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  • Writer's pictureJake Beck

West Texas Skies - by Jake Beck

A playlist for any cowboy who finds themselves under those West Texas Skies. I Hope these tracks take you to the place we know all too well.

1.  Me and Paul by Willie Nelson Yesterday’s Wine (1971)

Perhaps no better song to capture the spirit of West Texas. By 1971, Willie was hurting, both financially and emotionally, with his wife recently filing for divorce, and his Tennessee ranch had been destroyed by a fire. Having trouble writing any new pieces for his upcoming thirteenth record, Willie returned to Tennessee and wrote the songs that would eventually become Yesterday’s Wine. Today, the record is viewed as country music’s first concept album, telling the life of a man from his birth to his death. The record company decided to make “Me and Paul” the single, which peaked at #62 on the country music charts. The song tells the story of a man and his pal as they travel the nation, learning that they are not wanted everywhere they go. But hey, at least he has Paul.

“We received our education

In the cities of the nation, me and Paul”

2. Snowqueen of Texas by The Mamas & the Papas People Like Us (1971)

Oh, to be a Snowqueen in Texas. By 1971, the group had been split up for three years, with some even having relatively successful solo careers. However, their contract still bound them to release one last record. The eventual album, People Like Us, was seen as a somewhat dull album, with member Michelle Phillips later saying the album sounds like “Four people trying to avoid a lawsuit.” In “Snowqueen of Texas,” we see some of Michelle Phillips’ best work with her tender pop vocals telling an enchanting story. The song brings a soul-filled rhythm with warm harmonies, making the track another gem in the group’s catalog.

I’m on my knees your majesty”

3. No Expectations by The Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet (1968)

Following their psychedelic phase, in which the band released acclaimed records such as Between the Buttons (1967) and Their Satanic Majesties Request (1967), the Stones returned to the folk-blues sound that had made them famous. Beggars Banquet starts off with one of the band’s most celebrated tracks, “Sympathy for the Devil,” a blues-rock epic that sets the tone for the record. The track that follows is a ballad about loneliness, featuring a gorgeous slide guitar by Brian Jones. Mick Jagger would later go on the record saying that “No Expectations” was perhaps the “last song Jones ever put real care into.” The song delves into themes such as being left behind and isolation in general. In my opinion, this track is perhaps the most moving song in their catalog.

“I’ve got no expectations

To pass through here again”

4. New Kid in Town by Eagles Hotel California (1976)

Again, just like with “No Expectations,” there is something to be said about the second tracks off great records. Hotel California is the fifth record the Eagles put out, the first including legendary guitarist Joe Walsh. Following the epic that is the track “Hotel California” that kicks off the record, what follows is a song about what comes next. When the Eagles were writing this song, they might have been the hottest band in America, something they were very much aware of. As a result of this self-awareness, they knew that there would be an eventual band to outshine them, a faster gun would eventually be coming to town. It is rumored that this song is about Bruce Springsteen. He was right on their heels in popularity at the time Hotel California was in the works. The Rolling Stone magazine describes the track best, “An exquisite piece of south-of-the-border melancholia.”

“Everybody loves him, don’t they?” 

5. Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) by Waylon Jennings Ol’ Waylon (1977)

I mean, do I even need to give a reason for including this gem? By 1977, Waylon Jennings was in his commercial and creative peak, with his last three records reaching number one. And of course, Waylon Fucking Jennings does not miss, so he made sure to release yet another hit record. So, when Waylon dropped Ol’ Waylon in the Spring of 1977, he cemented his status as a god in country music. The album quickly became the first country record to sell a million units, with obvious help from the massive success of “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love.) The track tells the story of a high-class couple who longs to return to “the basics of love” and resort to the small town of Luckenbach, Tx. Waylon knew this would be a smash hit, famously saying, “every state has a Luckenbach, a place to get away to.”

“So baby, let’s sell your diamond ring

Buy some boots and faded jeans and go away”

6. In the Valley by Marty Robbins Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs (1959)

“i wanna be a COWBOY babyyyyyy”

When in Texas, everyone is a Cowboy, and since everyone is a Cowboy, we all eventually have our own sad cowboy hours. This short sad ballad refers to a man who weeps in the valley over a woman who has left him. This is a theme everyone can relate to. With Marty’s touching vocals accompanied by a soft guitar, this is easily one of Robbin’s more touching ballads. We are all Marty Robbins in this track, with its simplicity and relativity, “In the Valley” is without a doubt a must for whenever you find yourself underneath those West Texas Skies. 

Come back to this poor cowboy’s arms”

7. Washington Jail by Jackson C. Frank (1965)

History has not been kind in remembering the gifted singer/songwriter that was Jackson C. Frank. Releasing only one album in 1965, which was produced by Paul Simon, Frank has fell into the hole of obscurity. His songs often have a sorrowful sound, with it usually just Frank and his guitar appearing on a track. “Washington Jail” is no exception, featuring a gloomier than usual tone telling the story of a man who was sentenced to 22 years in jail for a crime that is never revealed. It is a short and simple track, but the heart-wrenching vocals that Frank brings to the table makes it a song you won’t soon forget. It shows sadness & humility in its purest form, for this track is in the form of a poem he wrote to his lover as he gets boards the train that will take him away.

“The train has come up and now it is gone

Taking me away, Lord, just leaving this song”

8. Got You on My Mind Again (Outtake) by Jerry Lee Lewis The Killer Live (1970)

While in between sets during a show in Las Vegas, Jerry Lee Lewis blessed us with one of my favorite outtakes of all time, giving us a track that screams Texas. With the hymns of a gal who has that southern twang rooted in her beautiful voice, this tune is one that embodies everything I love about Texas. The song is also accompanied by solos of both a steel guitar and a fiddle. You can tell from this track that everyone on this track is having fun, with banter sprinkled throughout it, indicating how much fun they are having. This simple song reminds me of those late Texas nights, feeling the love of a woman you don’t have anymore, a tale any cowboy can relate to.

Lately I’ve been finding out just what a heartache means

For every time I close my eyes, I see you in my dreams”

9. The Long Black Veil by Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison (1968)

Seeking to reignite the notoriety once enjoyed in the days of “I Walk the Line,” Cash desired to perform at a Prison, an idea he had for over a year. Cash had shown interest in Folsom State Prison ever since his days with the armed service, a fixation that would later come to fruition with the track “Folsom Prison Blues.” Hence, destiny had a say in his performance at the Prison. The show Cash put on is often described as one of the rawest performances of all time, not holding back, letting it all out to those convicts. As the concert progressed, Cash decided to calm things down with some slow songs, including gems such as “The Wall” and “Send a Picture to Mom,” but none captured the sorrow such as “The Long Black Veil.” The track comes from a man wrongly accused of murder and executed. He even refuses to give an alibi that would save him, for the night of the killing he was sleeping with his best friend’s wife. We see a woman in a long, black veil, visiting his grave in the middle of the night, knowing that an innocent man lay there. The song gives a depressing image, one that Cash’s rough voice and guitar paint beautifully.

In a long black veil, she cries ov’re my bones”

10. Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground by Blind Willie Johnson (1927)

It is humorous how perhaps the most intimate song on this list has no lyrics at all. This painfully human track has but only two main contributors. One is a slide guitar Johnson taught himself how to play after his mother blinded him by throwing lye in his eyes. The second being the humming and moaning of Johnson himself, seeming to go on forever. The lack of lyrics makes this song that much more powerful, for there is not emotion Johnson wishes to convey, rather pure human expression. This song was chosen to be put on the Voyager Golden Record by NASA, with Timothy Farris giving an explanation as to why this blues track was included on the immortal voyage

“Johnson’s song concerns a situation he faced many times: nightfall with no place to sleep. Since humans appeared on Earth, the shroud of night has yet to fall without touching a man or woman in the same plight”.


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