Sure, I could have written a dozen or so instant hits—or, better yet, cajoled Rob to write them—for this, my first full-length solo album. But, when you consider how many millions of songs have been written by trained professionals, only to get recorded and listened to and then fall into abject obscurity, why add to the heap? And so many of those songs simply didn’t deserve to fall off the face of the earth like that. Some had what it takes, but were killed by cruel twists of fate. Burt Bacharach and Hal David, for example, wrote a great theme song for the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance—this is Bacharach and David writing a western song; they really put themselves out for this one!—but because of a conflict between the song publishers and Paramount Pictures, it was never even put in the movie! Sure, Gene Pitney made a hit record out of it, but who remembers that?

Meanwhile, the great Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Bacharach and David’s coworkers at the Brill Building (they must have pounded on the walls and yelled “Keep it down, we’re trying to work!” a lot) were writing some of the all-time classics of early rock’n’roll (but evidently could only keep up on the rent by writing crap like “Bossa Nova Baby”). In ’57 they came up with a keeper, Fools Fall In Love—an innocent, sparkly song from an innocent, sparkly time—and gave the song to the seminal doo-wop group the Drifters. Here’s what happened to the Drifters shortly after that: their lead singer Clyde McPhatter got drafted by the army, then their manager fired the whole band. See, since the manager owned the name “The Drifters”, he had the legal right to call any bunch of dumbasses he wanted “The Drifters!” Needless to say, that song was forgotten about by everyone in the world—until I recorded it. (Elvis recorded it, but that was in 1967, when Elvis was a laughing-stock B-movie hunk.) Leiber and Stoller also wrote this album’s title track, I (Who Have Nothing), which tells the tragic tale of a cute popular girl who keeps getting pestered by this whiny loser who’s not even rich.

But, I have to give Elvis his due. Not because he “invented” rock’n’roll. (That credit goes to the old rhythm & blues guys in the late 1940’s who first came up with the idea of noisy songs about looking for trouble instead of love, like Stick McGhee and his Drinkin’ Wine Spo-dee-o-dee. I’ve heard many rock’n’roll songs about really fun vices like sex and drugs, but this is the first one I’ve heard that touches on the lesser celebrated vice of vandalism.) No, I owe one to Elvis because he made Dirty Lucy possible. Take a song like Baby Let’s Play House, for instance. He’s basically saying to his underage girlfriend: can’t you see that all my stammering, quivering, panting, and death threats mean true love, the kind of love that’ll last a lifetime? Not that anybody believes Elvis or Dirty Lucy when they say that. But that’s only because everyone’s so damned cynical anymore.

Elvis also recorded I Forgot to Remember to Forget—but so did everyone else between 1950 and 1970, despite its unwieldy title. I first heard the song on a Beatles bootleg, a crude reel-to-reel recording. John and Paul must have said, “We’ve heard enough corn-pone songs from you, Ringo,” and refused to record it in the studio. Speaking of the Beatles, I included their own song Because . . . just because. Actually, because Rob had the idea of an a capella version of that.

Let me just say that I didn’t just jump on the Johnny Cash bandwagon! I recorded Don’t Take Your Guns to Town before Johnny Cash was all popular and everything. I mean, before that Reese Witherspoon movie about him came out.

I first heard Death in the Morning sung by rockabilly revivalist Phil Alvin, backed by the Jubilee Train Singers. I’ve never heard the original version of that song, by the “Reverend A. Johnson” himself; I think that version would scare me. Stop Fooling Around is a song originally by garage rock revivalists the Fleshtones, from a 1981 album that sold maybe fourteen copies—which is great for me, because I can claim that I wrote the song and no one will know any better.

Okay, I know you’ve heard These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ about three million times, but bear with me. I’ve always liked that song because it’s from an age before Alanis Morissette was even born, when female singers were not allowed to be truly angry, just petulant. They could only pout, sputter, and make hollow threats, either to “walk all over you,” or to drive all her party guests away with her incessant bawling. This song, I decided, deserves a revival with genders reversed—a sort of “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I” reply to Ms. Sinatra’s outburst.

Time was when country & western songs were cold, redemptive splashes of reality; stories about real folks making appallingly stupid life decisions, just like you and me. A good honky-tonk jukebox hit would make you want to put a gun to your head, or at least slowly drink yourself to death. Porter Wagoner—the man who discovered and showcased young Dolly Parton (but never got around to seducing, marrying, abusing, and ruining her like a true Svengali) specialized in those wet-blanket songs, and I’m pretty sure his awfullest hit in that genre was The Cold Hard Facts of Life. I think when you listen to that song, it’ll be obvious why nobody wanted to hear it a second time, and why Nashville, shortly after releasing that song, changed course and started putting out fluffy feel-good songs about America, swimmin’ holes, and still being in love with love with your wife after being married 150 years.

So maybe there are very good reasons that songs like that fall into obscurity. No matter. I still revived these songs, and since you read these liner notes all the way to the end, you have to listen to the album now. Good luck.

Dirty Lucy
July 2006