Friday, March 27, 2009

Why Jukeboxes Get Shot

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Life is Too Short
Ira Louvin
ALBUM: The Unforgettable Ira Louvin
YEAR/LABEL: 1965; Capitol

I want you to sing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" at my funeral.
(Ira Louvin, to Bill Monroe, 1964)

Steve Goodman was a great songwriter, but with all due respect to Chicago Shorty there was a glaring error in his coda verse to "You Never Even Call Me By My Name." While listing all the things no self-respecting country song would be without, there was not a single mention of a jukebox (an odd exclusion, given the fact that Goodman repaid John Prine for coming up with the title of the song [Prine refused to be listed as co-writer because he thought the song was "goofy"] by buying him a jukebox).

There have been songs about jukeboxes almost as long as jukeboxes have existed, especially in country music. Some have celebrated the joy of the music (the pop classic "Music! Music! Music!" by Teresa Brewer), while others have cried over the songs pouring from the speakers (such as Johnny Paycheck's early composition "A-11"). Ira Louvin's 1965 gem "Life is Too Short" is in the latter category. This song was among the very last Louvin recorded (in March, 1965, just three months before his tragic death in an automobile accident), yet it is the highlight of the album he never lived to see released.

"Life is Too Short," written by Louvin's wife Anne Young (who also perished in the crash along Interstate 70 near Jefferson City, Missouri on June 20, 1965), speaks of the heartache of a lost love with such heartache that one is almost glad the unnamed song on the jukebox isn't the song being presented here. This song almost plays like a movie, with the lyrics painting a picture so vivid no video was necessary. One can see Louvin sitting at a barroom table, drink in hand, agonizing as the song played. "And if he felt as empty and helpless as me," Louvin mourned, "I can see why he wanted to die." That theme continues with the punch line to the song, "life is too short and I've lived it too long."

If there were a hall of fame for verses from songs, the song's climatic verse would certainly hang there. "How can the jukebox play that song without crying?" Louvin sang. "How can the record keep from breaking apart?" Louvin then answered his own question: "I guess a record is only an echo from the past, and a jukebox just don't have a heart."

Ira Louvin, along with his brother Charlie, are in three Halls of Fame: Songwriters, Alabama Music, and Country Music. He is best remembered for his work with Charlie, but this solo recording proves that he was great, whether he was singing with Charlie or by himself.


"These Two Eyes" (from The Unforgettable Ira Louvin) -- bluegrass acts have recorded this song, but they cannot match the original.
The entire Tribute to the Delmore Brothers album (Louvin Brothers) -- Ira and Charlie's heroes were Alton and Rabon Delmore, and this tribute to their boyhood idols presented some long-forgotten music to a new generation. It is most fitting that both acts went into the Country Music Hall of Fame the same year.
The entire Tragic Songs of Life album (Louvin Brothers) -- not for the faint of heart (there's a good reason the word "tragic" is in the title), but when rock critics name an old country album one of the "1,001 albums you must hear before you die," you know it's something special.
"Make Him a Soldier" (Louvin Brothers, from The Family Who Prays) -- after a song like this WSM DJ Eddie Stubbs usually says, "Are there any questions?" Exhibit "A" on why the Louvin Brothers are revered as the act that perfected harmony in country music.
"There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea" (Louvin Brothers, from Live at New River Ranch) -- from Ira's opening remark, "I love kids, we used to go to school with 'em," you know you're in for some fun. This song won the Louvins a spot on WNOX radio in 1942, essentially sending their career on its way.
"Bringing in the Georgia Mail" (Charlie Monroe & the Kentucky Partners, available on Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Hillbilly Music 1947) -- while Charlie Louvin was in the army Ira hooked up briefly with another Charlie -- Bill Monroe's brother -- for some session work. This is noteworthy not so much for Ira's galloping mandolin playing in the background but for the fact that country music's greatest tenor singer was the bass singer on this track.

I Want a Home in Dixie
I Lost Today
Down to the River to Pray
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

Heart of Rome
Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home
Entella Hotel
Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

1 comment:

Marimba said...

Sorry that I've come late to the game here. What great stuff! Wow! I'll be a loyal reader. The Louvin song is one of my all-time favorites, just about every line from it is a potential song title.

Why jukeboxes get shot. Great title itself.

I'll be around.