The Best Rhymes in Classic Country

19 Apr

All this poetry this month has me thinking about rhyme–especially perfect end rhyme but also that other rhyme-y stuff like assonance, consonance, alliteration, slant rhyme, etc. I’ll admit most classic country songs consist of trite rhymes such as blue/you and train/rain (which have their place, of course), but this list contains purely the weird, wonderful, and word-play-ish.

Honorable Mention: Saginaw, Michigan by Lefty Frizzell

The Rhyme:

I wrote my love in Saginaw, Michigan.
I said, “Honey, I’m a-comin’ home; please wait for me.
“And you can tell your dad I’m coming back a richer man:
“I’ve hit the biggest strike in Klondike history.”

Why I Love It:  This whole song features a bunch of really forced feminine(multi-syllabic rhymes)  rhymes that (sometimes rather marginally) rhyme with Michigan.  This verse is my favorite because we not only get the Michigan/richer man one, which sounds close enough for a country song and has the added effect of being kind of an eye rhyme (looks as if it ought to rhyme but doesn’t) with the ch, but we also get the bonus feminine rhyme of for me/history.

Sometimes all this is just a little too ham-fisted to me, so the song earns merely an honorable mention.

#5:  He’ll Have to Go by Jim Reeves

The Rhyme:  Listen carefully next time for all the o sounds and ooh sounds.  SO MANY!!!

Why I Love It:  I love a song that can work a particular angle.  Gentleman Jim Reeves is trying to sell to us that he’s open, honest, earnest.  What vowel is more open than o?  None.  None more open.

#4:  9 to 5 by Dolly Parton

The Rhyme:

Tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen

Why I Love It:  The very first line of this fabulous song sets us up for the entire mood of it–hustle and bustle.  We’ve got a feminine internal rhyme (inside a line of poetry instead of at the ends of lines) of tumble/stumble, both of which are basically onomatopoieia (because they’re the sounds you make when you do them), and they both accurately portray just about anybody as he or she is ambling through a dimly lit corridor, stubbing toes and reaching blindly for coffee during the morning routine.

This tumble/stumble also stand as the only internal rhyme in the whole song, which adds to the jumble of everything in the morning–two words that use so much of one’s mouth to say/sing smushed in together in the very first line of a song?  Good work, Dolly.  You’ve got me listening!  (That typewriter-as-percussion doesn’t hurt either, of course.)

#3:  Fist City by Loretta Lynn

The Rhyme:

You better move your feet
if you don’t wanna eat
a meal that’s called Fist City.

Why I Love It:  I love too many songs to really have a favorite, but when asked I always respond with this one.  It’s so spiteful and so silly and so white trash, and I love it thoroughly.

So the rhyme here (feet/eat) is commonplace.  Nothing to write home about.  What makes this pop is the enjambment–the counter-intuitive line break between eat and a meal.  A listener knows that Fist City’s gotta make an appearance at the end of this verse, but when that listener first hears “if you don’t wanna eat,” that listener immediately ponders how exactly Loretta’s going to parlay that into something that ends in Fist City.  “Oh,” the listener says afterward, “the tramp’s going to eat a meal that’s called Fist City.  Oh wait, that makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE.”  But this song isn’t about sense.  It’s about blind rage and threats promises and ladies slugging it out in Fist City.

You’ve also got the ee assonance (repeated vowel sound) in feet, eat, meal, City, which shows a screeching harpy sort of side to our narratrix.  I mean, is there a vowel more grating and aggressive than the ee sound?  None.  None more grating.

#2: (Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song by B.J. Thomas

The Rhyme:  Oh goodness gracious.  Where to even start…  The entire song is a big poetic-sounds stew.

Why I Love It:  This song’s got it all!  Alliteration!  Assonance!  Internal rhyme!  Perfect end rhyme!  And it gets stuck in a person’s head for years at a time!

The defining factor, of course, is all the uh sounds: love, some, done giving the song a rather droning effect that is both smooth/comforting and sad at once (much like what our narrator is trying to accomplish by having the proverbial you play another cheatin’ song).  But a listener could surfeit himself for a week with all the assonance: hey, play; feel, baby, baby; I, cry; me, melody.  And then we’ve got that completely jarring won’tcha in the middle that breaks all the smoothness for just a moment as the narrator signals to the barman and tries to get his attention.

It’s just a wonderfully crafted little ditty, and I consider this blog post an act of contrition for hating it so much when I used to hear it all the time on easy listening radio stations.  Now I love it–admittedly mostly for nerdy reasons.

#1:  Coal Miner’s Daughter by Loretta Lynn

The Rhyme:

The work we done was hard.
At night we’d sleep ’cause we were tired.

Why I Love It:  Loretta Lynn, you’ve done it again!  You’ve captured dialect so perfectly, and I love you so!  This may or may not be my favorite rhyme ever.

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