Celebrities Sing Country: Part 2
Here's another installment of "Celebrities Sing County," this time mostly focusing on television actors who released country songs, although somehow both a poet and an Olympic skier managed to sneak in.
1. "Flop Eared Mule," Andy Griffith
A bit like "Prairie Home Companion" host Garrison Keillor, Andy Griffith wasn't a professional singer, but rather someone who liked to sing. He had a few film roles that required singing, notably "A Face in the Crowd," which he handled capably enough. But Griffith gave himself ample opportunity to break out a guitar and sing old-timey country songs on "The Andy Griffith Show," where he forever seemed to be breaking out a guitar and warbling his way through a song on the porch.
There's a version of the old fiddle song "Flop Eared Mule" that's easy to locate from streaming music services, and it's either taken from an episode of Griffith's show or is a perfect reproduction of it. The song features a fine bluegrass arrangement and country gospel chorus, and Andy Griffith sounding exactly like Andy Griffith.
2. "I'm Gonna Be a Country Boy," Noel Harrison
Noel Harrison was an interesting fellow, having been both the son of Rex Harrison and am Olympic skier before going on to working as a nightclub entertainer at the legendary countercultural hungry i club in San Francisco. He had a long career in musical theater, and released more than a few albums, even charting a few times, especially with "The Windmills of Your Mind" from the soundtrack to "The Thomas Crown Affair."
Here he provides a petty number over a samba guitar, singing about leaving the city to work in the country, which seems to him as somehow a more natural lifestyle to him. He's not entirely convincing however — the song features what can only be described as a garage band guitar solo, making it sound less like he has returned to the country and more like he took a tab of acid and became convinced that a nearby window planter is a multi-acre farm.
3. "Allentown Jail," Rod McKuen
Poet Rod McKuen also has a second career as a singer/songwriter, which he was a bit obsessive about, writing more than 1,500 songs in his life. Additionally, he was surprisingly catholic about his music, producing everything from lounge songs to Halloween novelty songs.
So it's no surprise that in 1963, right in the middle of the folk craze, McKuen partnered with a mixed choral outfit called The Horizon singers for an album titled "There's a Hoot Tonight" and composed of the sorts of songs every aspiring folksinger memorized on their way to the East Village. Include is "Allentown Jail," a faux folk song by Irving Gordon about a diamond thief singing from jail. McKuen's version makes the song sound like a cowboy ballad, with frantically strummed guitar and the Horizon Singers offering distant, heavily reverbed wordless vocals in the background, like a distant desert wind.
4. "Gomer Says Hey!," Jim Nabors
Andy Griffith alum Jim Nabors has an impressive, operatic voice, but this song is an example of a trend I adore and miss: The television show tie-in song. There used to be a lot of these, such as "Do the Lurch," a rock and roll dance number performed by Ted Cassidy, the cadaverous butler on "The Addams Family."
"Gomer Says Hey" is from an album of "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C."-themed song, so Nabors sings in character in his dim, cheerful country persona from the show. The song isn't really a country song, but rather a Bubblegum pop song, but with Nabors singing in a thick North Carolina accent, it can't help but sound a little country. The song tells of a series of life complications, including the US cold war with Russian, that is resolved by Gomer Pyle simply rising and saying "Hey, hey hey!"
5. "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," Leonard Nimoy
Like fellow "Star Trek" castmember William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy put out a series of albums. Shatner's received a lot more attention because, rather than sing, he simply recited the songs with rather typical Shatner histrionics.
Nimoy sang, sounding like someone's hip uncle who always shows up at parties with a guitar. Here he tackles Mel Tillis's sensitive song about a disabled vet and his complicated relationship with his cheating wife. The song always had a unpleasant twist in which the narrator wishes he could murder the woman — an unfortunately common theme in country music — and it's a bit weird to hear the actor who played Spock suddenly seethe with murderous jealousy.
6. "Long Lonesome Highway," Michael Parks
Michael Parks was a superb actor who, later in his career, was a favorite of both Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez (he appears in films by both as Texas Ranger Earl McGraw). Early in his career, PArks starred in a legendary counter-cultural television show called "Then Came Bronson," telling of a newspaper man who drops out to ride his motorcycle around the country.
"Long Lonesome Highway" was the closing theme to the show, sung by Parks — he had a small but impressive career as a recording artist. Of everyone on this list, Parks was the most genuinely talented singer, with a high, sweet voice that is well-matched to the acoustic, country tinged theme song here. It's a song of finding freedom on the open road, and, to hear Parks sing it, it's the easiest, finest thing in the world.