Friday, August 31, 2007

No. 129: 40 Greatest Hits

Band: Hank Williams
Album: 40 Greatest Hits
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: As Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters are to rock and roll, Hank Williams is to country and western music. If you're even remotely knowledgeable about music, you'll recognize too many of those songs to dislike them.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I don't think they have it wrong.
Best song: Certainly, "Move It On Over," "I'm So Lonely I Could Cry," "Lost Highway," "Hey, Good Lookin'" and "Your Cheatin' Heart" are all classics.
Worst song: There aren't a lot of bad songs, per se, though a lot of the songs run together a fair amount.
Is it awesome?: As much as it isn't my thing, it's pretty remarkable that one guy wrote or made all these songs famous. There are too many classics on here to ignore.

I tried pretty hard to go into this record with as clean a slate as I could. I'm not a country guy -- twang just doesn't excite me -- but Hank Williams is so seminal to folk music, too, that I found myself knowing about a third of the songs on this collection.

Williams, like Robert Johnson before him, recorded in an era when the single was king, so "albums" aren't really there for him. So, the greatest hits conundrum doesn't totally work.

So, there are scads of classics here. Rock and rollers George Thorogood and Bill Haley both covered "Move It On Over" to some success. Artists as diverse as The Raveonettes, Cowboy Junkies, Al Green, Ray Charles and Johnny Cash have covered "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Nat King Cole and Norah Jones have done "Cold, Cold Heart." Joni James had a top ten hit with "Your Cheatin' Heart." Hell, Masi Oka sang "Hey, Good Lookin'" in Japanese on an episode of "Scrubs."

And the songs hold up in any arrangement. Hank Williams was among the greatest songwriters, country or not.

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