GEORGE JONES: Fighting Side Of Me

I’m both an early starter and a latecomer to country. The first record I probably listened to at length was Glen Campbell’s 20 Golden Greats, which my mother used to play incessantly when I was about two. She had a thing for ‘Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife’ and I remember being whipped around the room on a number of occasions to that record, as some surrogate dance partner. Since then nothing until very recently. Then in the spirit of experimentation I bought a cheapy George Jones compilation.

Fighting Side Of Me is nowhere near the best track on this album, but it does showcase his tremendous voice very well. The means are a bunch of lyrics which seem awfully prescient at the moment, lyrics which I find both funny and a bit objectionable. The gist is that if you are running down his country (for which read the USA) you’ll be walking on the fighting side of old George. It seems to epitomise the tension inherent in freedom of speech, the liberal question in the US. Its the freedom which allows dissent – yet it is dissent which threatens to undermine the very way of life.

This track is not a very deep discussion of this philosophical problem set to a Nashville up-tempo swing. Written by Merle Haggard undoubtedly as a rebuff to much of the anti-Vietnam war sentiment in pop music at the time, it is nevertheless given almost flippant treatment by Jones. His voice hits odd peaks mid-sentence, and equally trembles like he is impersonating someone considerably older. Indeed his accent seems more pronounced – suggesting the whole piece is being sung in character. This oddly helps to highlight and then undermine the right wing anti-libertarian lyrics.

I would hardly say that Jones’s performance transforms it into an anti-American song. Much of the this reading of the song may be a rationale for me liking a song whose lyrics I find a wee bit uncomfortable. But like it I do, despite the ease that a song like this could be used as a rallying call for the conservative tendencies in the US. Oddly this is a long held stereotype of mine that country is a deeply conservative music, yet listening to Jones singing this I cannot help but think that even if this song is not meant to be a satire, Jones puts enough character in it to give me some doubts. I would like to hear a Haggard version to see if that is the case with the original. (Okie From Muskogee — another Haggard cover — also seems to be deeply conservative but its lyrics are intentionally funny I think).