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What songs embody that 'spooky' country & western feel?
December 2, 2012 2:55 PM   Subscribe

What songs embody that 'spooky' country & western feel - twang, tremolo, reverb, minor chords, dark vocals, preferably from the 1930s-1950s?

I'm thinking of the American West and Southwest around the mid 20th century - night time scenes of dusty roads and loneliness. I've heard songs like this all my life, but have very few points of reference. Google is pointing me to stuff like Alan Jackson :/

The lesser known the better, but interested in any artists & songs you'd recommend... thanks!
posted by deern the headlice to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
 
Neko Case, check out Blacklisted.
posted by amodelcitizen at 3:01 PM on December 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Grey DeLisle has an album called Graceful Ghost you might enjoy, too.
posted by amodelcitizen at 3:02 PM on December 2, 2012


Hmm, this is just a smidge earlier than your date range, but maybe give a listen to Jimmie Rodgers' Hobo Bill's Last Ride from 1929?
posted by theatro at 3:06 PM on December 2, 2012


Some Velvet Morning by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra maybe? I feel like it's a little bit country but definitely weird and possibly creepy. (Fair warning: I find the video to be flat out ridiculous)
posted by hegemone at 3:13 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hmm, this is just a smidge earlier than your date range, but maybe give a listen to Jimmie Rodgers' Hobo Bill's Last Ride from 1929?

Have heard and liked Jimmie Rodgers, but looking for something more dark and minor chord-y than that particular one...

Some Velvet Morning by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra maybe? I feel like it's a little bit country but definitely weird and possibly creepy. (Fair warning: I find the video to be flat out ridiculous)

A fan of them too. Those chord progressions are the general idea, though a bit too produced for what I was imagining.

(It's not "country" but the sounds of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" by Leadbelly is a favorite. Looking for stuff with a bit of grit, twangy but dark.)
posted by deern the headlice at 3:19 PM on December 2, 2012


Don't know if country blues is within the realm of what you're looking for, but Robert Johnson? There's a nicely spooky story to go along with his music, too.
posted by eponym at 3:23 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Weightless Again by The Handsome Family
posted by Yma at 3:33 PM on December 2, 2012


The Sadies "Darker Circles"
posted by backwards guitar at 3:36 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Weightless Again by The Handsome Family

That's actually one of the bands & songs that got me thinking about this particular sound. But I'm more interested in the stuff that influenced them, the much older and more obscure stuff.
posted by deern the headlice at 3:38 PM on December 2, 2012


Check the High Atmosphere compilation of Appalachian folk music.
posted by rhizome at 3:44 PM on December 2, 2012


Tarnation - Big O Motel
posted by mykescipark at 3:52 PM on December 2, 2012


Just to clarify here again - I would like suggestions that come from the roots of this kind of music. The 1930s-1950s or thereabouts. Tarnation, Neko Case, Sadies, Handsome Family are all great, but I'm not looking for stuff of the last 10 years. I'm looking for music that influenced them.
posted by deern the headlice at 3:58 PM on December 2, 2012


The Louvin Brothers
posted by neroli at 4:01 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Revenant Records put out a couple of compilations of 78 transfers under the heading "American Primitive" (1, 2).

Might be more blues-oriented than you're looking for, but they are all kinds of spooky. (Here is a scan of a really excellent review of Volume II from Harpers).
posted by bubukaba at 4:05 PM on December 2, 2012


On the modern tilt I am a big fan of Dirty Beaches right now. Some really haunting stuff. 'Lord Knows Best' being a more well known track.

Older stuff. Early blues strictly for the lyrics. Lo-fi recordings and the sometimes gut wrenching lyrics that stick to you. Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson. Okay I plugged some names into Spotify and got more blues. Blind Willie McTell, Son House -"People Grinning in Your Face" Leadbelly - "Where Did You Sleep Last Night"

For country/folk stuff. How about Woody Gutherie "Buffalo Skinners"
posted by WickedPissah at 4:06 PM on December 2, 2012


Hank Williams, “(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle” (1951) and "Lost Highway".
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:14 PM on December 2, 2012


The Onion's AV Club did a series on country music's history from an outsider's perspective. It's a good starting point for direction on some of the older stuff.
posted by GamblingBlues at 4:17 PM on December 2, 2012


Sons of the Pioneers -- Cool Water, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Ghost Riders in the Sky, etc.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:18 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ghost Riders In The Sky? Can't get much spookier than that.

Skip James's recording from the 20's/30s are superb--fingerpicking, minor tunings, and an uncanny falsetto. Ferinstance, Hard Time Killing Floor.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 4:21 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tex Ritter (John Ritter's dad!) is a bit more cowboyish, but has some of that sound here and there -- High Noon, Jingle Jangle Jingle
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:23 PM on December 2, 2012


Patsy Cline sometimes scares me a little. I Love You So Much It Hurts especially. Not exactly obscure, mind.
posted by daikaisho at 4:30 PM on December 2, 2012


Gene Autry -- The Last Round-Up

Les Paul and Mary Ford -- Vaya Con Dios

Tex Ritter -- The Wayward Wind
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:57 PM on December 2, 2012


On my phone so I can't link this, but Elvis Presley's version of Blue Moon has some of what you are looking for - killer early reverb/echo effects, a spare and spooky arrangement, twang. It's awesome. It's less country-y than you might be looking for, but it is surely worth a listen. 1954, I think.

Also, for me, the definitive "Ghost Riders in the Sky" is the one by Vaughan Monroe.
posted by dirtdirt at 5:11 PM on December 2, 2012


Everly Brothers--Cryin' in the Rain

Rex Allen Jr. does a very cool version of that same song, think his version was done in the 60s, slightly morelonesome than the Everlys'.
posted by PaulBGoode at 6:06 PM on December 2, 2012


I see that someone already mentioned Revenant. That made me think of John Fahey. I know he's probably newer than what you're looking for, but I felt it was worth mentioning. Nobody takes roots music and feeds it through a psychedelic southern gothic meat grinder quite like he does.

Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night..." is also another song to look up. Pretty much the definition of haunting.
posted by 6and12 at 6:51 PM on December 2, 2012


It's more of an Appalachian mountain song, but "Oh Death" fits the bill for me. Can't find the version I'm thinking of on Youtube, though.
posted by rivenwanderer at 6:52 PM on December 2, 2012


Red Sorvine Phantom 309 - Think Large Marge from Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
posted by Che boludo! at 7:22 PM on December 2, 2012


Cool Question.

Red Sorvine Phantom 309 - Think Large Marge from Pee Wee's Big Adventure.

Long Black Veil Left Frizzel


Hank Williams I'll Never Get out of this World Alive

Hank Williams Lost Highway

More Hank I'm so Lonesome I could Cry

Willie Nelson I Never Cared for You
posted by Che boludo! at 7:33 PM on December 2, 2012


This is really twisted - Psycho - Eddie Noack

Louvin Bros. In the Pines

posted by Che boludo! at 7:45 PM on December 2, 2012


I'm surprised no one's mentioned Slim Whitman from this era, it was popular even in Europe. (The spookiness of his music even made it to that 1990s Mars Attacks! movie.) "A Dear John Letter" is another song from around that time, it's by Ferlin Husky and Jean Shepherd. I've grown to like western swing a lot, and there are some songs like Bob Wills' "Frankie Jean" and some Tex Williams stuff that's haunting and weird - spare, lonely and desolate sounding.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:05 PM on December 2, 2012


Roscoe Holcomb 1 2
Roy Acruff 1 2
Molly O'Day 1 2
Stanley Brothers 1 2
posted by hydrophonic at 10:34 PM on December 2, 2012


Good luck out-spooking Billy Strange's version of Diesel Smoke.
posted by quarterframer at 6:21 AM on December 3, 2012


Roscoe Holcomb for sure. I can't believe I didn't think of him when I posted earlier. His version of "Moonshiner" is also good, in addition to the links posted above.


Also, Geeshie Wiley's "Last Kind Words" would probably fit the bill. The album cited on the YouTube link might also have some other songs for you. This song was used on the Crumb soundtrack.
posted by 6and12 at 7:14 AM on December 3, 2012


rivenwanderer: It's more of an Appalachian mountain song, but "Oh Death" fits the bill for me. Can't find the version I'm thinking of on Youtube, though.

Aw yeah, excellent. I assume you're looking for one of Ralph Stanley's versions. Here he is, live, a capella.
posted by booth at 7:20 AM on December 3, 2012


Somebody already mentioned the Louvin Brothers and Hank Williams. Also check out the Delmore Brothers, the Blue Sky Brothers, the Carter Family, Patsy Cline, Jimmie Rodgers, and maybe Lefty Frizzell and Faron Young.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:30 AM on December 3, 2012


Oh wow, I love this sort of stuff too. *favorites*

That aside...given the Appalachian/folk influence on country in the US, if you really like a dark edge to your music, you can find some really neat tunes by searching for "sawmill tuning" on youtube and what-have-you. E.g., this video of '2 Dark Appalachian Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo'. Ooh, and this one, by the same guy. And one called Black Mountain Rag.
posted by aecorwin at 12:38 PM on December 3, 2012


Songs: Ohia

(Edit: not from the 30s-50s though, sorry)
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 6:31 PM on December 9, 2012


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