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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Name this classic country tune by Kaye Spencer

Let’s take a nostalgic stroll along a musical path for a brief look at the history of a song (melody, not lyrics) whose origin remains somewhat of a mystery.

Perhaps this song was a traditional folk tune handed down through the generations. Maybe it was “born” in 1924. However it came about, over the years this melody has experienced a host of lyrics put to its familiar, catchy tune.

While many singers have recorded their versions of this song, between 1924 and 1952, this melody would see significant renditions of different lyrics and each new song would enjoy chart-topping hit status in the country music, hillbilly, bluegrass, and gospel music genres.***

When the 45 rpm vinyl record came along in the early 1950s, jukeboxes like this Seeburg would have had this song as a standard selection.

Seeburg Select-o-matic Jukebox (reproduction) c. 1949 - Wikipedia
So, here we go with hints.

1924 - Legend has it that Vernon Dalhart copyrighted this song and lyrics in the name of his cousin, Guy Massey after Vernon heard it sung by a family member who “may” have learned it while serving time in prison. This song went on to become a bit hit in the 1920s.
     First line: Oh, I wish I had someone to love me…

1925 - Two songwriters/performers, Welby Toomey and Edgar Boaz, recorded their lyrics to this melody.
     First line: Looking back on what we both had together…

1927 - Roy Harvey and the North Carolina Ramblers released their version with a similar, but abbreviated title to the one the Carter Family would release in two years.
     First line: I’ve been thinking today of my blue eyes…

1929 - The Carter Family recorded their version of this melody, but with different lyrics and title.
     First line: ‘Twould been better for us both had we never…

Carter Family promotional portrait by the Victor Talking Machine Co. 1927 - Wikipedia

1936 - Roy Acuff had a hit with the same melody and, again, different lyrics and title.
     First line: What a beautiful thought I am thinking…

1952 - Three country music artists—Hank Thompson, Kitty Wells, and Johnny Horton—had success with this same melody, and all three songs had different lyrics and titles.
  *Hank Thompson lamenting
     First Line: You wouldn’t read my letter if I wrote you…
  *Kitty Wells responding to Hank
     First Line: As I sit here tonight, the jukebox playing…
  *Johnny Horton responding to Hank and Kitty
     First line: A little boy stood crying in a courtroom...

I'll bet you recognized the tune to this song early on. Here are the titles with the artists:

1924 – Vernon Dalhart – The Prisoner’s Song
1925 – Toomey and Boaz – Thrills that I Can’t Forget
1927 – Roy Harvey – Blue Eyes
1929 – Carter Family – I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes
1936 – Roy Acuff – The Great Speckled Bird
1952 – Hank Thompson – The Wild Side of Life
         – Kitty Wells – It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels
         – Johnny Horton - A Child's Side of Life

I could keep going, but at this point in country music history, the song wasn't reworked with new lyrics and titles. However, it was 'covered' by such artists as Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard, Hank Locklin, Waylon Jennings and Jessi Coulter, Freddie Fender, Burl Ives, Jerry Lee Lewis, and even Rod Stewart in 1981.

A YouTube search will bring up a host of videos for each of these songs, so I will leave you with two versions. This one is by The Queen of Country Music, Kitty Wells.

And this one is by Rod Stewart, because...well...Rod. *grin*

I'd love to know your favorite rendition of this song or have you share an anecdote about the song or a performer in the comments.

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer

Writing the West one romance upon a time

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***To read more about this song:


  1. Music has such power. In the old days, (ahem) it was normal to use already known melodies for new lyrics. Before it became standardized, "America the Beautiful" was also sung to many different tunes.

    Thanks for the music lesson. I personally loved it and can't chose. *Grin* Doris

  2. Doris,

    Even the Star Spangled Banner's lyrics were set to a British tavern tune.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I'm totally stumped, but I did enjoy listening to Rod!!

  4. Kristy,

    I enjoyed Rod's rendition, too. lol

  5. Well Kaye, I'm feelin' a bit like an idiot here because I didn't remember any of the songs under any of the titles by any of the artists. Just call me clueless. I didn't even hear Rod Stewart's rendition of it until this video.
    Even so, I enjoyed this blog and all the info you presented. Thank you for some musical history! Kinda fun, actually.

    1. Sarah,

      I'm glad it was fun. *grin* I love trivia and the more trivial, the better. But maybe I was too vague on this one. Sorry. Still, I'm so glad you stopped by and commented. *hugs*

  6. I didn't know there were so many renditions. Kitty's is the most familiar.
    I wonder how many crinolines she has on under that skirt?

  7. Celia,

    I think Kitty's is the most familiar, also. I hadn't thought of her crinolines, but her dress skirt sure stands out. :-) Now I'm thinking about the bet Gregory Peck made with his fellow gamblers about the number of petticoats Debbie Reynolds was wearing in the movie "How the West was Won". Thanks for commenting.