12 January 2012

Playlist: Dwight Yoakam


Notice: All links go to Amazon.com, and include my personal Amazon Associate's code. I will (theoretically) benefit from you purchasing these songs from these links.


Also, be advised that I have endeavored to link you to the original album on which a song first appeared. There may be a remastered version available elsewhere.

I've loved Dwight Yoakam's music since I first heard his cover of "Honky Tonk Man" in 1986. However much I liked it, my brother was absolutely obsessed with that song and its music video! I can't hear the song or even think about it without picturing my baby brother turning up the TV as loud as it would go the moment that music video would begin playing on CMT. He didn't care that the TV speaker wasn't capable of actually processing that volume without sounding terrible. He didn't care whether anyone else in the house minded, either. He needed to blast that song! We've been Dwight fans ever since.

Anyway, an online pal from Sweden informed me he only really knew Dwight as an actor through his film work and that occasioned me to revisit one of the coolest discographies of all time to compile this playlist. I agonized over some of the cuts I had to make to this list, and there are some less-than-obvious inclusions that may baffle other fans.

"Suspicious Minds"
(Mark James) * from Honeymoon in Vegas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

This is from the Honeymoon in Vegas soundtrack. The opening guitar work is just killer and frankly, I don't mind saying this is one area where someone bested Elvis. I love, love, love this recording!


"Guitars, Cadillacs"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

This is the thesis of the entire Dwight Yoakam discography. Healing from a break-up with "guitars, Cadillacs, hillbilly music/lonely, lonely streets that I call home." Such a visual song, with that classic Bakersfield sound behind it. I'm told the original line was, "guitars, Cadillacs, long-legged women." Sometimes when I sing along, I go with that.


"What Do You Know About Love"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from Tomorrow's Sounds Today

The steel guitar on this is spectacular. This may well be my personal favorite Dwight Yoakam recording ever. It's energetic, it's sexy, it's taut...it's the perfect microcosm of the guy's whole aesthetic.

"I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" [album-only track]
(Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard) * from Sharp Dressed Men: A Tribute to ZZ Top

Dwight covers ZZ Top...and it couldn't be cooler. I want to be in the car with Dwight and I don't care if I'm sitting next to the beautician.

"Crazy Little Thing Called Love"
(Freddie Mercury) * from Last Chance for a Thousand Years: Dwight Yoakam's Greatest Hits from the 90s

This first appeared in a Gap commercial. I readily admit my bias here, but I think Dwight topped Queen.

"Things Change"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from A Long Way Home

Everything was great, until she declared that "things change" and left. It's a great characterization about abrupt relationship endings (and believe me, I've quickly become an expert). What makes "Things Change" so perfect is that it takes a nice detour into Revengeville.

"Fast as You"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from This Time

This song is pure defiance. Even if there's no one who's done you wrong lately, it's easy to get caught up in the attitude of this song and just want to find some way of belittling and crushing someone who has it coming. It can also be tempting to want to drive faster than you should.

"A Thousand Miles from Nowhere"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from This Time

Lyrically, this is quintessential Dwight. "I've got bruises on my memory." Who the hell writes like that? Dwight, that's who! I just want to live in this song, somewhere between apathy and restlessness.

"Long White Cadillac"
(Dave Alvin) * from Just Lookin' for a Hit

This tribute to Hank Williams is so badass that I traded two songs to make room for its nearly 6 minute length. I just don't want this song to end. Also, I can distinctly recall blasting this loudly as I drove my friend's Silverado to the Louisville International Airport to pick up my then-girlfriend. I won't tell you how fast I was going on the Watterson Expressway, but I will admit that I was in excess of posted limits.

"Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose"
(Kostas/Wayland Patton) * from If There Was a Way

A story song about going out to try to weather a heartache by "dancing to an old Buck Owens song," mutually using a stranger who's dancing to escape her own woes. It's the kind of down-and-out experience that country music does better than any other genre.

"Act Naturally"
(Voni Morrison/John Bright Russell) * from Dwight Sings Buck

Can't talk about an old Buck Owens song without hearing one! The entire Dwight Sings Buck album is well worth adding to your library, really. I didn't at first want to pick this because it's the obvious Buck Owens song but 1) given Dwight's acting career it seemed appropriate and 2) I can't help it; I love it.

"Streets of Bakersfield" with Buck Owens
(Homer Joy) * from Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room

The accordion has never been cooler than it is on this song. "Hey, you don't know me, but you don't like me." I'm already in on this song of a pair of drifting outsiders. The lyrics are great, the sound is amazing; this is a 5-star recording. An absolute masterpiece.

"Pocket of a Clown"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from This Time

The video to this is absolutely surreal. The backing vocals singing their "ooh-wa"s are mesmerizing. This is one of the most unique songs in Dwight's entire discography...and that's saying something!

"Try Not to Look so Pretty"
(Dwight Yoakam/Kostas) * from This Time

Such a simple song, but it speaks to a very specific experience: Seeing an ex and just wanting her to not look so good. This is one of those songs where I just know in my bones, it was borne from a very specific personal experience. I think we've all had our own variation on it at one point or another.

"Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room (She Wore Red Dresses)"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room

One of the traditions of country music is that of the misogynistic murder ballad. This is one of the darker ones I've heard, in large part because it sounds so pretty. The first time I heard it, I got lost in the sound of the song and forgot to pay attention to the lyrics. I was rather shocked to discover what it was actually about!

"I Sang Dixie"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room

A sad story song about a Southerner dying on the streets in L.A. Growing up in Kentucky, I've always been conflicted about my Southern heritage. I reject the backwards, xenophobic/racist/isolationist culture but I do appreciate a lot about our way of life down here. Some of it might be a bit hokey sounding, but I really do like it when neighbors wave back to me. I love lightning bugs and honeysuckle. Even as drawn to the city lifestyle as I am, I would feel homesick for the Southern life if I was away from it too long. This song has always symbolized my feelings about all this.

"Honky Tonk Man"
(Johnny Horton/Tillman Franks/Howard Hausey) * from Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

The one that started it all. I'm listening to it right now as I type and I have no idea how many times I've heard it over the last 25+ years. I still love it.

"It Only Hurts When I Cry"
(Dwight Yoakam/Roger Miller) * from If There Was a Way

It seems rather obvious and natural that this was co-written with the legendary Roger Miller. It's a perfect illustration of the Southern sense of humor. It's not really even meant to make anyone laugh, so much as demonstrate that even at our lowest point, we can resist being somber. Sometimes this attitude of ours can be confusing to people who think we're trying to be funnier than we are, or that we don't really understand the gravity of a situation. But even if you can't learn about the Southern sense of humor from this song, just enjoy that delightful fiddle and steel.

"Ain't That Lonely Yet"
(Kostas/James House) * from This Time

Ouch. Talk about spiteful! This is one of the most scathing rebuttal songs I've heard yet. Again, you may not even have anyone who deserves this kind of attention, but it can make you start running through the Rolodex in your mind to think of who you're still not so desperate you'd take back. It's a nice ego stroking, this song.

"Little Sister"
(Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman) * from Hillbilly Deluxe

Now, it bears repeating: This is not a song about hitting on a guy's younger sister. It's about hitting on an ex's younger sister. Much more tasteful. I can't say that Dwight bested Elvis this time, but his cover is certainly solid and I love the way his voice plays with the lyrics; some syllables are almost lazy, while others are exaggerated. Sheer fun.

"Thinking About Leaving"
(Rodney Crowell/Dwight Yoakam) * from Last Chance for a Thousand Years: Dwight Yoakam's Greatest Hits from the 90s

A song about considering giving up the touring life, but it's easy to think of it as an allegory for quitting a job or leaving a relationship, or any other major change of lifestyle. "I've been thinking about leaving/long enough to change my mind." I'm glad he did, because I hadn't seen him perform in concert when he recorded and released this song in 1999! Incidentally, there should be an entire collaborative album made by Dwight and Rodney Crowell. Just sayin'.

"Little Ways"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from Hillbilly Deluxe

The "encore." This is an old Dwight staple. I picked it here because it opens with Dwight's voice rather startling, and I like the effect of following what feels like the finale of the playlist with this last burst of defiant energy.

6 comments:

  1. Just reading this makes me eager to check out these songs. That will have to wait until I'm back at my home computer later today. Great job at raising my anticipation, Travis! :)

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  2. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, Emil. I can tell you that, even though I struggled mightily to get this down from 2+ hours to 80 minutes, I really enjoyed listening to all these songs again (and the ones that didn't make the final cut).

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  3. Oh yeah, I'm liking this stuff. I found some 8-odd tracks here that will probably go into regular rotation for me. The real stand-out quality for me at first listen are the lyrics. I caught some bits here and there that I really enjoyed, and I'll make sure to pay more attention to them in the future.

    Favorite tracks? Fast As You and Streets Of Bakersfield, I think. I was also very impressed with the Crazy Little Thing Called Love cover. I like the Queen version just fine, except that it doesn't really sound like Queen (yeah, I know it's meant to be an Elvis tribute) and it's a bit of a waste of Mercury's voice. One of those songs I knew there would have to be a better version of somewhere. Dwight Yoakam's might well be it.

    (Side-note: I have such a hard time picturing the actor I know from Sling Blade and Crank playing these songs.)

    So yeah, this was a great playlist, and odds are I'll be checking out more of his stuff as well. Thank you for the introduction, Travis!

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  4. One of the albums it pained me to not represent here is dwightyoakamacoustic.net. In that, Dwight sits down with his guitar and runs through various songs he had written over the years. Some tracks were just a cappella performances. It's an album that goes great in a darkened room with a stiff drink. It's well worth adding to your library.

    I think one of the things I've always liked about Dwight is that he was born here in Kentucky, but instead of going into mainstream country music of the South, he went out West and got into the Bakersfield scene in California with Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, etc. I always sort of saw him as more artistic and sophisticated than most of his peers. Still do, really.

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  5. I noticed that album as I was looking through his discography on Spotify. The title stands out, that's for sure. I'll make sure to give it a listen to at some point.

    I'm very ignorant to the nuances and branching-offs of country music, I have to admit. It's not a genre that has ever hit it really big here in Sweden to my knowledge, and I've never quite drifted towards it before (except Johnny Cash, of course, whom everyone seem to like). I might have to explore the genre further now.

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  6. Like any genre, there are masterpieces and there's complete crap. I'm a native Kentuckian, so I grew up with country. I actually came to hate it around 1990, thinking it was silly, backward music for silly, backward people and that I wanted to be more sophisticated than that. I resented the twang, the stereotypes of drinkin' & cheatin' songs, etc.

    But then as I grew, I came to discover that country music does a great job of exploring some of the most universal life experiences we all face. I love the sound of fiddle and steel guitar. I found stuff that really spoke to me.

    There are various branches of country, and maybe at some point in the future I'll put together a survey playlist and accompanying blog post to explore them. It's a far more diverse genre than is generally acknowledged.

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