Friday, 1 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 58. Moanin' the Blues

Top 102 Albums. No 58. 
Moanin' the Blues. Hank Williams

"I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get? 
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet 
But I hear him coughing all night long 
A hundred floors above me 
In the Tower of Song"
(Leonard Cohen)

After writing up Dustbowl Ballads I found myself moving on to listening to Hank Williams. They are both foundational artists. I was wondering what to include by him, having come to him through songs rather than albums. I possess a number of compilations but none stands out from the rest. I thought I'd give myself two guiding rules - look for an original album released before his death and look for one that included the spectral, haunting Ramblin' Man, a song that, alongside Son House's John the Revelator, seems to be evidence of a strange, parallel universe.

I could only find two albums released before his tragic early death and neither contained Ramblin' Man. Of course I could just put a video of it here in the middle of the post. Voila!

The two albums that Wikipedia lists as predating Williams' tragically early death on January 1st 1952 are Hank Williams Sings and Moanin' the Blues. Sings contains I Saw the Light. The Velvet Underground were only beginning to see it twenty years later. I can't resist posting this version from Youtube with Roy Acuff introducing the song and singing the first verse. Look at Hank's suit when he enters the fray. Class.

Both albums are great but Moanin' the Blues is pretty close to perfect. Williams is to betrayal and loneliness what Joyce is to Dublin in 1904. I don't think a discussion of the greatest songs of the twentieth century could leave out I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.

I can't imagine the world without these songs. They are part of my emotional alphabet and show that simplicity is the most sophisticated of achievements.

Here's a bonus for those who made it down her to the bottom of the post, a cover of Ramblin' Man by Tom Waits that I came across while stumblin' down the backroads of Youtube.


  1. Another smart choice Seamus.
    And that suit's a corker and, given Hank's music, as appropriate as a chimney sweep in a tutu...

    1. He walks in and walks away but doesn't seem to join in, does he? Probably off his head anyway given that this was towards the end of his life.

      Here's a bit about the writing of I Saw the Light, Trevor, sounds like he might have been influenced by Lights of Home - "One night on the way home from a concert, Hank was looking for a landmark that would let him know they were close to home and he saw the radio tower that was in Montgomery and began writing the hit song "I Saw the Light". This song seems to simply be based on Hank finding a landmark that would tell him he is close to home."
      "We was drivin' back from doin' a show in Georgiana [Alabama], and I was drivin' and Hank had his head in my lap, and he said, 'Oh, Mamma, I'm tired, so tired, but I know we're almost home because I saw the light.'" The light he mentioned was from the beacon at the airport.

      Doesn't sound like he was saved one way or the other...

      In fact, there is a load of great stuff on this song here - http://www.paulcastlemusic.com/i-saw-the-light.html It gets better and better.

    2. Ay, he does seem a little absent. Maybe he wore the suit to remind himself that he was there. He is a strangely anonymous presence generally; is there a more blandly featured icon? Take a picture without the hat; would you recognize him?
      Close your eyes and listen however...

    3. Absolutely - the voice is sui generis, and the songs sheer genius.

  2. "Sui generis"?
    Are you referring to the offside law?

    1. No, the transfer window. Didn't he sign for QPR?