After a battle with COVID-19, folk and Americana icon John Prine passed away on Tuesday. This is Local Spins’ musical tribute to one of the country’s most influential artists.
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Strangely enough, I first discovered the music of John Prine through John Denver.
One of my best friends in high school, Tony Tague, was a huge Denver devotee, so when we’d get together to play as a duo in my basement, we’d often test out songs from Denver’s albums.
And because Denver covered “Spanish Pipedream,” “Paradise” and “Angel from Montgomery” on his albums “Aerie,” “Rocky Mountain High” and “Farewell Andromeda,” that was my first exposure to Prine’s inspiring, insightful and rootsy lyrics.
In college, I finally borrowed John Prine’s self-titled debut album from a friend and found myself completely mesmerized by every track on the vinyl LP. Overnight, I became a lifelong fan and I was rarely disappointed by anything that this legendary Illinois songwriter produced over his 50-year career.
As a tunesmith, his influence was immeasurable. My band, The Honeytones, has covered several Prine songs over the years and musicians everywhere know the power of his music. In fact, a super-group of Michigan musicians – Seth Bernard, Mark Lavengood, Max Lockwood, Dan Rickabus, Michael Beauchamp and others — has regularly toured a “Prine Time” tribute to the icon.
I helped organize a John Prine Tribute at SpeakEZ Lounge myself last year.
“His repertoire is so expansive and cuts through to the core of human emotions,” Lavengood marvels. Bernard has called John Prine “a breath of fresh air, a voice of reason and sanity. He’s like Woody Guthrie and John Stewart mixed together.”
Prine passed away Tuesday after a battle with COVID-19. In memory of this Americana, folk and country giant, I’ve expanded my longstanding John Prine playlist to 20 songs with some remarks about each one below. Give it a listen. I’m pretty sure that if you’re not already a fan, you will be by the time the last note fades out.
Rest in peace, Mr. Prine. We will never forget you. And when you “get to heaven,” shake God’s hand and start that rock ‘n’ roll band.
JOHN PRINE: THE LOCAL SPINS PLAYLIST
1. “Sam Stone” (1971) – “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes …” To this day, I’m nearly brought to tears every time I hear this sad tale of a drug-addicted war veteran.
2. “Storm Windows” (1980) – Floating a bit under the radar, this title track is filled with melancholy and unfulfilled dreams – and a touch of hopefulness: “Don’t let your baby down.”
3. “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)” (1978) – Perfectly crafted and structured lyrics paint unforgettable images in the mind’s eye of an altar boy “hit by a local commuter just from walking with his back turned to the train that was coming so slow.” Sometimes, we all get “wrapped up in a trap” of our very own chain of sorrow.
4. “That’s the Way the World Goes Round” (1978) – A great example of Prine’s ability to poke fun at the human condition. One of my absolute favorites of all time. “It’s a Big Old Goofy World” has a similar vibe.
5. “Paradise” (1971) – One of Prine’s most-covered songs, this commentary on the ravages of strip mining for coal was written for his father. Eternally catchy.
6. “All the Best” (1991) – Inspired by the split from his wife at the time, Prine once quipped that after his second divorce, “the song truck pulled up and a dumped a bunch of great songs on my lawn.”
7. “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore” (1971) – In his own way, this clever country ditty was one of Prine’s anti-war protest songs. And it still holds up today.
8. “Six O’Clock News” (1971) – Like No. 7, this tragic story, sadly, still resonates today.
9. “Lake Marie” (1995) – From the album, “Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings,” Prine’s live version of this fable alone is worth the price of admission.
10. “Angel from Montgomery” (1971) – This song has grown in stature over the years, covered by many artists and revered by many more. (Bonnie Raitt’s duet with Prine is a gem.)
11. “I Hate it When That Happens to Me” (2005) – Written with Donnie Fritts for Prine’s 2005 album, “Fair & Square,” this ballad reflects Prine’s amazing ability to reflect the common plight of the common man.
12. “Illegal Smile” (1971) – Another protest song of sorts that many would likely move up on their lists. And the refrain makes for a great drinking song/sing-along.
13. “In Spite of Ourselves” (1999) – The title track from Prine’s 13th album is a classically goofy Prine love song and features Iris DeMent. Irresistible.
14. “Dear Abby” (1973) – As someone who grew up with a Dear Abby advice column in my local newspaper, this ditty simply made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it and still makes me chuckle.
15. “Spanish Pipedream” (1971) – An engaging tale of life as only John Prine can tell, with a simple, terrific message to boot.
16. “Pretty Good” (1971) – Yup, another song from Prine’s genius debut album. You could say it’s not just pretty good. It’s very good.
17. “Sweet Revenge” (1973) – The title track from album No. 3: “Sweet revenge will prevail without fail.”
18. “Some Humans Ain’t Human” (2005) – Hard to say exactly who inspired Prine to write this (although there is reference to a past president), but it could apply, unfortunately, to lots of folks: “Some humans ain’t human, some people ain’t kind, you open up their hearts and here’s what you’ll find: A few frozen pizzas, some ice cubes with hair, a broken Popsicle, you don’t want to go there.”
19. “Hello In There” (1971) – I found this to be a poignant, incredibly sweet sentiment about aging when I was a teenager and I find it even more touching now.
20. “When I Get to Heaven” (2018) – He’s there. And he’s probably already opened “a nightclub called The Tree of Forgiveness,” forgiven anyone whose done him harm and smoked a cigarette that’s nine miles long. Yes, as he put it so profoundly, this old man is goin’ to town.
LOCAL SPINS’ JOHN PRINE PLAYLIST ON SPOTIFY
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