightning," and he knew whereof he sang.  The story is told that his second wife would hide the keys to their cars to prevent Jones from driving to a bar.  (The couple lived eight miles from town, and she knew that he wouldn't walk that far for a drink.)

George Jones at age 43 (1974)
However, the second Mrs. Jones did not hide the keys to George's riding lawnmower.  As he wrote in his autobiography:

I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour.  It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.

A painting depicting Jones being arrested
for DUI while on a riding lawn mower
Tammy Wynette described in her autobiography what she did when she woke up one night at 1 AM and Jones wasn't in bed:

I got into the car and drove to the nearest bar ten miles away.  When I pulled into the parking lot there sat our rider-mower right by the entrance.  He'd driven that mower right down a main highway.  He looked up and saw me and said, "Well, fellas, here she is now.  My little wife, I told you she'd come after me."

"The Race Is On" was a favorite of mine when I was a kid.  It's a weeper, featuring Jones's characteristic high-pitched voice -- but it's a catchy, uptempo weeper.

George Jones at age 80 (2011)
The song's conceit is that there's a horserace featuring horses named after his feelings -- there are horses named Pride, Heartaches, My Heart, True Love, and so on.  The lyrics are quite clever but perfectly transparent -- it's a very satisfying song.

I can't resist sharing this recording of the Grateful Dead performing "The Race Is On" live, which is almost unimaginably bad.  I would guess that on any given Friday night you could walk into at least 100 bars in Nashville and hear a better performance of this song.

Here's George Jones singing "The Race Is On":

Click below if you'd like to order the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. Oh my, this reminds me of my days as an LA Times home delivery driver back in the 1960s. One of the few stations my car radio would pick up at O-dark-30 was a country music station that had about half a dozen tapes that they'd run between midnight and 5 am. It got so when I heard a certain song, I'd know that "Wreck of Old 97" by Johnny Cash was up next (this was a real train wreck, and there's an historical marker near Danville VA to commemorate this disaster). I'm reasonably sure (considering that this is approaching 50 years ago) that "The Race Is On" was part of the rotation. Another song I remember is "I've Been Everywhere", which I think was by Hank Snow. I called it Hank Snow sings the ZIP code directory. He also recorded the original of "Movin' On", which I have; even better is Emmylou Harris' version, which I listen to and envision how I'd produce a music video of it. For us Dementites, there's Homer & Jethro's parody. They also did their take on Marty Robbins' "El Paso", which is one of Adam Marsland's favorite country songs to cover; they called it "El Paso Numero Dos" por Homer y Jethro. !Ay carramba!
    And George Jones has not been forgotten--In Gretchen Wilson's "California Girls" (which bears NO resemblance to the Beach Boys' song) there's the line "....and they ain't even heard of George Jones..."