A couple of days back, as the world watched the death count rise, there was a tiny bump caused by a country singer. Kenny Rogers, the man who made country music mainstream, left peacefully in his sleep.
I won’t go into how awesome he was or his impact on the country music scene because there’s much that’s been said already about his legacy. Instead, I’ll talk about my favorite Kenny Rogers’ songs.
Kenny has this great way of telling stories through his songs. He called these story-songs. The other songs he called ballads or songs that women would like. One of Kenny’s earliest gambles was taking country music and making it pop. If it didn’t sound country enough, the country music folks wouldn’t buy it, and if it wasn’t peppy enough, the pop folks wouldn’t buy it. Yet, he carved out a successful niche for himself and walked away as a Country Music Hall of Famer!
The Gambler is Kenny’s most famous song. It’s been covered quite a few times, and Kenny even won the Grammy for it. A little known fact is that The Gambler was originally written and performed by Don Schlitz when he was a 20-something and Kenny was in his 40s. The Gambler is about a happenchance meeting between the protagonist in the song and a gambler on a train. In exchange for a few sips of whiskey, the gambler lets him in on valuable secrets to gambling and life.
The secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep
Coward of The County is about a young kid, Tommy, who loses his father at a very young age. The song uses a third-person narrative to describe Tommy’s life after his father’s death. On his deathbed, his father asks him to make a promise that he wouldn’t get into trouble fighting. Tommy keeps his promise until he’s faced with a dilemma that pits the promise to his father against the need to stand up for his loved ones. What happens next? If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is a key plot point in many movies. Does anyone remember the plot point from Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na where Jai/Rats refuses to fight?
It won’t mean you’re weak if you turn the other cheek
I hope you’re old enough to understand
Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man
Lucille is set in a restaurant and shows people dealing with a crisis from three different perspectives. And, no one really is wrong. Each of them in their own way is hurt by life and doing what they think is the best thing to do. It’s a slice of life picturized really well in a song.
I’ve had some bad times, lived through some sad times
But this time your hurting won’t heal
You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille
Kenny was one of my favorite singers who could tell a story using just the lyrics. However, Kenny, by his own admission, was not a great writer. Some of his biggest hits were written by other folks, but his magic was in making these songs his own.
If I could nitpick, it would be that he even made the sad story songs enjoyable. You’d be tapping away to a song and without any warning, it would suddenly hit you that the story in it was sad.
Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town is another of those songs. You’re tapping your toes and feet, tippity tap, and by the end of the song you’re still tapping and then you realize that you just heard a sad sad story. But, your feet are still tippity tapping.
Kenny Rogers has passed on, and as a fan (as many have mourned their heroes passing), there is a little sad in me. But, every time I think of Kenny Rogers’ songs, there’s a little tippity tap in my feet (and I have two left feet).
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