Skeeter Davis Confronts Nixon

As History Channel’s website explains for those born in the 1980s and beyond:

“At a [December 8, 1969] news conference, President Richard Nixon says that the Vietnam War is coming to a ‘conclusion as a result of the plan that we have instituted.’ Nixon had announced at a conference in Midway in June that the United States would be following a new program he termed ‘Vietnamization’ …

Nixon’s pronouncements that the war was ending proved premature.  In April 1970, he expanded the war by ordering U.S. and South Vietnamese troops to attack communist sanctuaries in Cambodia.  The resulting outcry across the United States led to a number of antiwar demonstrations—it was at one of these demonstrations that the National Guard shot four protesters at Kent State.”

Lost in all the hubbub over Neil Young’s “Ohio” [recorded May 21, 1970 by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and rush-released June, 1970] was this surprisingly outspoken recording by Skeeter Davis, “When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home“:

“When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home”     Skeeter Davis     1970

Recorded (before “Ohio”) January 28, 1970, “When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home” would serve as the B-side to “We Need a Lot More Jesus,” a single predicted to reach the Top 20 Country chart in the July 4, 1970 edition of Billboard (alas, it would peak at #69).

Skeeter Davis 45-cDavis would not only write the music (with its martial drumbeat, nice effect) but also its rather pointed lyric, about which Joseph A. Fry would write in The American South and the Vietnam War:  Belligerence, Protest, and Agony in Dixie:

“In 1970, Skeeter Davis aimed ‘When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home’ directly at President Nixon.  Voicing a woman’s perspective, Davis declared, ‘Every mother has to worry about the son she loves, And every sweetheart has to worry, too.’  Although Nixon did not think she should ‘protest’ or ‘question’ his policies, ‘I think I’ve got a right ’cause I just got words tonight, The Man I love was killed there yesterday, When you gonna bring our soldiers home?'”

Examining the song in a broader social context, James N. Gregory would note in The Southern Diaspora:  How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America:

“Another stream struck back at antiwar protests and other challenges to rock-ribbed values.  When Tom T. Hall recorded ‘Mama, Tell Them What We’re Fighting For,’ Ernest Tubb answered with ‘It’s for God, Country and You Mom,’ then followed with two others:  ‘It’s America’ and ‘Love It or Leave It.’  Protesters were also the target in Johnny Sea’s ‘Day of Decision,’ Bobby Bare’s ‘God Bless America Again,’ Stonewall Jackson’s ‘The Minutemen are Turning in Their Graves,’ Bill Anderson’s ‘Where Have All the Heroes Gone,’ and Terry Nelson’s ‘Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley.’  Not until 1970 was there any sort of break in ‘country music’s patriotic front.’  That year, Johnny Cash asked carefully ‘What is Truth,’ but even then an actual protest song ‘When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home’ by Skeeter Davis failed to make country station playlists.”

“When You Gonna Bring Our Soldiers Home” would be included on It’s Hard to Be a Woman, an album reviewed in Billboard’s September 12, 1970 edition:

“With some of her strongest efforts since ‘My Coloring Book’ days, Skeeter Davis has a definite winner in this album.  Songs include her current single hit of ‘It’s Hard to Be a Woman’ and the macabre ‘Someone Up There Still Loves Me’ which could gain airplay at night; plus ‘Down from Dover,’ another strong tune that could be programmed late at night.  ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is great any time.”

Skeeter Davis LP

Vocals:  Skeeter Davis & George Hamilton IV
Guitar:  Norman Blake, Chip Young & Jimmy Capps
Steel Guitar:  Bobby Thompson & Weldon Myrick
Bass:  Henry Strzelecki
Drums:  Jerry Carrigan
Fiddle:  Buddy Spicher
Piano:  Jerry Smith

Bossa Country -or- Honky Nova?

On my one and only visit to Northampton, Massachusetts (NRBQ’s 35th anniversary show in 2004), I ducked into a second-hand vinyl shop and came away with a K-Tel country collection from 1976:  Country Superstars – 20 Greatest Hits.

K-Tel's Country Superstars LP-frontThis collection of early-to-mid 70s hits includes 1976 dieselbilly hit “Roll On Big Mama” by Joe Stampley, plus Johnny Cash’s “A Thing Called Love” (1971), Tom T. Hall’s “I Love” (1973), Hank Snow’s “Hello Love” (1974) and Dotty [sic] West’s “Country Sunshine” (1974), among others.

Track listing

K-Tel's Country Superstars LP-track listingLost to the winds of time, unfortunately, is the institutional knowledge at Canada’s K-Tel corporation as to who made the curious decision to include a “country bossa nova” song from 1964 – Skeeter Davis‘s charming kiss-off “Gonna Get Along Without You Now“:

“Gonna Get Along Without You Now”     Skeeter Davis     ‘K-Tel version’

But wait:  as it turns out, Skeeter Davis’s version would hit two times, the second time being 1971 (thanks, Wikipedia), hence its inclusion on a K-Tel 1970s country compilation.  The version above – it just dawned on me – is a ‘new’ arrangement from 1971.  The original release from 1964 below sounds markedly different:

“Gonna Get Along Without You Now”     Skeeter Davis     1964

Could this be the first county pop number to take commercial advantage of the fresh bossa nova sounds that were sweeping popular music in the early-to-mid 1960s?

US 45                                                          UK release

Skeeter Davis 45-aSkeeter Davis 45-b

“Gonna Get Along Without You Now” was written by Milton Kellem in 1951 and has been covered in a wide variety of styles to date – more recently, Zooey Deschanel & Matt Ward (as She and Him) in 2010.   Kellem’s name would be associated with a number of 45s, from the 50s & 60s, including a King B-side for Bubber Johnson, ’59’s “House of Love.”