I, WHO HAVE NOTHING: LINER
Sure, I could have written a dozen or so instant hitsor, better
yet, cajoled Rob to write themfor 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 didnt 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 Valancethis 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 Davids
coworkers at the Brill Building (they must have pounded on the walls and
yelled Keep it down, were trying to work! a lot) were
writing some of the all-time classics of early rocknroll (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 Lovean innocent, sparkly song from an innocent, sparkly timeand
gave the song to the seminal doo-wop group the Drifters. Heres 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 worlduntil
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 albums
title track, I (Who Have Nothing), which tells the tragic tale
of a cute popular girl who keeps getting pestered by this whiny loser
whos not even rich.
But, I have to give Elvis his due. Not because he invented
rocknroll. (That credit goes to the old rhythm & blues
guys in the late 1940s 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. Ive heard many rocknroll
songs about really fun vices like sex and drugs, but this is the first
one Ive 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 Lets Play House, for instance. Hes basically
saying to his underage girlfriend: cant you see that all my stammering,
quivering, panting, and death threats mean true love, the kind of love
thatll last a lifetime? Not that anybody believes Elvis or Dirty
Lucy when they say that. But thats only because everyones
so damned cynical anymore.
Elvis also recorded I Forgot to Remember to Forgetbut 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, Weve 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 didnt just jump on the Johnny Cash bandwagon!
I recorded Dont 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. Ive 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 copieswhich is great for me,
because I can claim that I wrote the song and no one will know any better.
Okay, I know youve heard These Boots Are Made For Walkin
about three million times, but bear with me. Ive always liked that
song because its 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 reverseda
sort of I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I reply to Ms. Sinatras
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 Wagonerthe 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 Im
pretty sure his awfullest hit in that genre was The Cold Hard Facts
of Life. I think when you listen to that song, itll 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