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Oct 03

JIMMY YOUNG – “The Man From Laramie”

Popular11 comments • 2,447 views

#37, 14th October 1955

One of the great record industry myths is that British consumers don’t get, or like, country music. We’ve rarely been massive consumers of the style’s rawer end, and there’s not really the loyalist core audience country finds in the States, but every now and then the record buying public has gone through a cowboy phase and country records (or odd imitations like this one) have topped the charts regularly. The mid-50s was obviously one such time – the arrival of rock and roll rightly dominates most histories, but before “Rock Around The Clock” were a string of western chart-toppers.

So? Well, for one thing the success of country and western shows that there was a demand for Americana before rock and roll hit – not surprising, given the countries’ political and economic closeness and the gut appeal of American confidence and post-war prosperity. But these records also mark a big change in musical fashion, away from the massive orchestral arrangements that were the engine of most early-50s hits and towards more spartan recordings. “The Man From Laramie” stars Jimmy Young, his guitar, and that’s about it.

The sparse arrangement is about all this song has in musical common with country or rock and roll, though. “The Man From Laramie” is entertaining quick-draw hokum, or would be if Jimmy Young wasn’t such a terrible singer, of country or anything. The song’s internal rhyme schemes (fighting/frightening/lightning, for instance) demand wit and brio and poor wooden Jimmy just can’t provide. Brits having hits with US songs had been common practise, but while ballads and novelties like “How Much Is That Doggie?” survived the Atlantic crossing, country songs had a harder time with it. The British did and do like listening to country music: performing it is another matter entirely.

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Comments

  1. 1
    wichita lineman on 28 Aug 2008 #

    An odd reversal of the Pat Boone phenomenon – Jim sounds godawful on ballads (Unchained Melody), and starchy on c&w (this and Wayward Wind). But given a rocker…

    Chain Gang, a no.9 hit from early the following year, has to be heard to be believed. The backing – caterwauling brass, whipcrack snare, moaning convicts – sounds like it was recorded in a quarry, and Young’s vocal is drenched in reverb. On first listen I assumed it was an Anglo take on the Heartbreak Hotel vocal production. Then I realised, with shock and awe, that Chain Gang predates HH by months.

    If this wasn’t enough it trips out at the end into proto-dub, Young’s voice echoing in a void of tape delay and lonesome stand-up bass. One for the RGM Appreciation Society, then, but this would a remarkable production in late 55/early 56 even for Joe Meek.

  2. 2
    DJ Punctum on 28 Aug 2008 #

    I wonder if JY ever attempted the similarly titled Sam Cooke song. “Ar-HAR that’s thee sound. Of. Thee. Man. Working. On. Thee. Chaingang you see.”

  3. 3
    Mark G on 28 Aug 2008 #

    “what’s the recipe today, Tom?”

  4. 4
    DJ Punctum on 28 Aug 2008 #

    The nights are fair drawing in.

  5. 5
    Matabloonia on 1 Apr 2009 #

    Можно было бы и лучше изложить, хотя можно было бы и хуже

  6. 6
    wichitalineman on 30 Apr 2009 #

    The US original – or the US hit, at any rate – was by Al Martino, who makes for an even less convincing Gary Cooper-alike than JY.

  7. 7
    abdoujaparov on 30 May 2009 #

    The Chaing Gang that WL was talking about
    http://open.spotify.com/track/5JcDGmS7jynlcuCW7HKbxs

    It is pretty remarkable.

  8. 8
    Eli on 27 Dec 2010 #

    Yes, Chain Gang is pretty good. He also covered Walkin’ After Midnight as a rocker.

    Anyway, I love this record, it sounds quite exciting and dramatic next to most of the other contemporary chart hits (which I’m listening to as well).

    I don’t really see how you can describe JY’s voice as ‘terrible’; it sounds as though it simply isn’t to your taste, Tom. Technically, his voice is very good. These were the days before Joe Meek could make someone like Heinz sound semi-decent. The vast majority of pre-rock (and even many post) hits are a captured studio performance, warts-and-all.

    Al Martino’s version could only limp to #19. It doesn’t sound half as good arranged as a ballad. Italian-American Al is probably as well equipped as JY to sing it. But it wasn’t an original country song anyway: it was just written for a Western movie by two Hollywood songsmiths.

  9. 9
    Erithian on 31 Jan 2012 #

    JY’s “Chain Gang” is a forehead-slapping moment. Sing along to the chorus using the words “d’you wanna be in my gang, my gang, my gang” – young Gadd must have been taking notes (this must be well-known and I’ve missed it all this time, surely?). And wow, yes, that fade-out… 1956 you say?

  10. 10
    doberman on 3 Mar 2012 #

    Another of my favs. back in my RAF days. This 78 got a lot of plays in the billet in the summer of 1955.

  11. 11
    Chelovek na lune on 4 May 2013 #

    Immeasurably more tolerable than his ultra-pedestrian version of “Unchained Melody”, anyway.

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