25 July 2011

Playlist: Mr. Midnight

I've thrown together several Garth Brooks playlists and mix discs over the years but I always wanted to put one together based on all the songs in his discography that take place late at night.  I originally had a playlist of 20 such songs, and I even burned that playlist to a CD and we played it in the car Saturday night.  But as Garth noted during his performance of "Friends in Low Places" in the This Is Garth Brooks! TV special, "it's then and only then that you realize...somethin's wrong."  After further tinkering, I resequenced songs and distilled it to these thirteen tracks from which I have constructed a singular narrative.  The principles in this drama are Mr. Midnight, Mr. Midnight's Ex, Cinderella, an unnamed woman, Chris LeDoux and a murdered woman.
"Mr. Midnight"
(J.R. Cobb/Buddy Buie/Tom Douglas) from the album Scarecrow

I know many disc jockeys are obnoxious, but I always wanted to be one.  I think that's why I post these playlists on my blog; I like the idea of helping structure how music is presented to people.  The song is about a DJ who takes a song request from his ex, who apparently doesn't realize he's the one taking her request.  I feel like the DJ sees himself as having a unique perspective on the relationship between the music and the listeners, and that in this song we get to be in the booth with him for a much closer look at him than the listeners ever get.  Kind of like that scene in American Graffiti where Richard Dreyfuss gets to visit with Wolfman Jack, only in this song we're Dreyfuss and Wolfman doesn't really know we're there to see his sad story.

This is our protagonist for the story, and most of his story is told in first person, mostly to us but sometimes to other characters in his drama.

"When There's No One Around"
(Tim O'Brien/Darrell Scott) from the album Sevens

Mr. Midnight's mind is wandering throughout the night.  This song is about a guy lying in bed and not being able to fall asleep, "a tape of my failures playing inside my head."  That's a curious phrase, and one that takes on a telling light if we think of it being said to us by a disc jockey.  He's fighting to sleep at four in the morning, so maybe it's his off night but I like to think that he had a breakdown after taking his ex's song request and took some time off work.

"One Night a Day"
(Gary Burr/Pete Wasner) from the album In Pieces

One of my favorite recordings in the entire Garth Brooks discography.  In high school, I got in the habit of staying up and watching The Late Show with David Letterman for laughs and then I stayed tuned for The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder for his one-on-one, audience-free interviews.  It was a very intimate show, and a great way to segue from the hustle and bustle of Letterman into the wee hours.  Garth Brooks was a guest one night, and they played a clip from this song going into or out of commercial break that mentions, "I stay up with The Late Late Show/just another way I know/to get through one night a day."  I will always think of those nights watching Tom Snyder whenever I hear this song.

Within the story I'm weaving with the songs on this playlist, this is where our narrator ("Mr. Midnight," I suppose) is trying to distract himself from the heartache of love gone wrong.  He's going to get restless, though, and go...

"Walking After Midnight"
(Alan Block/Don Hecht) from the album The Chase

I was always amused by one review I read about The Chase that proclaimed it a great showcase of Garth's songwriting because he only wrote or co-wrote six of the ten songs.  Regardless of all that, I love this song and I think it's a fine recording.  I remember going on walks around my neighborhood late at night with my friends during our teens.  This song reminds me of the serenity of those walks.  I love the change in ambient noise late at night; I don't think morning people ever know that the world sounds differently then.

In the context of the narrative constructed on this playlist, though, our guy just can't find enough distractions at home and he goes out walking, driven by his restlessness.  The song is really more about a character desperate to actually meet a lover for the first time, but I think it can also play as looking for a lost love.  Besides, if we consider our protagonist to be the disc jockey Mr. Midnight, it makes sense he would have this old song on his mind.

"It's Midnight Cinderella"
(Kent Blazy/Kim Williams/Garth Brooks) from the album Fresh Horses

Mr. Midnight introduces himself to Cinderella after witnessing her date/beau screw up with her.  She's as vulnerable as he is, it seems, and the two broken hearts seek pleasure together.

A friend of mine loathes this song.  I agree it was a poor selection to be a single; it really is not a song that could stand up to that kind of exposure.  It reminds me of the silly little kinds of songs that George Jones has recorded over the years, like "The King Is Gone."  I dig the energy of this song, and I love the cold open which is why I originally opened the playlist with this.  I think it works better this way, though, as "Midnight Sun" is more about anticipating midnight where this is specifically set then.

"Every Now and Then"
(Buddy Mondlock/Garth Brooks) from the album The Chase

Now Mr. Midnight has someone new.  His heart doesn't seem committed to Cinderella, though, and keeps wandering to the lost love.  Maybe this isn't a happy ending?

"Burning Bridges"
(Stephanie C. Brown/Garth Brooks) from the album Ropin' the Wind

No, Mr. Midnight wasn't satisfied with Cinderella, and he's gone before she gets up.  Apparently, this is a pattern of behavior.

"Which One of Them"
(Garth Brooks) from The Limited Series (1998)

Mr. Midnight is going back out to find someone else.  Instead of moving on, now we know that he's only really looking for some way of trying to recreate what he misses.  It becomes a very bleak song in the context of this narrative, I think.

"Mr. Right"
(Garth Brooks) from the album The Chase

This is how Mr. Midnight actually approaches a woman at a bar, trying to get her to leave with him.  These are the kinds of things that no one with any dignity or self-respect could ever say with a straight face.

"Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy" Chris LeDoux duet with Garth Brooks
(Garth Brooks/Mark D. Sanders) from the album Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy

Just in case the woman on the other end of "Mr. Right" is tempted, Chris steps in to make sure she really knows what she's considering.  This is one of two songs I included that aren't on any of Garth's albums or compilations. I love Garth's chuckle when Chris sings, "You'd be better off to try to rope the wind," a reference to Garth's third album (titled Ropin' the Wind).

"Fishin' in the Dark"
(Wendy Waldman/Jim Photoglo) from the collection The Lost Sessions
Originally released in The Limited Series (2005) box set

Oh, it looks like Chris LeDoux couldn't talk her out of it and now they're leaving the bar with plans to go down by the river.  I always liked the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band recording of this song and Garth does a great job covering it.

"The Night Will Only Know"
(Stephanie Davis/Jenny Yates/Garth Brooks) from the album In Pieces

This may be the darkest song of the playlist.  It tells of a couple who should not have been together who witness a woman killed during the night, but do nothing to help her to protect their own secret.  Unlike the previous several songs, "The Night Will Only Know" is in third person.

What makes this interesting in the context of this playlist is the line, "Both belonging to another/but longing to be lovers/they were finally where desire dared them to go."  This suggests a familiarity not hinted at in the previous songs, but now it makes us see his corny "I'm Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now" pickup line as more of a coy in-joke that might work on a woman who knew he wasn't seriously that lame.  We can then extrapolate that she's there without the one to whom she belongs, and for whatever reason decides to give in to temptation.  This also makes "Whatcha Gonna Do with a Cowboy" interesting, because now instead of being an "Are you sure about this?" second chance to walk away from a corny pickup line, it's like LeDoux is a mutual friend witnessing this transgression, trying to be the little angel on their shoulders.

"The Thunder Rolls" [Live Version]
(Pat Alger/Garth Brooks) from the television special This Is Garth Brooks!

Having witnessed the murder, Mr. Midnight and his lover part ways for the night.  Here, we learn that he has a woman waiting at home who knows where he's been, and in the final verse she puts an end to his wandering ways.  It may very well be that this is the same woman from "Burning Bridges," and she's had enough of him using his third shift radio job as a cover to go out having affairs.

This specific recording was from the first of Garth's TV specials, which I watched the night it aired back in 1991.  It was during this special that the public at large was first introduced to the final verse of the song, and you can hear the crowd freak out over it--just as I did, hearing it from my dad's couch.  Capitol Records issued a promotional single to radio stations in support of the TV special featuring that performance, as well as "Friends in Low Places," which introduced us to the infamous third verse of that song and in the TV special concluded with Garth smashing guitars with Ty England.  I eventually got my grubby paws on one of those promo CD singles and it's one of the crown jewels of my modest library.  You can satisfactorily substitute the live version from Double Live for your playlist.