John Prine – John PrineAtlantic, 1971
Acquired: Half Price Books, Used, 2012
The first half of John Prine’s debut LP has been the highlight of my year. In a time when my life is in a sort of upheavel, filled with demands to find a real job, prepare for child rearing, and generally figuring out what the hell it is I want to do with my life, John Prine’s songwriting has put my troubled mind at ease. Granted, I’ve got First World Problems, but then again, John Prine is singing for people with those sorts of problems.
This recent discovery is naturally aided to the Justin Vernon curated Prine tribute Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows. That was the point, I suppose. The expose a generation of youngsters who dig on Bon Iver, My Morning Jacket, the Avett Brothers, Conner Oberst, Lambchop and a handful of other terrific artists who populate the soundscape of modern Americana. Best of all, I was falling in love with this excellent compilation at work. On the clock. Getting paid. Granted, I was pricing a thousand CDs and LPs, but this one made the days that much brighter. When I read Vernon’s liner notes, I noticed he made reference to a compilation of Prine’s work called Great Days, and I remembered I’d just priced the damn thing like a week prior! So I took that home, ripped it to the computer, and then spent the next month immersed at home, in the car, and at work in John Prine’s genius.
It’s an outrage that John Prine isn’t more famous than he is. I think that was probably the point the tribute album set out to prove. A sort of “All of us love this guy’s songs, why don’t more people know who the hell this guy is?” It’s baffling, really. Especially after listening to the first half of this album. About half the songs on this were on either Great Days or Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows and the rest—like the brilliantly hilarious anti-war song “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”—are absolute quality jams. He’s a brilliant storyteller, which is why his recycling of melodies and chord progressions is wholly forgivable. Overall though, it’s the chorus for “Spanish Pipedream” that really won me. Like heart and soul, made me a fan. That moment where he sings “Blow up your TV/ Throw away your paper/ Go to the country/ Build you a home/ Plant a little garden/ Eat a lot of peaches/ Try to find Jesus on your own.” It’s solid gold, and even more golden that the words are being delivered by a stripper delivers to a soldier on his way to Montreal.
In short: Get this record (Read: See if any of your friends have this album and have them burn you a copy, but keep an eye out at used record stores). These songs might have the most heart and wit of any songs I’ve ever heard. Notably “Sam Stone,” the story of a veteran who returns from Vietnam and the only way he can cope with civilian life is heroin (“there’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes”). That and “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore” definitely date this album to the 70s, but like any great anti-war song they’re just as potent today as they were for the wars they were written about. Dylan said the times were a-changin’ but maybe they haven’t. Or maybe they are, we’re just a-changin’ at a snails pace and either way, the stuff John Prine was singing about on this album over 40 years ago is the sort of shit normal folks deal with every single day in 2012 and to conquer timelessness in an album is a little miracle these days.