The Rushed Album Filler “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”

“You have ten minutes.”

Kenny Rogers and First Edition

On a tribute show in honor of Kenny Rogers, one of the members of the First Edition described how Kenny Rogers and the First Edition came to record “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” in 1969. The band was in the studio and learned that they only had ten minutes left when the producer asked them if they had anything they could quickly record. The album needed one more song, so the producers just wanted a song to use as filler on the album.

Kenny Rogers replied that they knew a Mel Tillis song called “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” So the band played the song, and producers got the recording with just a couple of takes. Rogers, who was in his early 30s, had a voice that captured the weariness of a frustrated man’s relationship with his wife. The song went on the album. And then it became a huge hit.

It is not surprising that the song became a hit because it is so unusual. The disturbing lyrics are sung by a disabled man fearful of his wife going to town for love. He pleads for her not to cheat on him while he is alive, reminding her he will be dead soon.

In addition to the sexual innuendo in the song, there is violence too, as the man’s injuries are from “that crazy Asian war.” And his begging and understanding turns to anger toward the end: “And if I could move I’d get my gun / And put her in the ground.” At the end, she is leaving and he prays for her to turn around. In the hands of Kenny Rogers and the New Edition, there is something disturbing about the song. Outside of country music and hip-hop, you rarely hear similar dark themes in pop songs.

When listeners first heard the title of “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” many of them might have sensed something familiar, recalling the 1958 Johnny Cash hit about a mother begging her son to avoid violence called “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town.” The new song took the violence of the Cash song and added sexual anguish, reflecting the openness of the 1960s for discussing such topics. Although “Ruby” is a traditional country song, this recording was loved by young people too, perhaps because of the young band and perhaps because they saw an anti-war sentiment underlying the tale.

Kenny Rogers and the First Edition were not the first to have a hit with “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” Two years earlier in 1967, Johnny Darrell had a hit country recording of the song in a version that is sad without being as disturbing as the Kenny Rogers version. The author of the song, Mel Tillis, performed the song too.

Other workable country versions include ones by rock and roll legend Carl Perkins, Bobby Bare, and Roger Miller. Jerry Reed and Dale Hawkins went for more rocking versions. For you Star Trek fans, there is Leonard Nimoy’s version.

But the Nimoy version is not the oddest recording of the song. For the weirdest version, check out the one by actor Walter Brennan.

Jon Bon Jovi recorded a different song with a similar title, apparently acknowledging the original with his title, “Janie, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” For another modern interpretation, check out a live performance of “Ruby” by The Killers, who often perform the song and included it on their CD of rarities and B-sides, Sawdust.

Finally, lost in the discussion of the song is the woman’s viewpoint. Geraldine Stevens, also known as Dodie Stevens, recorded an answer song in 1969 from the woman’s point of view, using the same music with the title, “Billy, I’ve Got to Go to Town.”

In the “Billy” song, Ruby tells her side of the story, explaining that her husband is still her man but bemoaning his jealousy. She does not explain why she has to go to town, though: “You’ve given all you had to give and now it’s up to me . . . Billy for God’s sake trust in me.” Is she going to work? Prostituting herself to get money for them to live? We do not get an answer in this answer song.

All of the different versions of “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” have their merits. But none of those recordings quite capture the unusual and disturbing nature of the song or reflect the turbulent era in which it was recorded in the way that Kenny Rogers and the First Edition did in those ten minutes when they rushed to fill an album.

And that is the story behind the song.

Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • “Star Trek Beyond” Tribute to Leonard Nimoy
  • You’ve Taken Away My Reason for Livin’
  • Standing By Peaceful Waters: John Prine & the Story of “Lake Marie”
  • How Marty Brown Wrote “Whatever Makes You Smile”
  • Sometimes I Get a Strange Pain Inside
  • New Christmas Classic from The Killers: “Joel the Lump of Coal”
  • (Some Related Chimesfreedom Posts)

    Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    “Pawn Sacrifice” and the Tragedy of Bobby Fischer (Short Review)

    Bobby Fischer movie One of the challenges for director Edward Zwick in Pawn Sacrifice (2015) is that he was making a movie about a board game where the main character is not very sympathetic. But Zwick lives up to the challenge, with the movie recounting chess genius Bobby Fischer’s rise to prominence and chess champion, while also showing Fischer’s struggles with paranoia and mental illness.

    Pawn Sacrifice begins with a short scene of Fischer, played by Tobey Maguire, at the 1972 world championship against Russian Grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). And then it takes us back to Fischer as a child with a growing fascination with chess. The movie then follows the chess prodigy as he rises to the championship stage, revealing Fischer’s mental problems and the importance of his game for Americans and Soviets during the Cold War era.

    The movie does an excellent job telling the story of this piece of American history, while giving some insight into Fischer. For me, I wanted to know more about the man beneath the chess and the madness, but the movie instead focuses on the link between the latter two without much deviation from that path.

    Similarly, even though Pawn Sacrifice follows the real-life history pretty well and does a good job at getting the story right, one also may gain insight from Liz Garbus’s excellent documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011). That documentary retraces much of the same story using real footage.

    Yet, a dramatized movie can take us places that a documentary cannot. And Pawn Sacrifice is at its best in the little moments, such as when Schreiber shows a human side of Spassky and when we see Fischer’s interactions with lawyer Paul Marshal (Michael Stuhlbarg) and a chess-playing priest friend Fr. Bill Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard). It is these interactions that made the movie for me and made me wish for more about Marshal and Lombardy.

    Ultimately, Pawn Sacrifice is an interesting and entertaining movie for anyone interested in the 1970s and the sad story of Bobby Fischer. Rotten Tomatoes gives Pawn Sacrifice a 72% critics rating and a 75% audience rating.

    Bonus Bobby Fischer: If after seeing Pawn Sacrifice you are in the mood for another movie about chess, check out the excellent movie Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993), which is not about Fischer but another real-life childhood chess prodigy, Joshua Waitzkin. Finally, for another perspective on Bobby Fischer, check out this appearance with Bob Hope not long after Fischer won the world championship.

    What did you think of Pawn Sacrifice? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Low Budget Sci-Fi & Much More in “Robot & Frank” (Short Review)
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)

    Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Matt Damon’s Film Career in 8 Minutes

    Matt Damon movies Last night on The Late Late Show with James Corden, Matt Damon appeared on the show to run through the films of his career — and to promote The Martian (2015). As Corden previously did with Tom Hanks, he joined Matt Damon in a funny segment that recreated scenes from the actor’s career.

    In the “Matt Damon Roll Call” segment, James Corden helps Damon recreate scenes from such films as Good Will Hunting (1997), The Bourne Identity (2002), and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). Check it out.

    What is your favorite Matt Damon film? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Norm Macdonald’s Touching (and Funny) Tribute to Letterman
  • Post-Trauma Life in “Margaret” (Missed Movies)
  • Adjustment Bureau (Short Review)
  • True Grit ’10 vs. True Grit ’69
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)

    Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Cover of the Day: “Walking in Memphis”

    Lewis, Henry
    Back in 1991, I played my cassette of Marc Cohn’s debut self-titled album until it nearly wore out. I loved the entire album, but like everyone else, I especially was mesmerized by his song “Walking in Memphis.” The song has held up well through the years in both the original and cover versions.

    I still love the version by Marc Cohn, who continues to tour. But I am happy that some other folks have introduced the song to a new generation, as Lonestar did with their 2003 version, which appeared on their album From There to Here: Greatest Hits.

    One of my favorite covers of the song is the one by Cher, who, of course, has the pipes to sing almost anything. Cher originally recorded “Walking in Memphis” not long after Cohn’s version was released, and the song appeared on her 1995 album It’s A Man’s World.

    Cher often played the song in concert, as she does in this video from a 1999 performance, where she follows it with her song “Just Like Jesse James.” Check it out.

    Cher’s performance was filmed at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Paradise, Nevada and appeared on the DVD Live in Concert.

    Illustration of Memphis by Henry Lewis, public domain. What is your favorite cover of “Walking in Memphis”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me”: Randy Travis and Marty Robbins
  • Eddie Valiant Is Off the Case
  • God May Have a Silver Thunderbird, But Sally Has a Mustang
  • Pop Culture Roundup (April 2012 Edition)
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Hudson Brothers?
  • Jimmy Soul on Happiness
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)

    Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Doing “The Time Warp” Since 1975

    Rocky Horror Anniversary On September 26, 1975, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was released in the United States, following its August 14 release in the U.K. Despite doing well in Los Angeles, the film initially did not do well elsewhere, resulting in the cancellation of a planned Halloween night opening in New York City.

    Executives at 20th Century Fox, however, noted that some films were doing well at midnight showings, so the following April, the movie began running at midnight in New York, soon spreading to other locations. The rest is history, as the studio has never ended the 1975 distribution, making the movie the longest-running release ever and Meat Loaf’s greatest big-screen appearance.

    It was a long road, but the counterculture movie written by director Jim Sharman and actor Richard O’Brien (Riff Raff) stuck around long enough to become mainstream. Brad Majors, played by Barry Bostwick, spoke for the movie when he sang to Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon), “The future is ours/ So let’s plan it.”

    So, to celebrate the anniversary of the film’s release, get out your toast, spray guns, and toilet paper. Below is the original trailer for the film that became a cult phenomenon.

    For more on The Rocky Horror Picture Show, check out this rare Tim Curry interview from the time of the movie’s release. Also, for the fortieth anniversary of the film, Fox News interviewed cast members Barry Bostwick, Patricia Quinn, and Nell Campbell.

    What is your favorite song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Tim Curry on “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in 1975
  • It’s Only Two O’clock and the Temperature’s Beginning to Soar
  • Low Budget Sci-Fi & Much More in “Robot & Frank” (Short Review)
  • 150th Anniv. of Civil War’s Start: Elvis’s American Trilogy
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)

    Posted in Movies, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment