Highwayman (The Highwaymen album)
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|Studio album by The Highwaymen|
|The Highwaymen chronology|
Highwayman is the first studio album released by country supergroup The Highwaymen, comprising Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Highwayman, released through Columbia Records in 1985, was the group's first and most successful album.
Highwayman, consisting of ten tracks, was released as a follow-up to the successful single of the same name and the title track of the album itself. "Highwayman", a Jimmy Webb cover, hit the top of the country charts and was followed up by the Top 20 hit "Desperados Waiting for a Train", whose original version was released by Guy Clark. The album was entirely produced by Chips Moman.
The group wasn't named "The Highwaymen" from the beginning. On their first two albums, they are credited as "Nelson, Jennings, Cash, Kristofferson". The official name which came to be widely recognized began to be used only in later years, and their last collaborative effort, The Road Goes on Forever, was already credited to "The Highwaymen".
- 1 Song overview
- 2 Track listing
- 3 Chart performance
- 4 References
"The Last Cowboy Song"
The second track on the album is, like the other nine, a cover, this time of Ed Bruce's earlier collaboration with Ronald Peterson, which hit No. 12 on the charts in 1980. Bruce had also written "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys", which became a hit for Nelson and Waylon Jennings. The duo had previously covered "The Last Cowboy Song" on their album WWII (1982).
"The Last Cowboy Song" discusses the disappearance of the American Old West and the values associated with it. All four performers can be heard on the song (Jennings, Kristofferson, Nelson and Cash respectively), though Cash's verse is spoken word. The chorus appears at the beginning of the song, after the second verse and after the third, overlapping with Cash's verse and continuing until the end of the song.
The chorus, performed by all four singers, is an expression of the longing for the old way of life and the loss of the traditional West: "This is the last cowboy song / The end of a hundred-year waltz / The voices sound sad as they're singing along / Another piece of America's lost". The song mentions some classic American tales, including that of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Wyatt Earp, William B. Travis, George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry, Louis L'Amour and the Chisholm Trail, among others, as examples of the diminishing value and vanishing of the West in today's reality. The lyrics also feature an anonymous cowboy who represents said values.
"Jim, I Wore a Tie Today"
The third song on Highwayman, written by Cindy Walker and previously covered by Eddy Arnold, Jimmy Dean and Tex Ritter, among others, is one of the four on the album where only two of the group's members – Cash and Nelson – make an appearance.
It is a rather slow song whose main subject is a deceased man named Jim, a friend of the narrator or narrators. The characters Nelson and Cash portray reminisce on the adventures and experiences they had with their late friend, including "pannin' for gold on the cuff". The second part of the song is composed of the two characters speaking on how Jim died, also explaining the title of the track: "We did everything we could do for you, Jim / But your fever just wouldn't go down / So we put you in a wagon, Jim / and this mornin' we got you back to town / But when we got here, you were gone, Jim / and there wasn't anything anybody could do / They dressed you up in a fancy suit and a neck tie / So today, we wore one for you". An integral part of the song's chorus is Cash's character requesting, "Jim, Jim, so you're ridin' on ahead / Well if that's how it's going to be / When you reach those streets paved with gold / Jim, stake a claim out for me".
Cash himself recorded a solo version of "Jim, I Wore a Tie Today"; this was released on Personal File (2006), a posthumous collection of compositions recorded privately by the singer between 1973 and 1982.
"Big River" is the first song on the album that is a cover of one of the Highwaymen's previously recorded tracks. More specifically, it is a new rendition of Cash's version of the song, initially released as a single on Sun Records and later featured on the compilation album, Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous, in 1958 (Cash also rerecorded the song for Columbia Records for the 1964 album, I Walk the Line). The Highwaymen's version is more up-tempo and includes an additional verse which did not make the cut in the original and is sung by Jennings.
The song details the attempts of a man to keep up with a woman he is in love with and who keeps intentionally or unintentionally evading him, travelling more or less along what is probably the Mississippi River. The first, most well-known verse, is sung by all four performers – Nelson, Kristofferson, Jennings and Cash, respectively: "I taught the weeping willow how to cry, cry, cry / And I showed the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky / And the tears I cried for that woman / are gonna flood you, Big River / And I'm gonna sit right here until I die". The man "met her accidentally in St. Paul, Minnesota" and has been pursuing her ever since, following her downstream to Davenport, Iowa, then to St. Louis, Missouri, where he finds out from a freighter that "she's been here but she's gone, boy, she's gone". Continuing on to Memphis, Tennessee, the man begins to tire of his constant pursuit and, in the verse that is omitted from the original, reveals that his desperation brought him to tears by the time he reached Natchez, Mississippi. Travelling to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and finally New Orleans proves too great a challenge for him and he gives up his pursuit, stating "Go on, I've had enough / Dump my blues down in the gulf / She loves you, Big River, more than me".
"Committed to Parkview"
The fifth song on Highwayman is another track which does not include the voices of Kristofferson or Jennings; Cash and Nelson take turns singing individual parts of the verses. The song itself is the second and final Johnny Cash cover on the album, the original being released on One Piece at a Time in 1976.
"Committed to Parkview" deals with the subject of insanity and mental institutions. The action takes place in a hospital called Parkview (most likely referring to the Psychiatric wing at the first Hospital Corporation of America facility, Park View Hospital in Nashville, TN, where Cash lived) where the anonymous narrator comments on his surrounding with many references to the Nashville music scene and city. The first verse, sung by Cash, begins by mentioning two individuals present in Parkview: a man who "sits staring at the floor", thinking he's Hank Williams and singing the latter's songs, and "a girl in 203" who laments about her failed attempts to become a star and the multitude of songs she has written that she considers excellent. The narrator continues, singing "There are lots of special people / Staying in or passing through / And for one thing or another / Committed to Parkview". Notably, each verse ends with the three words that comprise the title of the song. The second verse, sung entirely by Nelson, starts with a description of a girl in 307, coming down on Thorazine as well as a "superstar's ex-drummer trying to kick Benzedrine". The boy whose room is below the narrator's is the son of a celebrity; since his father is never with him, his mother had to bring him to Parkview. A "bum from down on broadway" ( Lower Broadway, the former slum part of pre gentrified downtown Nashville ) and several formerly well-to-do patients who have "withdrawn from the rat race", are also mentioned. The third verse is sung by both performers, and describes a woman whose persistent crying is "loud enough to wake the dead" and a failed writer and singer "who has tried and tried and tried" and was brought to Parkview after a suicide attempt. The final verse, again sung by both Cash and Nelson, describes the patients' daily routine: waking up around 6:30 a.m., taking blood pressure and injections which follow the narrator's vigorous claims that "there ain't nothin' wrong with me". The song ends on a semi-positive note, with the narrator concluding that, in the end, "they're taking good care of [him]". This song is in many ways a tale of heartbreak in the Nashville Music scene.
"Desperados Waiting for a Train"
The longest song on the album, "Desperados Waiting for a Train," contains the topic of the relationship between two generations, represented by a young man and an older man, revealed to be seventy at the beginning of the song. It was designed as a slow song with a chorus that consists entirely of the title. The original idea for the song is thought to be semi-autobiographical, with Clark having mentioned that the song is about "[his] grandmother's boyfriend."
The song begins with Kristofferson singing about the two men's long-lasting friendship. While the narrator "played the 'Red River Valley'," the old man sits in the kitchen crying, contemplating his past and current situation as well as the purpose of all his past efforts. He is likely pondering the inevitability of his death, as he has nothing else to give anyone. The older man was "a wanderer, a drifter and a driller of oil wells;" the narrator calls him "an old-school man of the world." The younger man also benefited from his experience, having taught him how to drive a car "when he was too drunk to," taking him to a bar, the fictional Green Frog Cafe, where the narrator observed men who spent their time "lying about their lives, drinking beer and playing dominoes." During the last few years of the old man's life, "pushin' eighty," and "dressed up like them old men, playing Moon and Forty-Two" (domino games). The day before the old man's death, they met once more. The narrator was already an adult, the old man was "almost gone;" they "closed [their] eyes and dreamed [them] up a kitchen/and sang another verse to that old song..." The last line before the final chorus is possibly the only time the old man utters, saying only "Come on Jack, that son-of-a-gun's a-comin'..." The line possibly signifies approaching death and may also reveal the name of the narrator, but is not known.
"Desperados Waiting for a Train" was a minor Top 20 hit on the country charts; no music video was filmed for it.
"Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)"
Unlike many of the other songs on Highwayman, "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" is a cover of a relatively well-known song, originally written by Woody Guthrie and set to music by Martin Hoffman, a schoolteacher. It is a protest song telling the story of a plane crash that occurred on January 29, 1948, during the deportation of a group of Mexican farm workers from California back to their country of birth.
The song covers the racist mistreatment of the passengers both before and after the plane crash and stresses that the deceased were not "just deportees", as the radio reported, but human beings. The song is mainly performed by Cash and Nelson, Johnny Rodriguez sings the second verse and joins in on part of the chorus: "Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita / Adios mi amigo, Jesus y Maria / You won't have a name when you ride the big airplane / All they will call you will be "deportee"". The anonymous narrator's or narrators' ancestors had tried to cross the border between Mexico and United States in the past; most met their demise attempting to do so. The song's message, which strongly criticizes discrimination, is most apparent in the final verse before the last chorus: "The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos canyon / A fireball of thunder, it shook all the hills / Who are all of these dear friends, scattered like dry leaves? / The radio said they were just deportees".
The eighth track on the album is written by Paul Kennerley, a country musician himself who was then the husband of Emmylou Harris. "Welfare Line", at 2 minutes 34 seconds, is the shortest track on Highwayman, but all four Highwaymen perform on it (Kristofferson sings on the chorus, but does not have a verse). The story is told from the perspective of three different individuals, whose tales are interspersed with the chorus: "So pass around the bottle boys, let's talk about old times / Night's rollin' in, it's cold as sin / Here on the welfare line".
Quite clearly, the song's main subjects are people who have had unique adventures of their own, but all of them ended up on the welfare line. The first man, whose story is told through Nelson's voice, has "been to Bethlehem", where he rode on a steam train and worked in a steel mill, losing two fingers. He served with a gang of road workers in Georgia and ended up having massive debts. The second, portrayed by Cash, was a soldier fighting in an international conflict, possibly World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War. He was recognized in the military ("They pinned a ribbon to my chest"), yet he shares the same fate as the other two characters. It is also known that his late lover or wife was named Rachel. Jennings' character is the most mysterious one; in his verse, he only comments on the possession of money, singing "Now some folks are born to money / You know I wish 'em well / If the devil should ever want my soul / I swear I'd never sell".
"Against the Wind"
"Against the Wind" is a song about the effect time has on people's ambitions, aims and actions. A well-known song, it was originally written and performed by Bob Seger and released on Seger's 1980 album of the same name, which was also his first and only No. 1 release.
According to Rolling Stone's Timothy White, "Against the Wind is about trying to move ahead, keeping your sanity and integrity at the same time". The lyrics cover the wild and exciting life of the young, full of passion, love and vigor, "like a wildfire out of control", contrasting it with the life of older, more experienced individuals. In the first verse, it becomes apparent that a girl the narrator was supposedly in love with most probably betrayed him after assuring him of her devotion to their relationship, which possibly contributed to the narrator gaining experience in life. The chorus following the first verse expresses the typical attempts of young people to "run against the wind": "Against the wind / We were runnin' against the wind / We were young and strong but just runnin' against the wind". The second verse, sung by Nelson, shows how the character's approach changed over the years, as he realized he was "surrounded by strangers [he] thought were [his] friends". After "breakin' all the rules [he] could bend", he "found [himself] seeking shelter against the wind", a play on words. Johnny Cash gets the last line in the song, stating, (his) drifters days are past him now, he's got so much more to think about, what to leave in, what to leave out.
"The Twentieth Century is Almost Over"
The closing song, as the title suggests, refers to the year in which Highwayman was recorded and released, although it was written earlier by Steve Goodman and John Prine and ended up being covered by Cash individually.
"The Twentieth Century is Almost Over" begins with Nelson mentioning that, decades ago, in 1899, "everybody sang "Auld Lang Syne"". Cash's verse, which follows the chorus, recalls major events like the Great Depression and World War II, as well as some inventions which gained popularity in the 20th century: linoleum floors, petroleum jelly and revolving doors. The last verse, sung by both Nelson and Cash, includes references to Father Time, the mythical personification of time, and to the Judgment Day, finishing off the album on a distinctive note.
"The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over" had previously been covered by Cash and released on 1980s Rockabilly Blues.
|2.||"The Last Cowboy Song"||Ed Bruce, Ron Peterson||3:08|
|3.||"Jim, I Wore a Tie Today"||Cindy Walker||3:20|
|4.||"Big River"||Johnny Cash||2:45|
|5.||"Committed to Parkview"||Cash||3:18|
|6.||"Desperados Waiting for a Train"||Guy Clark||4:34|
|7.||"Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)"||Woody Guthrie, Martin Hoffman||3:45|
|8.||"Welfare Line"||Paul Kennerley||2:34|
|9.||"Against the Wind"||Bob Seger||3:46|
|10.||"The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over"||Steve Goodman, John Prine||3:33|
|U.S. Billboard Top Country Albums||1|
|U.S. Billboard 200||92|
Greatest Hits, Vol. 2
by Ronnie Milsap
|Top Country Albums number-one album
September 28, 1985
Greatest Hits, Vol. 2
by Ronnie Milsap