How Country Music Sees Life: Lots of Drinking and Lost Loves

The Washington Post had a Sunday piece on Billy Joe Shaver, calling him “the original country-music outlaw” and including these lines from one of his songs:

The devil made me do it the first time.

The second time I done it on my own.

Then came this week’s obits on Gregg Allman with some of his better lines, including:

My father was a gambler down in Georgia.

He wound up on the wrong end of a gun.

And I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus rollin’ down Highway 41.

Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man.

One of the best short pieces the Washingtonian ever ran was a collection of country music lines put together by Larry Sons and Doug Todd. At the time, in 1980, Sons was a Dallas advertising executive and Todd was public relations director of the Dallas Cowboys.

The story’s head, “The worst you ever gave me was the best I ever had,” was one of the lines. Some of the others, many about lost love or the bottle:

I’m going to put a bar in my car and drive myself to drink.

I don’t mind getting burned if I can just be near the glow.

My wife ran off with my best friend, and I miss him.

I don’t know whether to kill myself or go bowling.

When I’m alone I’m in bad company.

I wouldn’t take you to a dog fight even if I thought you could win.

I’ll be under the table when I get over you.

I’ve never had a thing that ain’t been used.

The bridge washed out, I can’t swim, and my baby’s on the other side.

I’ve been a long time leaving, but I’ll be a long time gone.

When the phone don’t ring you’ll know it’s me.

If you can fake it I might make it.

Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone.

A sad song don’t care whose heart it breaks.

For better or for worse, but not for long.

If you want to keep the beer real cold, put it next to my ex-wife’s heart.

The devil is a woman and she wears a short red dress.

Country music doesn’t often get into politics but a few lines seem timely:

There’s no use running if you’re on the wrong road.

You can’t make a heel toe the mark.

Hey, Barnum and Bailey, can you use another clown?

It wouldn’t be so bad if it hadn’t been so good.

(Copyediting note: The Post had that second Billy Joe Shaver line as “The second time I done it in on my own.” The online version of the story still has it wrong.)


  1. John Corcoran says

    As the list shows us, country music has bestowed upon us some of the most gawdawful lyrics ever written–only occasionally with tongue planted firmly in cheek. But as you noted in the Shaver and Allman lyrics, country music does produce some evocative and captivating lyrical images–many I believe as good as any in pop music..
    Two of my favorite examples include a song associated with the incomparable Waylon Jennings and WIllie Nelson.

    “Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas
    With Willie and Waylon and the boys
    This successful life we’re livin’s got us feudin’
    Like the Hatfield and McCoys
    Between Hank Williams’ pain songs
    And Jerry Jeff’s train songs and Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain
    Out in Luckenbach, Texas there ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain

    Songwriters: Bobby Emmons and Chips Moman

    A songwriter named Pat McDili wrote this masterpiece:

    “I can still hear the soft southern winds in the live oak trees
    And Those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me,
    Hank and Tennessee.
    I guess we’re all gonna be what we’re gonna be,
    So what do you do with good ol’ boys like me?”

    Keep them writing, I guess…

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