Hey there Trauma fans! I have a traumafession from my youth involving country music. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, and my dad played in numerous local bands, both rock and country music. Because of this, my parents had a massive collection of vinyl. Some of it freaked me out, particularly three songs that I guess you could classify as southern gothic.The first was The Legend of Wooley Swamp, performed by the Charlie Daniels band, in which some local white trash (as described in the song) beat a swamp-dwelling old miser to death to collect his fortune, only for him to have his post-mortem revenge as they drowned in quicksand while making their escape. (Interestingly enough, I pictured the swamp looking the one where The Legion of Doom lived inside their Darth Vader’s head-shaped spacecraft)
The second was Kenny Rogers‘s song “The Hoodooin’ of Miss Fannie DeBerry,” in which the narrator recalls a woman from his youth who would walk down a road barefoot speaking in tongues and come home crying late at night. It is revealed she had gained immortality through a deal with the Devil, and that she might use it against the listener.
The third freaked me out to a lesser degree – “Somebody’s Knockin'” by Terri Gibbs, in which a woman sings that the Devil has come to her door to seduce her. It wasn’t the lyrics that freaked grade-school me out so much as her haunting voice and the thought of the Devil on one’s doorstep.
While these songs freaked me out, I was fascinated by them nonetheless, as they were a musical bridge between religious tracts I would sometimes come across and the nightmare-inducing horror comics I would buy at the drugstore. And yes, these songs sometimes had the same effect if I listened to them shortly before bedtime, conjuring images of swamps, revenge, voodoo, and the Prince of Darkness in my ten-year-old mind.
Dustin in Minnesota
LOVE this traumafession, Dustin!
Reminds me of being on a car trip as a kid, sitting in the back of the station wagon and hearing ” The Devil went down to Georgia” for the first time. creeped me out.
and although it’s a different “knocking on the door” song “Let him in” by WINGS scared the crap out of me as a kid too.
I get what you’re talking about. I think an all-time Country Kindertrauma should be “The Ode to Billie Joe” by Bobbie Gentry. Another would be “Swamp Witch” by Jim Stafford (ironically, having been married to Gentry). I would also add almost anything by Creedence Clearwater Revival, like “Born on the Bayou” or “”Green River”, and Bocephus’ “A Country Boy Can Survive”. I would recommend “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, but that is just the most depressing song (even George Jones said so).
I would lighten up by listening to H. P. Lovecraft’s song, “The White Ship”!
In fact, I’m creeped out by most of Wings repertoire (I guess I was unplugging from current music at the time) – no longer was I interested in meaningless “Silly Love Songs” – I’m still sorry for Uncle Albert…
“Ode to Billy Joe” for sure. And I don’t know what was going on “The Night the lights went out in Georgia” but that song worried me as a kid too.
And yep, I think I could do a entire post on the scary undercurrent of WINGS. They have multiple songs that fill me with a weird dread.
That’s the night they hung an innocent man. Don’t trust your soul to no backwoods southern lawyer. Don’t trust your soul to no backwoods Southern lawyer, Cause the judge in the town’s got bloodstains on his hands…Unk.
Was that Vicki Lawrence, or Harvey Korman?
Not exactly country, but “Angie Baby” by Helen Reddy belongs on this list! (As a man, “I am Woman” terrifies me as well)
Oh my goodness! I was just thinking about how creepy “Somebody’s Knockin'” is the other day! That was in the batch of country songs hitting the pop charts in the early 80s. Great traumafession, Dustin!
I wrote about this before, and I think I’m the only person in the world who feels this way, but the ultra soft-rock hit Summer Breeze by Seals & Croft (1972) has a tonal progression that always gives me the creeps. It has this syncopated, driving line that sounds rather accusatory followed by this saccharin, lilting passage. It just triggers something in my psyche that makes it feel like it’s hiding something dark and menacing behind a happy mask.
But the song that really, truly creeps me out is The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my favorite songs of all time, but the cook saying ‘its been good to know ya’ as the ship is sinking and they all know they’re going to die is as morbid as it gets.
Not far behind that is Wildfire by Michael Martin Murphy. Another of my all-time favorites but its surreal imagery about a ghost horse and its bizarre arrangement always gives me the chills. Still love it anyway!
My suspicion is that Wildfire ran out to join the wreckage of the Edmund Fitzgerald and its sailors, followed by Shannon the dog (the latter song resulting in a profanity-laced tirade by Casey Kasem).
…and the sound of Summer Breeze drove them there.
Wow I’m so glad this Traumafession popped up! I was just last week considering submitting my own regarding Dolly Parton’s “Me and Little Andy” but I didn’t remember ever seeing a musical trauma here and didn’t know if they were welcome. My mom had Dolly Parton’s Here You Come Again album and played it a lot when I was little. As kids we loved her voice and blend of country-pop. And we especially loved “Me and Little Andy” as it was about a little girl about our age. But the song, while wrapped in Dolly’s sugary vocals and playful backing track, is actually extremely bleak as it details poverty, child abuse and death. The ending especially sends shivers down my spine – the minor key wind chimes and Dolly’s whispered vocals. Chilling! I remember discussing this at school with my friends so I know I’m not the only one who was traumatized.
That’s on the same level of depressing as ‘Ruby’ by Kenny Rogers. A paralyzed war veteran is callously cheated on by his wife and he’d kill her if he could reach his gun. The worst part is that until I actually read the lyrics it sounded like an upbeat song.
Geoff, that is a strong candidate for the most depressing song ever. I’m not sure why they both died after I assume they were let in the house (accumulated physical trauma and hypothermia?), but her saccharine child’s voice creeps me out big time too. This reminds me of the sub-culture of old Christian music LPs, with many people missing arms or having hooks, little people, blind, Down’s Syndrome and addicts gracing their covers, but predominantly ventriloquists with dummies, and them singing in creepy kid’s voice (a segment that would make a great Kindertrauma).
Country music seems to have a long legacy of such tragic “downer” music, often macabre, such as old classics of “Wreck on the Highway” (blood and whiskey mingled at the wreck, and “they didn’t here nobody pray”), “The Kneeling Drunkard’s Prayer”, and the Louvin Brother’s classic, “Satan is Real”, with them pleading amongst a mass of burning tires (simulating Hell), and a cardboard cutout of the Devil beside them. Porter Wagner became famous for his “Skidrow Joe” song and character in further songs, who was tragic and unredeemable.
In general, isn’t it amazing that we always remember what scares, depresses, or otherwise disturbs us, the most over time, and what sticks with us? I guess that’s why they wrote the Greek and Shakespearian tragedies, for them to have a lasting impact. The good endings of fairy tales comfort us as children, but even the disturbing parts of them are what we remember later.
The first time I realized there are lots of creepy, cautionary, fire and brimstone style country songs was by way of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The Hitchhiker scene sparked it off for me.
One of the main offenders of intentionally scary and grim E.C. Comics style country hits has to be Porter Wagoner. Rubber Room, I Just Can’t Let You Say Good Bye, Carol Country Accident and The First Mrs. Jones were all written by a variety of song writers who knew that Porter would make their songs more cryptic and frightening in a Vincent Price type delivery. Willie Nelson, Bill Anderson and Waylon Jennings all contributed some of his most terrifying songs.