Jan 06

JIM REEVES – “Distant Drums”

Popular35 comments • 3,184 views

#224, 24th September 1966

The lullaby pace hides a strange mix of emotions: encroaching doom, self-conscious nobility, hustling chivalry and honeyed reassurance. It’s a manipulative song – the guy’s off to war and he wants to get the girl before he goes – and it sounds almost nostalgic for war, and I think it’s a failure. Reeves’ voice has smoothness but no kindness and the ghastly bugles break any spell he’s managed to weave. But it sat at Number 1 for 5 weeks in the middle of one of pop’s most vibrant years so it hit some kind of button. As the success of death songs in the 60s and 70s show there was a steady market for fated romance, and what fates it here is adult duty not teenage folly – maybe that helped “Distant Drums” find an audience, or maybe it got the balance between sad and seductive usefully right. Even if so, there’s not much use for it now.



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  1. 26
    DJ Punctum on 18 Aug 2008 #

    Interesting theory proferred by Roger Daltrey on Capital Gold’s From The Bottom To The Top yesterday (the chart was 4 Dec ’65, “My Generation” was #2 behind the Seekers) apropos who bought all those Jim Reeves records and similar MoR-country offerings of the period; he ascribes a good deal of it to the post-war community of Irish immigrants who came and settled in places like Manchester (including, I note, the families of both Morrissey and Marr) but of course, as I think I said in the original comment I made on this record, country was the number one brand of popular music in Scotland – certainly in West Central Scotland where I grew up – and there was a huge demographic who loved Gentleman Jim and all he stood for.

  2. 27
    Carol in California on 31 Jul 2009 #

    The captivating thing about this song is Jim Reeve’s wife was named Mary and the song seems to predict there soon to be ill fate. The distant drums were not calling him off to war but calling him off to Heaven. The first time I heard the song I immediately thought of the above interpretation and not of a man going off to war. Anyway, it’s a great & timeless song and Jim Reeves was an amazing singer!

  3. 28
    crag on 14 Apr 2011 #


    Ivan Mauger, Athlete(1970).

  4. 29
    Lena on 19 Sep 2011 #

    And in the opposing corner: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/09/you-cant-play-that-on-bbc-part-1-who-im.html Thanks for reading as ever!

  5. 30
    AndyPandy on 19 Sep 2011 #

    Re 26: That demographic: men (his records seemed particularly popular among men) of working-class backgrounds born in the 1920 and 1930s, wasn’t just restricted to people of Irish or Scottish descent and extended over the whole of Britain – being borne out by the kind of sales figures that made things like this such big hits.

    He was probably my dad’s(a working-class man born early 1930s)favourite singer and from memories of growing up this type of country music always kept a massive audience with other blokes of similar background and age. I chattec to many such people men at work and in the pub over the years who loved this type of music. Similarly a look at Jim Reeves videos on youtube will show many people about my age dedicating his songs in memory of their fathers.

    re28: I remember Ivan Mauger (pronounced Major) as a speedway rider in the 70s – I suppose he’d fit right into the above demographic too.

  6. 31
    wichita lineman on 19 Sep 2011 #

    I went to a talk about Dalston’s Four Aces club, and the panel were reminiscing about how 1970s pub jukeboxes in Dalston, Clapton and Stoke Newington would be equally divided between Jamaican and Irish singles. Sat in the middle, equally popular with both sets of clientele, was Jim Reeves.

    This is a dull record. He’ll Have To Go isn’t; lyrically it’s quite shocking for a major 1960 hit. He may be acting the ‘gentleman’ but you know that Jim is in the vicinity of the bar, maybe even in the phone box across the street, his fists clenched.

  7. 33
    lonepilgrim on 5 Feb 2013 #

    meanwhile, at number 1 over in the USA, a familiar song in a version unfamiliar to me – to be cherished here.

  8. 34
    lonepilgrim on 28 Feb 2013 #

    and at the same time as this, another song Reached out for the top of the US chart – a little bit ahead of its UK success – as celebrated here.

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    lonepilgrim on 6 Sep 2015 #

    Distant Drums sounds like the sort of thing that would pop up on the BBC Light Programme in the pre-Radio 1 days. I can see it appealing to those who’d lost loved ones in previous conflicts but it sounds virtually comatose. Perhaps the youth vote was split between the varied bands vying for attention and this took advantage.

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