Friday, March 10, 2006

Name That Tune

Sometimes a melody is so catchy that artists can't resist recycling it. This happens frequently in country music, or at least it used to. In the case of the three songs listed here, the melody was a traditional folk tune adapted by the composers.

The Great Speckled Bird was a country gospel song with lyrics by Roy Carter and Guy Smith. It concerns the an itinerant preaching bird who is scorned by the other birds. The bird, naturally, triumphs and ascends to heaven.

All the other birds flocking 'round her

And she is despised by the squad

But the great speckled bird in the Bible

Is one with the great Church of God

The same melody was repurposed as The Wild Side Of Life, this time attributed to Arlie Carter & William Warren and first recorded by Hank Thompson in 1956. The lyrics now concern a jilted husband whose wife decided that drinkin' and carousin' was more fun than married life:

I didn't know God made honky tonk angels

I might have known you'd never make a wife

You gave up the only one that ever loved you

And went back to that wild side of life

That same year, the song was re-recorded by Kitty Wells as It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, with another composer, J. D. Miller, taking credit. It was an answer song to Wild Side that defended the woman in the song and placed blame on the man. Wells also recorded Speckled Bird in 1959 on her wonderfully titled album Dust On The Bible.

It wasn't God who made Honky Tonk angels

As you said in the words of your song

Too many times married men think they're still single

That has caused many a good girl to go wrong

Here are all three, recorded by Thompson, Wells, and a rendition of Speckled Bird by the great Louvin Brothers.

The Louvin Brothers - The Great Speckled Bird

Hank Thompson - The Wild Side Of Life

Kitty Wells - It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels


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