The Wild Side of Life
|"The Wild Side of Life"|
|Single by Hank Thompson and His Brazos Valley Boys|
|Released||March 1952 (U.S.)|
|Format||7", 78 rpm|
|Recorded||December 11, 1951|
Los Angeles, California
|Songwriter(s)||Arlie Carter and William Warren|
|Hank Thompson and His Brazos Valley Boys singles chronology|
|"Wild Side of Life"|
|Single by Status Quo|
|B-side||"All Through the Night"|
|Released||3 December 1976|
|Status Quo singles chronology|
"The Wild Side of Life" is a song made famous by country music singer Hank Thompson. Originally released in 1952, the song became one of the most popular recordings in the genre's history, spending 15 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard country charts, solidified Thompson's status as a country music superstar and inspired the answer song, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" by Kitty Wells.
"The Wild Side of Life" carries one of the most distinctive melodies of early country music, used in "Thrills That I Can't Forget" recorded by Welby Toomey and Edgar Boaz in 1925, "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes" by the Carter Family in 1929, and "Great Speckled Bird" by Roy Acuff in 1936. That, along with the song's story of a woman shedding her role as domestic provider to follow the night life, combined to become one of the most famous country songs of the early 1950s.
According to country music historian Bill Malone, "Wild Side" co-writer William Warren was inspired to create the song after his experiences with a young woman he met when he was younger—a honky tonk angel, as it were—who "found the glitter of the gay night life too hard to resist." Fellow historian Paul Kingsbury wrote that the song appealed to people who "thought the world was going to hell and that faithless women deserved a good deal of the blame."
Jimmy Heap and His Melody Masters first recorded "Wild Side" in 1951, but never had a hit with the song. Thompson did, and his version spent three and one-half months atop the Billboard country chart in the spring and early summer of 1952.
"Wild Side" was Thompson's first charting single since 1949's two-sided hit "Soft Lips"/"The Grass is Greener Over Yonder." Thompson had hooked up with producer Ken Nelson in the interim, and one of their first songs together was "Wild Side."
The lyric, "I didn't know God made honky tonk angels", and the tune's overall cynical attitude—Kingsbury noted the song "... just begged for an answer from a woman"—inspired "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels", which was also based on the same melody. Recorded by Kitty Wells and released later in 1952, that song, too, became a No. 1 country hit. In "It Wasn't God ... ", Wells shifts the blame for the woman's infidelity to the man, countering that for every unfaithful woman there is a man who has led her astray.
There have been many cover versions of "The Wild Side of Life", several of which became hits in their own right. Burl Ives had a top 10 hit with the song concurrent with Thompson's success, Ray Price recorded it on his "Night Life" LP in 1963, while Freddy Fender reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in early 1976. A version by the British rock band Status Quo reached the UK top 10 in 1976. In 1981, "Wild Side" and "It Wasn't God ..." were combined into a duet by Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter on their album Leather and Lace; that version reached No. 10.
Vic Dana recorded a pop version of "The Wild Side of Life" with full orchestra backing.
- Whitburn, Joel, "Top Country Songs: 1944-2005," 2006.
- Malone, Bill, "Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian Collection" ((booklet included with Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian Collection 4-disc set). Smithsonian Institution, 1990).
- Kingsbury, Paul, "The Grand Ole Opry History of Country Music: 70 Years of the Songs, the Stars and the Stories," Opryland USA, Villard Books, Random House, New York, 1995.
-  Huey, Steve, Hank Thompson biography at Allmusic
- Richard Flanagan, "Prophet of the neon wilderness", The Sunday Telegraph, January 29, 2006 (reprinted as "Introduction", dated "October 2005", in the novel's digital edition, Canongate Books, 2009, ISBN 978-1-84767-649-8): ‘As Algren admitted, the book “wasn’t written until long after it had been walked… I found my way to the streets on the other side of the Southern Pacific station, where the big jukes were singing something called ‘Walking the Wild Side of Life.’ I’ve stayed pretty much on that side of the curb ever since.” ’
- Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. p. 144. ISBN 0-89820-177-2.