Friday, June 05, 2015

HEARTACHES BY THE NUMBER
(Blues All Kinds Book Club?!)

In 2003 David Cantwell and Bill Friskics-Warren published a book on country music with an intriguing premise: instead of being just another compendium of top country singles or buying guide, they talked—and argued—about the country records that were important to them, and why they were, wrote insightful and provocative essays for each record entry and gave us music fans Heartaches by the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles. In the book’s introduction, titled “Don’t Fence Me In,” the authors went into depth on the how and why of the book, why they limited it to singles as opposed to albums or live performances, and told us, “This is a book about listening . . . an argument for a sensibility, a way of hearing.” They continue, “. . . rarely does anyone write about what would seem to be the point of listening to the music in the first place—how it feels to hear a great record or why you might decide it’s great to begin with. . . .” So Heartaches is a book and not a list; it’s an attempt to tell the story of country music through 500 singles. The reader will note that one record brings to mind another record and so the rankings flow into one another. As the authors write in “How to Use the Book,” “Connections between singles usually mattered more to us than any claim of one record’s superiority to another.”

We here at Blues All Kinds have been a fan of Heartaches by the Number for several years now and continue to return to it for inspiration and new ways of listening to a music that’s been a big part our lives for many, many years, even before we knew the difference between country and rock’n’roll and R&B and plain ole pop music. If it hit us in the stomach and that sweet pain remained, we figured it was a good piece of music. A good record, as Messrs Cantwell and Friskics-Warren would say. We’ve also discovered some great music and artists we barely knew existed and most likely never would have listened to (Sammi Smith and Gene Watson come to mind) had it not been for this excellent book. So, have a listen over the next several Thursdays (Sundays starting June 14), hear the records, and if you enjoy them, get your own copies of these records in whatever form you listen to ’em in, and by all means, find your way to a copy of Heartaches by the Number. You will be rewarded for your time in it over and over again. And feel free to agree or disagree with the authors’ observations and choices. That’s what it’s for.

For this new BAK series, we’ll post the first 10 entries from Heartaches, then branch out randomly to some of our own favorites from throughout the main 500 as well as the authors’ “Alternate 100.”

So . . . to today’s “record.” The book’s authors’ number one pick is Sammi Smith’s recording of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It through the Night.” Cantwell and Friskics-Warren open with a long essay on the Music City scene of the late sixties and early seventies, Smith’s record, and the effect her re-visioning of Kristofferson’s lyric had on listeners and critics (including both the CMA and Bible thumping preachers). The authors write, “‘Help Me Make It through the Night’ begins like the releasing of a breath. . . . Kristofferson’s sensual imagery . . . sets us up for a seduction. Instead it embraces a deeper feeling, the fear that one cannot make it alone.”


1.  Help Me Make It Through the Night • Sammi Smith •  1970



“Help Me Make It Through the Night” can be found on Varese Sarabande’s The Best of Sammi Smith.

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