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Your Cheatin' Heart

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"Your Cheatin' Heart"
Your Cheatin' Heart by Hank Williams (cover).jpeg
1965 reissue single label
Single by Hank Williams
A-side"Kaw-Liga"
ReleasedJanuary 1953 (1953-01)
Format78-rpm & 45-rpm records
RecordedSeptember 23, 1952
GenreCountry, honky-tonk, blues
Length2:38
LabelMGM (K11416-B)
Songwriter(s)Hank Williams
Producer(s)Fred Rose
Hank Williams singles chronology
"I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive"
(1953)
"Your Cheatin' Heart"
(1953)
"Take These Chains from My Heart"
Audio sample

"Your Cheatin' Heart" is a song written and recorded by country music singer-songwriter Hank Williams in 1952, regarded as one of country's most important standards. Country music historian Colin Escott writes that "the song – for all intents and purposes – defines country music."[1] He was inspired to write the song while driving with his fianceé from Nashville, Tennessee to Shreveport, Louisiana. After describing his first wife Audrey Sheppard as a "Cheatin' Heart", he dictated in minutes the lyrics to Billie Jean Jones. Produced by Fred Rose, Williams recorded the song on his last session at Castle Records in Nashville, Tennessee, on September 23.

"Your Cheatin' Heart" was released in January 1953. Propelled by Williams' recent death during a trip to a New Year's concert in Canton, Ohio, the song became an instant success. It topped Billboard's Country & Western chart for six weeks, while over a million units were sold. The success of the song continued. Joni James' version reached number two on Billboard's Most Played in Jukeboxes the same year, while Ray Charles' 1962 version reached number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 and 13 on the UK Singles Chart. The song ranked at 213 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and was ranked number 5 on Country Music Television's 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music.

Background[edit]

By 1952, Williams was enjoying a successful streak, releasing multiple hits, including "Honky Tonk Blues", "Half as Much", "Settin' the Woods on Fire", "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" and "You Win Again".[2] While his career was soaring, his marriage to Audrey Sheppard became turbulent. He developed serious problems with alcohol, morphine and painkillers prescribed to ease his severe back pain caused by spina bifida.[3] The couple divorced on May 29,[4] and Williams moved in with his mother.[5] Soon after, Williams met Billie Jean Jones backstage at the Ryman Auditorium, a native of Shreveport, Louisiana, "who was, at the time, dating Faron Young. Williams started dating Jones, upon the end of her relationship with Young and soon began to plan their marriage.[6] While driving from Nashville, Tennessee to Shreveport to announce the wedding to her parents,[7] Williams talked to her about his previous marriage and described Audrey Sheppard as a "cheatin' heart", [8] adding that one day she would "have to pay".[7] Inspired by his line, he instructed Jones to take his notebook and write down the lyrics of the song that he quickly dictated to her.[8] The finished composition included the line "You'll walk the floor, the way I do", which evoked Ernest Tubb's hit "Walking the Floor Over You".[9][10]

Hank and Audrey Williams, 1952

Recording and release[edit]

Williams recorded the song on September 23 at the Castle Studios in Nashville. The session, which became Williams' last, also produced the A-side "Kaw-Liga", as well as the songs "I Could Never Be Ashamed of You" and "Take These Chains from My Heart".[11] It was produced by Williams' publisher Fred Rose,[12] who made minor arrangements of the lyrics of "Your Cheatin' Heart".[13][14] Williams described the song to his friend, Braxton Schuffert, as he was about to play it, as "the best heart song (he) ever wrote".[15] Williams is backed on the session by Tommy Jackson (fiddle), Don Helms (steel guitar), Chet Atkins (lead guitar), Jack Shook (rhythm guitar), and Floyd "Lightnin'" Chance (bass).

While traveling to a scheduled New Year's show in Canton, Ohio, the driver found Williams dead on the backseat of the car during a stop in Oak Hill, West Virginia.[16] "Your Cheatin' Heart" was released at the end of January 1953.[17] Propelled by Williams' death, the song and the A-side "Kaw-Liga" became a hit,[18] selling over a million records.[19] Billboard initially described the songs as "superlative tunes and performances", emphasizing the sales potential.[20] Within a short time from its release, the song reached number one on Billboard's Top C&W Records, where it remained for six weeks.[21]

A demo version of Williams singing "Your Cheatin' Heart" with just his guitar, likely recorded in 1951,[22] is also available.

Legacy[edit]

Released in the wake of his passing, the song became synonymous with the myth of Hank Williams as a haunted, lonely figure who expressed pain with an authenticity that became the standard for country music. The name of the song was used as the title of Hank Williams' 1964 biopic. "Your Cheatin' Heart", as well as other songs by Williams were performed on the movie, with George Hamilton dubbing the soundtrack album recorded by Williams' son, Hank Williams, Jr.[23] In the 2003 documentary series Lost Highway, country music historian Ronnie Pugh comments, "It's Hank's anthem, it's his musical last will and testament. It's searing, it's powerful, it's gripping. If you want to say this is his last and best work, I wouldn't argue with that." AllMusic described the track as the "signature song" of Hank Williams, and an "unofficial anthem" of country music.[24] Rolling Stone called it "one of the greatest country standards of all time",[25] ranking it at number 217 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[26] The song ranked at number 5 in Country Music Television's 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music in 2003,[27]

Two Pepsi Super Bowl commercials featured the song, one aired during Super Bowl XXX, featured Williams' recording while a Coca-Cola deliveryman grabbed a Pepsi.[28] The second one, aired during Super Bowl XLVI, featured the same situation, but with the song covered by Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland.[29] The song forms the title of the 1990 TV drama 'Your Cheatin' Heart' by John Byrne.[30]

Cover versions[edit]

Chart performance[edit]

Hank Williams[edit]

Chart (1953) Peak
position
Top C&W Records 1[21]

Cover versions[edit]

Year Artist Chart Peak position
1953 Joni James Billboard Most Played in Jukeboxes 2[31]
Frankie Laine Billboard Most Played in Jukeboxes 18[31]
1962 Ray Charles Billboard Billboard Hot 100 29[33]
Billboard Top R&B Singles 23[33]
UK Singles Chart 13[36]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Escott, Colin & 2004 238.
  2. ^ Helander 1998, p. 188.
  3. ^ Koon 2002, p. 10.
  4. ^ Williams 1981, p. 96.
  5. ^ Koon 2002, p. XII.
  6. ^ Koon 2002, p. 200, 201.
  7. ^ a b Tyler 2008, p. Your Cheatin' Heart, p. 176, at Google Books.
  8. ^ a b Tichi 1998, p. 212.
  9. ^ Pugh 1998, p. Your Cheatin' Heart, p. 154, at Google Books.
  10. ^ Fox 2009, p. 87.
  11. ^ Koon 2002, p. 67, 120.
  12. ^ Kingsbury 2006, p. 161.
  13. ^ Joyner 2008, p. 149.
  14. ^ Koon 2002, p. 95.
  15. ^ Flippo 1985, p. 204.
  16. ^ Browne & Browne 2001, p. 914.
  17. ^ Billboard Staff 1953, p. Your Cheatin' Heart, p. 28, at Google Books.
  18. ^ Carlin 2005, p. 217 Your Cheatin' Heart at Google Books.
  19. ^ Williams 1981, p. 157.
  20. ^ Billboard Staff 1953, p. Your Cheatin' Heart at Google Books.
  21. ^ a b Houghtaling 2012, p. 98.
  22. ^ Escott, Colin & 2004 328.
  23. ^ Hischak 2002, p. 66, 192.
  24. ^ Koda 2012.
  25. ^ Rolling Stone staff 2011.
  26. ^ Rolling Stone staff 2004.
  27. ^ Associated Press 2003.
  28. ^ Riggs 2006, p. 1298.
  29. ^ Geller 2012.
  30. ^ Devine & Wormald 2012, p. 201.
  31. ^ a b c d Billboard Staff 2 1953, p. Your Cheatin' Heart, p. 30, at Google Books.
  32. ^ "Satchmo Sings". All Music. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  33. ^ a b c Aswell 2009, p. Your Cheatin' Heart, p. 15, at Google Books.
  34. ^ Billboard staff 3 1963, p. Your Cheatin' Heart, p. 20, at Google Books.
  35. ^ Jorgensen, Ernst. Elvis Presley, A Life In Music. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998; ISBN 0-312-18572-3, p. 183.
  36. ^ Billboard staff 3 1963, p. Your Cheatin' Heart, p. 20, at Google Books.

References[edit]