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Your Cheatin' Heart

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"Your Cheatin' Heart"
Single by Hank Williams
A-side "Kaw-Liga"
Released January 1953 (January 1953)
Recorded September 23, 1952
Genre Country, honky-tonk, blues
Length 2:38
Label MGM Records
Writer(s) Hank Williams
Producer(s) Fred Rose
Hank Williams singles chronology
"I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" (1952) "Kaw-Liga" (1953) "Take These Chains From My Heart" (1953)
Music 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 217 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", "Setting 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 Shrevenport 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] However, in the essay to the 1990 release Hank Williams: The Original Singles Collection, author Colin Escott writes, "Johnny Bragg, then a black inmate at Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville (where he later wrote "Just Walking in the Rain"), asserts that he sold Hank the idea for "Your Cheatin' Heart" for $5.00. Others have made similar claims - even about the same song."

Hank and Audrey Williams, 1952

Recording & 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]

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.[22] 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.[23] Rolling Stone called it "one of the greatest country standards of all time",[24] ranking it at number 217 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[25] The song ranked at number 5 in Country Music Television's 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music in 2003,[26]

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.[27] The second one, aired during Super Bowl XLVI, featured the same situation, but with the song covered by Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland.[28] The song forms the title of the 1990 TV drama 'Your Cheatin' Heart' by John Byrne.[29]

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[30]
Frankie Laine Billboard Most Played in Jukeboxes 18[30]
1962 Ray Charles Billboard Billboard Hot 100 29[32]
Billboard To R&B Singles 23[32]
UK Singles Chart 13[34]

Footnotes[edit]

References[edit]

  • Aswell, Tom (2009). Louisiana Rocks!: The True Genesis of Rock and Roll. Pelican Publishing. ISBN 978-1-455-60783-9. 
  • Associated Press (June 5, 2003). "CMT's top songs of country music". USA Today. Retrieved May 16, 2013. 
  • Billboard Staff (1953). "This Week's Best Buys". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media, Inc.). ISSN 0006-2510. 
  • Billboard Staff 2 (1953). "Top Popular Records". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media, Inc.) 45 (30). ISSN 0006-2510. 
  • Billboard staff 3 (1963). Hits of the World. Billboard 75 (3) (Nielsen Business Media, Inc.). ISSN 0006-2510. 
  • Browne, Ray; Browne, Pat (2001). The guide to United States popular culture. Popular Press. ISBN 978-0-879-72821-2. 
  • Carlin, Richard (2005). Country. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 978-0-816-06977-4. 
  • Campbell, Michael (2008). Rock and Roll: An Introduction. Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-0-534-64295-2. 
  • Devine, T. M.; Wormald, Jenny (2012). The Oxford Handbook of Modern Scottish History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-191-62433-9. 
  • Flippo, Chet (1985). Your Cheatin' Heart: A Biography of Hank Williams. Doubleday Publishing. ISBN 978-0-385-19737-3. 
  • Fox, Pamela (2009). Natural acts: gender, race, and rusticity in country music. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-07068-8. 
  • Geller, Wendy (2012). "Hear Jennifer Nettles Take On Hank Sr. Classic In Pepsi Max Commercial". Yahoo! Music. Yahoo, Inc. 
  • Helander, Brock (1998). The rockin' '50s: the people who made the music. Schirmer Books. ISBN 978-0-028-64872-9. 
  • Hischak, Thomas (2002). The Tin Pan Alley song encyclopedia. Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-31992-1. 
  • Houghtaling, Adam Brent (2012). This Will End in Tears: The Miserabilist Guide to Music. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-062-09896-2. 
  • Jennings, Dana (2008). Sing Me Back Home: Love, Death, and Country Music. Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-429-99624-2. 
  • Joyner, David Lee (2008). American Popular Music. McGraw-Hill Education. ISBN 978-0-073-52657-7. 
  • Kingsbury, Paul (2006). Will the circle be unbroken: country music in America. DK Publishing. ISBN 978-0-756-62352-4. 
  • Koda, Cub (2012). Your Cheatin' Heart. AllMusic (Rovi Corporation). Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  • Koon, George William (2002). Hank Williams, so Lonesome. University of Mississippi press. ISBN 978-1-57806-283-6. 
  • Pugh, Ronnie (1998). Ernest Tubb: The Texas Troubadour. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-822-32190-3. 
  • Riggs, Thomas (2006). Encyclopedia of major marketing campaigns 2. Gale Books. ISBN 978-0-787-67356-7. 
  • Rhodes, Don (2008). Say it Loud!: My Memories of James Brown, Soul Brother Number 1. Globe Pequot. ISBN 978-1-59921-674-4. 
  • Rolling Stone staff (2004). "500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media LLC. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  • Rolling Stone staff (2011). "Your Cheatin' Heart". Wenner Media LLC. Retrieved May 15, 2013. 
  • Rotella, Mark (2010). Amore: The Story of Italian American Song. Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-429-97847-7. 
  • Tichi, Cecelia (1998). Reading country music: steel guitars, opry stars, and honky-tonk bars. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-822-32168-2. 
  • Tyler, Don (2008). Music of the post war era. ABC-Clio. ISBN 978-0-313-34191-5. 
  • Williams, Roger M. (1981). Sing a sad song: the life of Hank Williams. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-00861-0.