Hank Williams Jr., Conservative Tunes on 'Believe Your Ears'

Wednesday, 01 August 2012 05:08 PM Written by 

Today's "Believe Your Ears" music podcast looks at Hank Williams Jr.'s controversial new album Old School New Rules and at the entire tradition of conservative, populist songs in country music and related areas,  with songs going back to 1925.  It's both review and history lesson, particuarly topical in an election year.

Hank's album reflects the controversies that engulfed him last October when he compared President Obama playing gold with House Speaker John Boehner with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu golfing with Adolf Hitler.  The incident, which took place on Fox News' morning show Fox & Friends continued with Bocephus referring to the President and Vice President Biden as the "Three Stooges." 

The pushback was swift.  ESPN, current home of  Monday Night Football, a program long associated with Hank. ended their association with him and dropped the iconic theme song he wrote for the broadcast in 1989 (when MNF was still part of ABC's lineup).  Hank was quick to strike back at ESPN and at Fox, and quickly recorded an anti-Obama anthem titled "Keep The Change," a play on Obama's  "Change We Can Believe In" slogan.

Whether you agree with Bocephus or not,  the album is musically solid and not totally focused on Tea Party anthems. On "Old School" he proclaims his deep traditional country roots. The partying partying songs like "Three Day Trip" and a darker, more foreboding reworking of Hank Sr.'s  "You Win Again," and duets with Brad Paisley on "I'm Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams" and with Merle Haggard on Haggard's "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink."

Here's the duet with Paisley.

We can use only 30 second clips on the podcasts, but here are the full versions of some of the tunes I discuss.

Carson Robison's 1952 recording of the Scotty Wiseman (of the husband-wife duo of Lulubelle and Scotty) composition "I'm No Communist," which anticipated the Tea Party by 57 years. While Wiseman recorded it with his wife, in my view, Robison's performance was stronger.  The earliest part regarding congressional investigations, refers to Senator Joe McCarthy's investigations into Communist influence in the Government.

Racist Louisiana country singer Johnny Rebel's non-racist 1965 "Federal Aid," another song with pre-Tea Party sentiments. Despite the graphic, the President referred to is not Obama. 47 years ago, it was Lyndon B. Johnson. 

Two 1966 tunes written and recorded by country music superstar Marty Robbins, both songs Columbia Records execs in New York considered so inflammatory they refused to release them.  They finally appeared years later on a box set released by the German Bear Family label, which licensed large blocks of of Robbins's recorded material and reissued it complete--released and unreleased. 

"My Own Native Land," slams foreign aid to hostile nations.

"Ain't I Right," a blunt attack on both Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam protesters.  Even if you disagree with the sentiments, he gets in some clever alliteration with sings "bearded, bathless bunch."  Other anti-protester songs were released, paving the way for Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee."

In 1980, two years before he died of heart disease, Marty was an outspoken Ronald Reagan supporter.  The Arizona-born Robbins was one of a handful of country singers supporting fellow Arizonan Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential bid.  In that time, most country singers were Democrats.  Marty, like Tex Ritter and Roy Acuff, were exceptions to the rule in the 60's.

From a 1970 Porter Wagoner Show, this is one-hit wonder Guy Drake singing his novelty hit "Welfare Cadilac."  Yes, it's spelled with one "l."  For legal reasons.  GM would have sued otherwise.  It's worth noting that Hank Williams Jr. recorded "Welfare Cadilac" as well, on May 6, 1970. Hank Sr. recorded recitations as "Luke the Drifter."  Bocephus did it as "Luke the Drifter, Jr."  But MGM Records left Hank's version unreleased.  No word as to whether or not they feared the controversy, or so no point in releasing a cover of Drake's single.  And yes, this is the song Johnny Cash refused to sing for President Richard Nixon in 1970.





Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to socialmedia@post-gazette.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.