Many of the greatest country songs come from a time when audio production was, if not in its infancy, at least an adolescent business. The immaculate cleanliness of music produced today shows how far we’ve come — but some would argue that it also shows what we’ve lost.
It may be a fantasy of nostalgia, but records produced exclusively for vinyl often seem to capture a sound and a mood that simply doesn’t exist anymore. We’ve put together a few legendary country songs that perfectly capture this intimacy.
Hank Williams — Just Waitin’
Case in point #1 is Just Waitin’ by country giant Hank Williams Sr. Originally released as the B-side of “Men with Broken Hearts” in 1951, the opening notes sound as if the instruments are strung with straw. But it’s wholesome, nourishing straw that Hank proceeds to chew over in a rambling monologue that is well-summed up by the line, “everyone’s waitin’ for somethin’, nothin’ seems to turn out right.”
There’s something about the sardonic lethargy of instrumentation and vocals that you can’t capture other than when listening to this amazing song on vinyl. Spotify doesn’t deal in straw. And the saddest thing is that nobody will know the difference if they never hear these records on vinyl.
Sites like https://hifihippo.com offer advice on turntables — we need the world to know these sounds. Get yourself a turntable, get one for a friend. Don’t keep just waitin’.
Dolly Parton — Jolene
The turmoil and superb guitar work displayed in the opening bars of Jolene hit different on vinyl. Tennessee’s favorite daughter created one of the most enduringly popular songs of all time in this 1973 single, ranked at #217 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Which is a travesty when you look at the top 100, but we won’t get into that here.
From Dolly’s anguished vocals to the moody, scratchy guitar, you can’t step into the song fully without hearing this on vinyl. The moment you turn away from the turntable and that sound hits, you’re walking in Dolly’s shoes. Let’s face it: we’ve all been Dolly, and we’ve all known Jolene. That’s what makes it a country legend.
Ernest Tubb — Waltz Across Texas
There’s perhaps no record that conjures up images of a gramophone playing in an old-style Texas saloon better than Ernest Tubb’s Waltz Across Texas, released in 1965. If you don’t want to listen to this on vinyl with a glass of bourbon for sheerly aesthetic purposes, we quietly question your sense of taste. If you don’t want to listen to this on vinyl because of the way it captures the floating, reedy timbre of the music in a way modern audio systems never could… we urge you to rethink your life choices.
Ernest Tubb’s vocal abilities were the subject of some speculation even during his illustrious career. The man himself remarked that most men would tell their girlfriends they could sing better than him — and that they’d be right! While we appreciate the humility, there’s no question over the quality of his soaring vocals on this record, and there’s only one way to enjoy them fully: on a good-quality record player.
There’s a healthy overlap between country music fans and vinyl enthusiasts on a Ven diagram. If you’re an outlier, we urge you to get hold of a turntable as soon as possible: there’s just no better way to enjoy the classics, and when you do, you’ll know why they’re classics.