Wonder Could I Live There Anymore

We were talking earlier this week about the subgenre of country music devoted to songs about the simple pleasures of small town or rural life, songs that idealize the places where the high-school team nickname is painted on the water tower, where everybody believes in Jesus, etc. It’s easy to view the popularity of this sort of thing as a reaction to the world we live in. Compared to our harried urban existence, with its tenuous prosperity and impermanent personal relationships, and the way it randomly deals out fortune and tragedy, a world bounded by solid, simple, unchanging values is extremely attractive. It’s no wonder people caught in the former might want to gravitate to the latter. Because music has such power in our lives, songs about those values grab hard and hold on tight.

But, if given the chance, would people really give up modern urbanized life for a country idyll? Would they give up satellite TV and the Internet for sitting on the front porch at sunset? Would they give up the multiplex for the fishing hole, the megamart for the small-town store, the sports bar with HD flat-screens for the Dew Drop Inn? Some might, but others may find that in their souls, they’re not so down-home after all.

There’s a song about this. Charley Pride, who’s as down-home as they come, recorded “Wonder Could I Live There Anymore,” which sounds like a nostalgic encomium to a simple life on the farm—beautiful rural vistas, Uncle Ben milking the cows, Mama in the kitchen. But it’s revealed that Uncle Ben is working the farm because Daddy is working a second job in town “to pay our bill at the grocery store.” And in the final verse, Pride says that when he thinks about his childhood and his old hometown, he doesn’t miss them like before. “It’s nice to think about it,” goes the refrain, “Maybe even visit, but I wonder could I live there anymore?”

This isn’t a postmodern song recorded recently—it was a Number-One country single for Pride in the summer of 1970. And it’s a cautionary tale for anybody, especially urban cowboys, who find themselves tempted by what looks like the simple life.

Recommended Reading: I’m late mentioning most of these links, but go read ’em anyhow: Our friend Kinky Paprika from Songs of the Cholera King has launched a fascinating new web project that will appeal to anybody who enjoys the One Day in Your Life posts at this place. It’s called 5,478 Days, and I’ll let him tell you all about it. At Bloggerhythms, read all about the 16RPM record, and what the hell it was good for. And over at My Hmphs, you might as well listen to R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” now, because every TV station in the country will be using it in news stories about the Rapture this weekend. And if you haven’t heard the Cars’ new album Move Like This yet, you should, because when the world ends, you’ll be sorry you didn’t. It will make you think you’re back in 1979—if that’s something you think you need. It’s streaming at Rolling Stone.com, right here.

In the Beginning, There Was Casey

If you enjoy the original American Top 40 countdowns from the 1970s, you’ll want to catch the one scheduled for this weekend. It’s the very first show, dated July 4, 1970. Casey was on only seven stations that first weekend, and although I won’t hear the show until this weekend myself, I’m told that it’s much, much different from what AT40 would eventually become.

I’ve said before on this blog that when I look at the record charts from the summer of 1970, I see my life mixed up in the test tube but not yet poured out. Songs that will be among my first discoveries in the fall begin appearing, and a few are there on July 4, 1970. Some are in the Top 40 already: “Tighter, Tighter,” “Are You Ready,” “Westbound #9,” “Signed Sealed Delivered.” Many more are in the bottom 60 or bubbling under the Hot 100: “Make It With You,” “I Just Can’t Help Believin’,” “Spill the Wine,” “War,” “Snowbird,” “Groovy Situation.” But in July 1970, I wasn’t paying attention yet. I was more interested in baseball. So let’s take five songs I probably heard on Mom and Dad’s radio stations, but otherwise missed.

72. “Big Yellow Taxi”/The Neighborhood (up from 92). OK, I do remember hearing this one on WLS that fall. It charted before Joni Mitchell’s own version did (in late June compared to late July), and rose higher (29 compared to 67, although Joni’s 1975 live version went to Number 24). The Neighborhood itself is mighty obscure—nine members, apparently; their debut album was the first released on the Big Tree label, which would later release records by Lobo, Brownsville Station, April Wine, Hot Chocolate, England Dan & John Ford Coley, and even Johnny Rivers and Wilson Pickett.

80. “Everything a Man Could Ever Need”/Glen Campbell (debut). When I was a kid, we would occasionally load up the family and go to the drive-in theater, which was located on the way into town from the farm. Mom would make a bucket of popcorn and a jug of Kool-Aid, and we’d enjoy the singular experience of watching a movie in the car. I cannot imagine through what alchemy I can remember seeing the movie Norwood, starring Campbell and Joe Namath, and featuring this song, but I do. (The drive-in is still operating, by the way—one of the few remaining in the Midwest, 56 years after it first opened.)

88. “Hello Darlin'”/Conway Twitty and 90. “I Wonder Could I Live There Anymore”/Charley Pride (debuts). Twitty had a long resume as a pop star, going back to his version of “It’s Only Make Believe” in 1958, and he’d score five Hot 100 hits in all between 1970 and 1976. Pride’s biggest pop success was “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” in 1972. There’s not much that’s pop about either of these: “Hello Darlin'” is a waltz with crying steel guitars; in “I Wonder Could I Live There Anymore,” Pride wants to romanticize rural life, but just can’t do it.

97. “Humphrey the Camel”/Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan (up from 99). In which Jack and Misty do the only sensible thing given the smash country and pop success of “Tennessee Bird Walk” in the spring—turn it sideways and do it again.

108. “Wear Your Love Like Heaven”/Peggy Lipton (up from 112). With the success of The Mod Squad among young TV viewers, there was little doubt that if any of the stars could sing, they’d get a shot at a recording career. Lipton’s debut album, released circa 1969, included songs by Carole King and Laura Nyro, as well as some compositions of her own. (Larry Grogan discussed it at Iron Leg earlier this month.) “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” is the Donovan song, and it may have been the title song from her second album, although I’m having trouble tracking that down.

So you won’t be hearing any of these on AT40 this weekend. (Apart from “Big Yellow Taxi,” you wouldn’t hear any of them on the show, ever, because it was the only one to crack the 40.) If you can’t get AT40 out of the air where you live, we’ll be streaming that first show on Magic 98 Saturday night from 9 to midnight U.S. Central. It’s part of a whole day of vintage AT40 countdowns on Magic.

“Big Yellow Taxi”/The Neighborhood (out of print)