Nov 11, 2013

The 50 Best Songs by David Allan Coe

old photo of David Allan Coe wearing leather jacket and big belt buckle

I have no delusions that this post will create such waves as my post on what happened to the David Allan Coe band. However, this blog was not initiated as a theater of war. Baby Black Widows is to be a compendium of things I consider important in life. I felt it would be naive of myself to expect to be able to have such a public outlet without first discussing the situation with my father. I'm hoping that this post can serve as a segue toward this site's intended purpose, as well as clarify some things about my feelings toward my father.

On the 8th, I expressed my dismay at so many DAC shows having been derailed by his complaining at not having received the recognition he felt he deserved. Let me be clear, he DOES deserve that recognition. David Allan Coe has done some amazing things in his career. Earlier in the year, in response to all those superficial "Best David Allan Coe Songs" lists made by the kind of people who listen to Greatest Hits albums, I posted a list on Facebook of my Top Fifty DAC Songs. I'm going to post that again here, using the extra space to offer added commentary.

First though, some unsolicited advice for any who hope to pursue a career in music:

Do it because you have to do it or you will go crazy. Do not concern yourself with criticism or acclaim. You will receive both if you are creating anything worthwhile. Concern yourself with being worthwhile. Be worthy.

[I originally made a YouTube playlist for this post but the songs keep being removed due to copyrights stuff. Now they're linked to the albums on Amazon. Get these songs in your life. You'll thank me. Even though they are technically bootlegs, the Bear Family compilation records are the absolute best CD reproductions for fans: liner notes, song lyrics, bonus tracks, etc.]

Top Fifty David Allan Coe Songs

These are my 50 favorite songs by my father. In other words, this is a personal list. I'm not trying to objectively qualify these songs or anything so foolish as that. These are the songs that I would be most likely to sit around and listen to in my room alone:

50. "Actions Speak Louder Than Words" - I guess this was his advice for me and I guess I took it. I've never been one for much sitting around thinking or talking when I could be doing.

49. "A Country Boy (Who Rolled the Rock Away)" - Nobody sings about Hank better than DAC sings about Hank.

48. "Looking in the Mirror" - The first of several "cheating" songs on this list. You'll hear DAC go on and on about how he's the greatest writer of drinking songs in the world. Whether or not that's true, I find myself more impressed with his commentary on relationships. Whether narrating from the outside or singing from the perspective of cheater, cheated, man or woman, he pulls the reality of those situations right into focus.

47. "Rose Knows" - See? Another relationship gone wrong song. This one is interesting because it sets up another common lyrical theme, which is that of the person who has committed a wrongful act, knows it was wrong, may or may not be remorseful, knows they will be caught but does not take action to alter their course.

46. "A Sense of Humor" - Dad used to beat A LOT of asses... He tells a story about beating up a karate instructor, who then sued my father because "nobody wants to learn karate from a guy who got beat up by a hillbilly," which, in the story, prompted my father to beat him up again in the courtroom. Doubt that's true. Good story, though.

45. "Living on the Run" - The sound of the slide guitar in this is crazy. I sometimes find myself daydreaming about different cool production tricks to try when recording music. This song gave me the idea of doubling a slide guitar part with a kazoo. Still haven't tried that one...

44. "O Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie/Motherless Child" - This is so pure, which is particular because the production of these King Records sessions is not my favorite. 

43. "River" - If you're already familiar with this song and want to gain a new appreciation for it, watch Heartworn Highways, where my father goes to perform for the inmates at Tennessee State Prison. Singing a song about being in prison to men in prison put a fire into that performance.

42. "Free Born Ramblin' Man" - My father was almost a hippie. If he'd liked psychotropic drugs, it would have been a sure thing.

41. "Yesterday's Wine" - Stellar harmonies...

40. "So Tired of Honkytonk Angels & Wine" - This is particularly great because he wrote it at the beginning of his career and it's such a world-weary sentiment. Guess he didn't have much of a childhood...

39. "Tanya Montana" - Tanya's song got a better melody/steel part than mine. I'll never forgive her. Trivia: this is the only song for which my father ever made an official music video.

38. "A Satisfied Mind" - I'm pretty sure I like this recording of this song better than any other one. Actually, I could say the same thing of almost the entire Texas Moon album. 

37. "Wild Irish Rose" - There are a lot of stories about Pop Coe getting drunk and beating his wives and children, so this song is probably true. It's not pleasant. Some would say it's not something one should sing about. But it happened.

36. "Cold Turkey" - I realize this song could sound goofy to some but it is FUNK AS HELL. "OOH baby" Imagine Clarence Carter doing this song.

35. "Love Is a Never Ending War" - This is one of the first songs that was really interesting to me as a child. I have a distinct memory of watching the band run through this song over and over in soundcheck one day until the keyboard player figured out the part he should play after the first line in the chorus. I think the first time it happens in the album version is around the 2:15 point. 4 year-old me thought that part was awesome.

34. "Ride 'Em Cowboy" - An absolute pleasure to perform live. The imagery of the lyrics is so vivid. This really tells a story and makes something that's actually pretty stupid (rodeos) seem heroic and tragic.

33. "Lovin' You Comes So Natural" - Smooth hi-hat work. Very cool rhythm.

32. "What Can I Do" - It's all about that "could it be you?" stop.

31. "Southern Star" - How this wasn't a number one single I will never understand. Epitome of the era.

30. "Whiskey and Women" - The music sounds tough and swaggering, which makes it all the more effective when you realize the lyrics are about a guy who is suffering a pretty serious bout of anguish at the hands of a failed relationship.

29. "Revenge" - This is a very detailed story-song, which I usually don't like. The opening line is so strong that it carries the rest of the song, really. 

28. "Funeral Parlor Blues" - I'm always a fan of my father doing atypical things. His first album, Penitentiary Blues, betrays that he never really wanted to be just a "country" artist when he came to Nashville. But things have a way of panning out.

27. "Take It Easy Rider" - I love Guy Clark. I love Larry Jon Wilson.

26. "Under Rachel's Wings" - You can't touch this melody. It just evolves and evolves.

25. "Southern Man" - This is so weird and good and, honestly, somehow even more compelling than Neil Young's recording.

24. "Now I Lay Me Down to Cheat" - "...awwwww, but it crossed his...." DAC would throw a recitation into every song if he didn't have anyone there to talk him out of it.

23. "Ride Me Down Easy" - So many nights singing this on the bus, headed to the next town... That fiddle doesn't quit. This is, to me, a perfect example of my father hearing a great song, taking it and putting it in his pocket and saying, "That's mine now."

22. "Ice Cold Love" - I have seen people say this is the WORST David Allan Coe song. I don't get that at all. This song is amazing. Look at the album cover (Rough Rider). Okay, now imagine THAT DUDE going into a professional recording studio with a Casio keyboard and telling the session musicians they can sit this one out because he's got it all covered.

21 & 20. "Human Emotions"/"(She Finally Crossed Over) Love's Cheating Line" - These are one musical moment and flow together on the LP seamlessly. It's perfect. You can hear the Ray Charles influence so clearly. The melody of "she packed up her suitcase" gets stuck in my head on a regular basis. I would like to dedicate the second song to my horrible ex-girlfriend who (yeah, did cheat on me but also) said my father isn't a very good singer and mostly "just kind of talks." I broke up with her a couple days after she said that. And...

19. "I'm Gonna Hurt Her on the Radio" - This is the fantasy. She breaks your heart and you become rich and famous and she can't escape it.

18. "Honey Don't" - Rebel Son does a great cover of this live. I don't have any idea what all of the stuff about being a roadie for the devil is supposed to mean.

17. "Piece of Wood and Steel" - I still have trouble keeping this song and #14 apart because we'd always work them into a medley for the live show. I'm not a fan of the Marty Robbins background vocals on this recording but man is this song tough. When you're ten years deep into the life of a constantly touring musician, it's the only thing you can see, the only thing that matters. Your relationships fall away and you're left stripped down to one thing: your instrument. All you are is a guitar.

16. "Just to Prove My Love for You" - Pure novelty but done exactly right.

15. "I Hate Love" - This is a tough one to perform when it's the truth. There was a particularly rough period when I was extremely heartbroken and would end up sobbing during every show. This song was the one that did it most nights. Waylon & Willie add some flavor to this recording.

14. "She Used to Love Me a Lot" - The story here is actually pretty cruel. The narrator sees a woman who used to think he hung the moon and decides to see if he can get back in there for a night. Keep in mind we'd medley this with "Piece of Wood & Steel," so the narrator could be viewed as having sociopathic tendencies.

13. "Why You Been Gone So Long" - I love this recording but I gotta take this opportunity to let fellow Mickey Newbury fans know that Saint Cecilia Knows put together this Mickey box set that you absolutely must own. I hope to eventually write a piece dedicated to it. In the meantime, get it on Amazon (Drag City reissue): An American Trilogy

12. "Another Pretty Country Song" - I heard that this was the only song played at the funeral for the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd who died in that plane crash. I have no way of knowing if that's true but the song is a great debunker of how glamourous life on "the road" is supposed to be. Your family gets neglected and almost nobody knows who you are as a person but, hey, sweet jewelry.

11. "Rough Rider" - These lyrics are amazing. Guy walks into a bar thinking he's the man and the barmaid lets him know he's just a man.

10. "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)" - Written as wedding vows for my uncle's wedding. Jumpstarted Tanya Tucker's career when she was just a teenager. You might know that stuff but you probably don't know that Townes Van Zandt was convinced my father stole this melody from his song, "If I Needed You." The beginning of the melody (and only the beginning) is very close, I'll give him that. But my father always maintained that Townes was actually the one who stole the melody but (being a notorious blackout drunk) mistakenly thought it was the other way around. Both songs were written and performed publicly around the same time, so there's no real way to know who got to it first. And I love Townes' music but there's no question this is the better song.

09. "Ghost of Hank Williams" - Nobody sings about Hank better than DAC sings about Hank. Nobody.

08. "Got You On My Mind" - Back to the Texas Moon album again. These sad blues-y songs work so well with his deep voice. He can hum and that's all it takes. Side note: from playing Jimmy Reed's "Honest I Do" so much live, I always think it's on Texas Moon. The sad truth is that my father never recorded his version of it.

07. "Until Hell Freezes Over" - It's mostly tears from here on, boys and girls. If you haven't heard Living on the Edge, be very careful here. The album can absolutely destroy you if love hasn't panned out well in your life. Trivia: Bonnie "Prince" Billy recorded a cover of a different song from the album. I'll confess his albums have yet to "click" in place for me but I do like this cover and that it even exists is pretty interesting because the album was only ever available at the merch table of DAC concerts. Someone's a big fan.

06. "If This Is Just a Game" - Another shapeshifting melody. The keyboard parts are perfect.

05. "Crazy Mary" - Saddest narrative in any song I've heard in my life. I tracked down the folk singer who wrote the song and his version is nothing like this. The violin on this track is massive. This is one for a rainy day.

04. "A Sad Country Song" - This song is more about sad country songs than it is a sad country song itself but I like post-modern stuff.

03. "You Take My Breath Away" - Crippling, for very personal reasons and it wouldn't be fair to other people still living for me to explain.

02. "Spotlight" - This is the pinnacle of songs written about the life of a performing artist. Everything that nobody ever says and that Bob Dylan started trying to say to the media in the mid-'60s is right here, laid out in plain English. It's all just a matter of perspective.

01. "Pledging My Love" - Seriously, please, do not listen to this if you are having a hard time with a significant other. The intro about Johnny Ace committing suicide directly after recording his version of this song isn't exactly true and neither is it true that Johnny died playing Russian Roulette. But, hey, they didn't have the Internet when my father heard the story. His version of it, though, is what I've known for most of my life and certainly affects my reaction to the song. It haunts me, the idea of a man writing these words and then killing himself because it rings so true, even though it isn't at all.

Thank you for your time. Are there any questions?



  1. Guess I'm not as much of a DAC fan as I thought. There's a lot of songs on that list that I need to do a search for. Thanks for putting it together. -das

    1. Thanks for reading! Hope you are able to find the ones you haven't heard yet.

    2. Anonymous4:30 PM

      Please continue this great work and I look forward to more of your awesome blog posts. Jim

  2. Shale Miller8:06 AM

    Spotlight is one of my top five... Actually got to see him sing it once in Clifton Park NY.. My wife did not feel good and went to the car. I stayed and heard one of the best shows of his i've ever saw. I envy you in that you have had the experience you've had, and i understand how you feel and i'm sure a lot of people do. you are young and still have time to make your own name, take away from this last 15 years the knowledge you learned from a master, both his good traits and bad.. try to mend the relationship before he's gone. you don't need to play in his band to be a good son, and you don't need to get along with his wife either. i look forward to seeing where life takes your talent.

  3. Love this one !

    22. "Ice Cold Love"

  4. Anonymous12:21 PM

    Tyler, personal BS and family drama aside, I hope a young man such as yourself who has been at the heart and soul of the fantastic music your dad has made over the years; and actually "gets it", can do something artistically similar going forward. Of course, only if that is what you want to do with your life.There is such a void in the music business for what your dad did. People will need that honesty and diversity going forward for decades to come. Meanwhile, I still hang on to what he has given us, daily.

  5. I agree with everything on your list.....most everything on the Columbia albums were great stuff....he didn't use filler or covers of other people's hits, as was the norm for country artists....he has lots to be proud of, and the fact that he still has such loyal fans should let him know that.....the business end he had no control over....I don't think Johnny Paycheck gave him his due, but look at all the songwriters that write Top 40 hits, but are never known to most of the public...nothing is fair in life but the weather, and that's only some of the your blog...have a great day

  6. Anonymous5:54 PM

    50. cell #33
    49. Crazy Mary (I find DAC's MUCH superior to the original)
    48. River
    47. 33rd Of August
    46. I Still Sing The Old Songs
    45. Old Grey Goose Is Dead (man, this old traditional tune, when they get to rockin' is damn near "punk rock" soundin' in parts - to ME at least. Always loved it. I remember an epidose of the "Andy Griffith Show" and Otis was drunk and crying and Andy kept saying "what's wrong Otis" and he said "The Old Grey Goose Is Dead", haha)
    44. Jody Like A Melody
    43. Piece Of Wood & Steel
    42. Longhaired Redneck
    41. Revenge
    40. Living On The Run
    39. Family Reunion
    38. RnR Holiday
    37. Free Born Rambling Man
    36. Spotlight
    35. Willie, Waylon & Me
    34. A Sense Of Humor
    33. Laid Back & Wasted
    32. These Days (another case of DAC taking someone else's tune and making it his own - and BETTER. That ending - "don't confront me with my failures, I have not forgotten them" with that guitar lead/outro is just chill-bump inducing man)
    31. Why You Been Gone So Long
    30. Mary Magdeline (LOVE the lyrics to this tune - WAY "underheard/under-rated DAC song IMO)
    29. Ride Me Down Easy
    28. Canteen Of Water (I must admit, I was just a wee bit broken-hearted, for some reason, when I found out that this was originally a Jay Bolotin song - I've never been able to track down the original version - did Jay ever record it himself?)
    27. Suicide
    26. Honey Don't (I'm a total sucker for the upbeat, chicken-picken including sorta tunes like this - much like "F'n in the Butt" - forget the raunchy lyrics, that song ROCKS man)
    25. Heads Or Tails
    24. Seven Mile Bridge
    23. Great Nashville Railroad Disaster (LOVE this tune - Frank Black later put out a song called "The St. Francis Damn Disaster" and it always put me in mind of this tune, the way both tunes tell about a tragic historical event so well)
    22. The Ride
    21. She Used To Love Me A Lot (anybody that can't relate to the words to this one, well, I just don't know what to say...)
    20. Ghost Of Hank Williams (genius, I think I like this one even more than "The Ride" personally)
    19. The Only Thing Missing Was You
    18. It's Too Late Now
    17. The Devil Was To Blame (if you haven't noticed, I REALLY like "1990 Songs For Sale" - too bad more folks aren't more familiar with some of those tunes, as I could have easily included several more)
    16. Heaven Only Knows (brilliant)
    15. Nothing To Lose
    14. If That Ain't Country (original)
    13. If That Ain't Country Pt. II (Live @ B.Bobs)
    12. Time Off For Bad Behavior
    11. When I Was A Young Man
    10. Will You Remember Me (I REALLY dig the "Live @ B.Bob's tunes - your dad, IMO, was "on" that night)

    (I just can't go below 40 because I already know of at least 20 songs I did not include above - and of course, I left out anything from "Nothing Sacred" or "Underground" - when in reality, there's no reason to. The language on those records neither amuses me anymore - like it did when I was 14 - nor does it bother/offend me personally, but that's just me - I just think that some of those tunes and some of the pickin' on those 2 records is legendary and I LOVE the "raw" production of both records).

  7. Anonymous5:55 PM

    (cont.) I remember back in, I think it was 2003, I handed you (Tyler) a CD after the DAC show. I HIGHLY doubt you or anyone else ever bothered listening to it (which of course, I have no problem with, I was pretty "gone" by shows end, but I know you guys likely don't have time to screw around listening to some damn CD some stranger hands to you) - anyhow, it was me playing a SHITLOAD of your dad's songs, a lot of deeper cuts and what-not, many of the tunes in my list above, just acoustic/ frills. The hard drive that stuff was on is now on a computer that has long since crapped out and I get requests from people to this day for a copy of those damn sessions. A lot of folks just simply liked hearing those tunes in their most basic form, I suppose (and the truth is, they ARE REALLY GOOD in their most basic form). Someday, I'll get that HD out and grab all that stuff off of it again.

    Good list Tyler, nice to see you choose some of the "deeper" cuts that a lot of folks I don't think are quite as familiar with.

  8. hey Tyler you're a good writer. And this list is great thank you, I hadn't heard some of these and I've been a huge fan of your dad for some time.

    1. Thank you, Joe. I'm glad you found some new things here.

  9. I was a bit surprised by your mention of Rebel Son. I'm not sure why I was.
    How often do you sit back and listen to David Allan Coe?
    Thank you for sharin' your favorites. I had forgotten a few of those, and it was nice to refresh my memory.

    1. Rebel Son was always one of my favorite bands to play with. I knew it would be a good night when they were on the bill.

      The past few years, I've become a binge listener - nothing but Jesus and Mary Chain for months, nothing but Bob Dylan for months, etc. There are sometimes DAC binges.

  10. Anonymous11:55 AM

    This such a good list. It's nice to see some lesser known songs get recognized. Bossier City is another great one, and DAC's cover of Please Come To Boston is far superior to any other versions.

  11. Anonymous8:50 PM

    "It's A Fairytale Morning..The Ocean Looks Turquoise.....As It It Was Painted That Way...."
    Meme C.

  12. Anonymous3:08 AM

    Everything you listed have been on my list as well. "Southern Star" should have been a number one single. "Looking In The Mirror", "Until Hell Freezes Over" & "Ice Cold Love" are brilliant songs. Back in the '70's and 80's, David was a brilliant showman. Probably one of the best I've ever witnessed. I always walked away from his concerts satisfied and ready for the next. One reason I always found a way to get his records played on the radio when I was a country radio personality. I hate you aren't with him anymore. I enjoyed watching you two together. I hope you don't give up on music. I'm glad to see your sister on the artist route. I think she could really be someone to watch. What I've heard of "Silver Bullet" blew me away.

  13. Tyler, thank you for the list - it makes for a very interesting read. I love your father's music and don't think I could choose my top 50, though I do know that you've missed out four of my absolute favourites (Just Divorced, When She's Got Me Where She Wants Me, Bad Impressions, Voices - and there are so many others!)

    I travelled from the UK to Iowa to see DAC in 2012 and he blew me away. I got to meet him before the show and mentioned my love for Bad Impressions; he added to the set list for the show and did a stint of impressions of other country stars. He was incredible.

    My dad is a long-term fan of your dad. He heard What Made You Change Your Mind on London Country Radio in the 80's and quickly ran to a London record store where they had Invictus Means Unconquered in stock (amazingly for London!) and he loved every single track. On the same radio station, he heard DAC singing a song with the lyric "I've been to Saigon" and he's tried to track it down for years since to no avail. Please, if you know the song we mean, would you help us find it?!

    Thank you!

    1. I believe that song is called "Freedom in the Yard." I don't know if he ever recorded it.

    2. Anonymous3:32 PM

      Unkle Bobs fav. Heaven Only Knows. Got me back with my daughte

  14. Hi Tyler. I've been a huge fan of your dad's songs for decades. I still don't know why SO many of his songs were not country radio staples back in the day. Songs like, "A Sad Country Song," "This Bottle(In My Hands)," "Now I Lay Me Down To Cheat," "Face to Face" among SO many others. I mean DANG! If THAT ain't country... ...but I am a singer/guitarist myself who knows more DAC tunes than my whole family has fingers & toes to count on. I am actually the Dallas Moore Band's original bassist before Bob Rutherford joined & I had shared the stage with DAC a couple times when he stepped out to sing Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See" with us. Both times he walked out & stepped up to that mic gave me chills. I hear he has very recently hired some rather shitty Cincinnati area musicians for his band which kind of disturbs me. When we opened for him, his band was really not great (mid 90's era). I would love the opportunity to be in his band if I could.

  15. Thanks for the great list that has me doing a deeper dig. The version of Wood & Steel on my record has the Jordanaires singing backing vocals, what album has Marty Robbins singing backing vocals?

  16. Great list..but I have to include a couple of my favorites "Atlanta Song" "Mississippi Woman" "West Virginia Man" "Walkin Bum"

  17. Anonymous9:54 PM

    Some might think im crazy but I would have West Virginia Man in my top ten at least. I love that song. And Harley Someday is another that although simple lyrics I think many can relate to it.

  18. Tyler - thanks for the list! I started listening to your dad in 1974... Hey I absolutely love "another pretty country song" - that classic line, "I've got to take a drink to keep from shaking". Wow! It intrigued me at first in my early drinking years, then later I knew what it meant in real life. Powerful song, powerful words about living on the road and falling prey to your own demons. Another one of my personal favorites that didn't make your list is "Alabama Song". Just love that song! I love DACs version of Jody like a melody as well... I could go on and on... Thanks again

  19. I just discovered your dad's music for myself a couple of weeks ago. I've really enjoyed obsessing over this list. Thank you Tyler!