Y’all, digital cable is the biggest waste of money (after the cell phones) in our house. I’m always so tempted to just cut us off and revert back to some kind of cable that would not have eight million channels. We don’t need HBO or Cinemax. I could almost do without “Jewelry Making” with my tv girlfriend Jackie Guerra or “Knitty Gritty.”
But every day, I’m listening to channel 203, classic country and just letting it blow my mind. I don’t know how I would do without it.
(I was recently skimming Heartaches by the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles, which I both love and want to throw across the room every time I pick it up. But it’s been a while since I’d opened it, and I was surprised to find how big an influence it’s been on my own feelings about country music. Not that I agree with Cantwell or Friskics-Warren on much. I don’t. But I adore the way they talk about music. And I can see how that books has deeply influenced how I write about country music, even though I wasn’t really aware of it before. So, credit where credit is due.)
Anyway, back to Ray Price. He has this song, “For the Good Times” that I’d probably heard a million times, but the other day, I really heard it. I was doing the dishes and he was singing his verse, which is fine and sounds just like a country song should, but doesn’t really stand out.
But then he sings “Lay your head on my pillow. Hold your warm and tender body close to mine. Hear the whisper of the rain blowing soft against the window and make believe you love me one more time. For the good times.”
Folks, it’s unbelievable. It’s so tender and heartbroken and resigned. Is there music behind it? There must be. No producer is going to say “And here, Ray, you’ll just be singing a cappella,” but the way he sings that first part–“Lay your head on my pillow. Hold your warm and tender body close to mine.”–I just don’t hear anything but the way he delivers those words.
It’s like a lullaby.
I was thinking about how you’d transcribe his performance and I just don’t know how. You know how when Willie Nelson sings, he lets that beat get so far out in front of him, just to the point where he can barely see it and then he comes in and just lets his notes tumble all over the measure, but somehow it works?
Well, when Ray Price sings these lines, it’s as if the beats are made of concrete and his notes are helium balloons, tied with long string to those anchors, and so you can kind of imagine how what he’s singing relates to what might be written on the page, but it’s so far up there, soft and smooth and light, that it doesn’t really have a whole lot to do with the beat.
Let’s just take the first sentence. I think it’d be tempting for anyone to sing “Lay your head on my pillow” by really giving emphasis to “lay” and “your” because they are big open words you can really give some oomph to. But Price is singing you a song about wanting one last time with someone he’s already lost. And so there’s that complicated feeling of not quite being able to look at her. So, when he delivers the line, he puts the emphasis on the inanimate object–“on my pillow.” He does the same thing on the next part. A man seducing a woman for the first time hits “put” “your” “body” hard. Price lingers on warm and tender and mine.
It’s really genius.