One may tell from the prison setting that Mary Gauthier’s “Thanksgiving” is probably not a cheery holiday song. But that does not make it any less beautiful.
The song, which appeared on Gauthier’s 2007 album Between Daylight And Dark, recounts the point of view of a child with a grandmother standing in line to visit someone in prison.
They make her take her winter coat off, Then they frisk her again; When they’re done she wipes their touch off her dress, Stands tall and heads in.
Yes, “Thanksgiving” is a Thanksgiving song. But it views the holiday from the perspective of the families of those in prison. During this period of mass incarceration in the United States, we often forget about how prison affects the family members of those we lock away.
Mary Gauthier, who grew up in Louisiana, often reminds us of the common humanity that links us. “Thanksgiving” is a wonderful song that tells a story you might not expect in a holiday song. And if you listen closely, it might change you just a little bit.
It’s Thanksgiving at the prison, surrounded by families; Road weary pilgrims who show up faithfully; Even though it ain’t easy, even though it ain’t free; Sometimes love ain’t easy, I guess love ain’t free.
What is your favorite song about Thanksgiving? Leave your two cents in the comments.
I was a bit surprised at how I was affected by the recent news of David Cassidy’s failing health and then the news of his death. Like many people, it had been decades since I had really followed his career. But his voice and music were a big part of the reason I came to love music.
As a kid, one of my favorite television shows was The Partridge Family, which ran from September 1970 to March 1974. Each episode featured pop music, that even if not actually featuring the whole “family,” did feature David Cassidy and Shirley Jones.
Their hit “I Think I Love You” became one of my favorite songs after I bought the 45 rpm single. Yeah, it was pop music and even David Cassidy would for a time try to distance himself from the music of The Partridge Family. But it was a wonderful introduction to popular music for this kid.
I remember him on the teen magazines and the girls who liked him for his looks as well as his voice. But at that time, I had yet to discover the younger version of Elvis or to delve into Dylan or discover Springsteen. David Cassidy was my first rock star.
Whenever I hear music from Cassidy it always makes me smile to this day. And what’s not to love about that? Rest in peace.
What is your favorite memory of David Cassidy? Leave your two cents in the comments.
On November 17, 1958, the Kingston Trio scored a number one hit on the Billboard pop chart with their recording of the folk song “Tom Dooley.” The song, asking Mr. Dooley to hang down his head, became one of those songs where everyone knows the chorus.
But the lyrics come out of a true story.
The Real Tom Dula
On May 1, 1868, a Confederate veteran named Tom Dula was hanged for the 1866 stabbing death of Laura Foster. Dula had been Foster’s lover and father of her unborn child.
Some questioned whether Dula was the actual killer. In addition to his affair with Foster, Dula had romantic engagements with two of Foster’s cousins, Anne Foster Melton and Pauline Foster. On the gallows, Dula professed his innocence while conceding he still deserved to be executed. Thus, some came to believe that Melton had killed Laura Foster.
The trial, a retrial, and the execution attracted significant attention. National newspapers covered Dula’s trial, and former North Carolina governor Zebulon Vance represented Dula pro bono. Due to all of the attention, a North Carolina poet named Thomas C. Land wrote a poem about the case called “Tom Dooley.”
The video below provides some of the history behind the song. Check it out.
The Kingston Trio
Historians do not know who created the folk song “Tom Dooley.” But over time various artists recorded versions of “Tom Dooley.” And the Kingston Trio produced the most popular version when they recorded the song in 1958, selling more than six million copies.
In later years, some criticized Kingston Trio performances as a sanitized version of folk music. But many today recognize that the group, despite their clean-cut coordinated outfits, were instrumental in making folk music popular and laid the groundwork for other folk singers to find success.
The Kingston Trio version of “Tom Dooley” is more vague about the details of the real case than earlier versions of the song. But perhaps their decision made the song more universal, leading to its massive sales. Check out their complete version below.
The Legend of Tom Dolley
Finally, there is a 1959 film called The Legend of Tom Dooley, starring Michael Landon. The movie does not attempt to tell the true story about Tom Dula but is based upon the song.
“I Feel Like Going Home” by Charlie Rich is a Pullover song for me. When I first heard it in my car, it was so powerful I had to pull over my car to listen to it.
For a long time, I only knew Charlie Rich from his “Behind Closed Doors” and “Most Beautiful Girl” era. I liked the former song as a cheesy song about having sex but was never a fan of the latter. So I pretty much wrote him off as someone who once did a pop song I kind of liked. But I was wrong.
Rich is an amazing talent who never quite got the attention he deserved, perhaps because his musical talents were so diverse and he refused to be put into one category. He has some great rockabilly songs from Sun Records. He recorded there not long after Elvis Presley left the recording studio. And he made some excellent country recordings.
His final album before his death, Pictures and Paintings, was largely a jazz album. The Silver Fox was an excellent piano player, and he wrote some great songs.
Pictures and Paintings featured Rich’s song, “I Feel Like Going Home.” It is a nice recording with a band, and the album is worth checking out. And Rich recorded other versions of the song, including an over-produced version as a B-side to “The Most Beautiful Girl.” But it is another version of the song that captures something much more.
The Origins of “I Feel Like Going Home”
First, though, it helps to understand how Rich came to write the song. In 1971, writer Peter Guralnick wrote a series of essays about some of the great performers of country, blues, and rock and roll music. The book was called Feel Like Going Home and featured a loving profile of Rich, before his “Behind Closed Doors” comeback.
At the time of Guralnick’s book, Rich was struggling in the wilderness and it had been years since Rich had any kind of success. Guralnick took the title of a Muddy Waters’ song for the inspiration for his book’s title. And the book, with Guralnick’s loving portrait of Rich, in turn inspired Rich to write his song with a similar name.
The Great Demo Version and Richard Nixon
Besides the version on Pictures and Paintings, there is another version of “I Feel Like Going Home” that cuts to your core. It is a demo version with no production and just Rich singing and banging on the piano. This version appears on the 1997 compilation Feel Like Going Home: The Essential Charlie Rich, which is worth seeking out.
Also, it is this version that is closest to what rock critic Greil Marcus remembered Charlie Rich playing for Richard Nixon around the time of his downfall. (Greil Marcus, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.) Marcus has called this version of Rich’s song about failure “the strongest moment of Rich’s career — a match for Ray Charles’ ‘Georgia On My Mind’ or Otis Redding’s ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ and somehow more indomitable than either.” (Greil Marcus, In the Fascist Bathroom: Punk in Pop Music, 1977-1992, 207).
It is fantastic. Check out the demo version of Charlie Rich’s “I Feel Like Going Home.”
A new documentary, Streetlight Harmonies (2017), explores the early years of Doo-Wop music. The film features early performers like the Drifters’ Charlie Thomas, explaining that the early street singers of the 1950s began singing for the friendship with other singers and to attract girls.
Also, the film traces how the music that started out on the street corners developed into the girl groups of the 1960s and later influenced other singers including modern boy bands. Brent Wilson directed Streetlight Harmonies. Check out this trailer for Streetlight Harmonies.
Streetlight Harmonies premieres November 14, 2017 at the Doc NYC festival.