When You Hear This Song : Mickey Newbury’s “Sings His Own”

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Andy Moreno talks about how after years of unsuccessful flirting she and 20th century country music cult hero Mickey Newbury finally got together via his 1972 album Sings His Own

It’s all about timing. Sometimes years go by before a seemingly perfect song actually achieves it’s moment in the spotlight, or a truly gifted musician gets their deserved day in the sun… or we as individuals arrive at a point where we can finally appreciate a particular artist’s music. My Palentine Hope says we all receive when we’re ready to hear it. I believe this is true and it speaks to just how multi-dimensional music can be, as well as profound.

It might happen globally on occasion, like how the song “Season of the Witch” has recently resonated with a vast number of the general population (or at least movie music supervisors). I feel like I’ve heard it used in at least the last 4 films I’ve watched. Filmmakers have the ability to really highlight songs when showcased in this way, and in this case I have to admit, it consistently packed a punch and made me reconsider my past opinions of ol’ Donovan. The song didn’t necessarily gain strength over time, we just moved toward it and met it where it lived. I believe this was the case for me.

My mate had been pushing Mickey Newbury’s 1971 album Frisco Mabel Joy on me for years, literally decades, to no avail; I just couldn’t get into him. On first, second or umpteenth listen. His voice was not appealing and I wasn’t hearing lyrics that moved me in any way. Frankly, he just sounded like some old guy I wouldn’t like if I met him.

Mickey made his move into my life early, in secret. I’ve always absolutely loved Kenny Rogers and The First Edition’s, Just Dropped In because who doesn’t ? That particular love began the minute I first heard it on the radio, when I was around 6 or 7. I vaguely recall choreographing my own impromptu dance routine to that song in my Mom and Dad’s room involving a mid-song costume change to high heels. Years later, for reasons unknown, I had a tendency to call people late at night and sing it to them while inebriated. This was pre-Big Lebowski but I may have done it post as well. I didn’t find out until years later that Mickey Newbury was the actual songwriter, the same guy I’d been shoving away for so long. I’d also at some point fallen deeply, desperately in love with Linda Ronstadt’s Silk Purse album, specifically the song “Are My Thoughts With You”. I wanted to crawl inside that song and sleep in it at night. Guess who wrote it…yup, Newbury did. After finding out these were his words, it became clear the universe was guiding me to this man.

And so last year as a gift, I purchased a sealed copy of Mickey Newbury’s 1972 album Sings His Own for my husband, not knowing it’s history. We played it early one morning with coffee. I figured I’d let him gush over it until the end of side two at which point I would throw on Sturgill Simpson and be done with it. But he didn’t gush. He was unimpressed. I on the other hand found myself wanting to hear it again after first listen. And then again and again, unable to refrain, as if reaching for more chips. My husband left for work and I kept on playing it, both sides, something I rarely do except when I need a particular song to serve as an emotional crutch for a bit and repeated listening is necessary to ride out a storm. But this repeat play was strictly for pleasure. I found myself at the wide open door of Mickey Newbury’s music and willingly walked right in. I truly fell in love with this album. When “Sweet Memories” plays I often stand up for the refrain like that lady in church, one hand up, head down, sometimes moved to swaying. I’m not embarrassed to say it usually ends with me bawling giant tears.

I read that Mickey was very unhappy with his debut album Harlequin Melodies and considered his sophomore effort Looks Like Rain to be his real first album. And several of the songs off the former were simply repackaged for his third release, the aforementioned Sings His Own. While I agree the debut album doesn’t offer the best representation of him, I find the production surprisingly entertaining with it’s echoey distractions and sound effects. While I kind of get his dissatisfaction, it’s refreshing sometimes to hear these “imperfections” and I think some of the flowery bits actually made him more palatable, at least for me, and help build up some tolerance for the overall “manliness” on display.

I get goosebumps listening to him ride that giant vocal wave in “Time is A Thief”. Yet on “Got Down on Saturday”, which could have been “Just Dropped In’s” little brother, you can hear some “errors”. His golden voice sounds strained, plus the very end of the song hits you sideways and seems out of place….still I love it! It makes me nostalgic for the beloved shortcomings and imperfections of the ’70s.

Okay, on the downside, when he decides to whistle, it hits you right in the back of your throat. I’ve never trusted men who could whistle perfectly like that and there seemed to be a lot of them in the ’70s. And he wasn’t what you would call polished judging by his TV appearances especially this one where he throws Kris Kristofferson under the bus, not once but twice. But he ultimately redeems himself during that same guest spot with his performance of “An American Trilogy” when he slopes down and moans “ hush little baby, don’t you cry”, a stark reminder that an artist’s work can elevate beyond their mortal condition. Just as Whitney Houston took Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” to giant new heights, Elvis’s rendition of “An American Trilogy” went from being a Newbury song to being The King’s signature showstopper at his own live shows.

And when I hear the Townes Van Zandt intonations in their co-write “The Queen” you have to wonder who influenced who ? But ultimately Mickey’s marks it as his own by closing it out with his trademark howl.

His personal story is another good example of the raw ’70s, when it didn’t always flow well for an ultra talented songwriter, when they didn’t get all the lucky breaks. When drinking and lack of a proper publicist could keep you down for years. It’s interesting to see how it happened for some but not others during that same era, regardless of how gifted they were. My guess is he was not willing to play the game at all, even though his music could have neatly fit him into the “outlaw country” scene that was gaining popularity at the time …which I guess speaks to his integrity and may be one of the reasons, beyond his gift, that he’s respected by so many musicians.

He wraps it up for me on “Weeping Annaleah”, when he burns;

But when yesterday becomes a memory
A memory that we uncovered in time
If you still remember that cold December
I reigned in your mind
Sleeping Annaleah, weeping Annaleah
Then you’d be ready for me

 

  1 comment for “When You Hear This Song : Mickey Newbury’s “Sings His Own”

  1. March 23, 2020 at 7:16 pm

    Thank you. I had no idea who Mickey Newbury was before reading this. I am enlightened to say the least. And how Ironic you touched upon Kenny Rogers and the First Edition doing his song “Just Dropped In”.

    Like

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