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The Road To Fort Worth

Read » Chapter 8: Danville


Country Music: Same Melody, Different Lyrics

It's a unique occurrence when the same melody is used for a hymn and four country songs. The following songs share the same melody:

1. Thrills That I Can't Forget, recorded by Welby Toomey and Edgar Boaz in 1925.

2. I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes, recorded by The Carter Family in 1929.

3. The Great Speckled Bird, recorded by Roy Acuff in 1936.

4. The Wild Side Of Life, recorded by Hank Thompson in 1952.

5. It Wasn't God Who Made Honkey Tonk Angels, recorded by Kitty Wells in 1952.

1. Thrills That I Can't Forget

No reference to the melody can be found prior to its use by Welby Toomey and Edgar Boaz in 1925 when they recorded the song Thrills That I Can't Forget for Gennett Records. It is not known if they wrote the melody or if it was a traditional tune played by prior generations.

2. I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes

The Carter Family was a traditional American folk music group that recorded between 1927 and 1956. Their music had a profound impact on bluegrass, country, Southern Gospel, pop and rock musicians as well as on the U.S. folk revival of the 1960s. They were the first vocal group to become country music stars. Their recordings of songs such as Wabash Cannonball, Can the Circle Be Unbroken, Wildwood Flower, Keep On the Sunny Side and I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes (below) made them country standards.1

'Twould been better for us both had we never
In this wide and wicked world had never met,
But the pleasure we both seemed to gather
I'm sure, love, I'll never forget.

Chorus
Oh, I'm thinking tonight of my blue eyes
Who is sailing far over the sea
I'm thinking tonight of my blue eyes
And I wonder if he ever thinks of me

Oh, you told me once, dear, that you loved me;
You vowed that we never would part
But a link in the chain has been broken
Leaving me with a sad and aching heart

When the cold, cold grave shall enclose me
Will you come near and shed just one tear?
Will you say to the strangers around you
A poor heart you have broken lies here?

The Carter Family Recording


3. The Great Speckled Bird

The Great Speckled Bird is a Southern hymn whose lyrics were written by the Reverend Guy Smith. The hymn is based on Jeremiah 12:9: "Is My inheritance like a speckled bird of prey to Me? Are the birds of prey against her on every side? Go, gather all the beasts of the field, Bring them to devour!" The song was recorded in 1936 by Roy Acuff. It was later recorded by Johnny Cash and Kitty Wells (both in 1959), Hank Locklin (1962), Lucinda Williams (1978), Bert Southwood (1990), Marion Williams, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

The connection between these songs is noted in the David Allan Coe song If That Ain't Country that ends with the lyrics "I'm thinking tonight of my blue eyes/ And finding the great speckled bird/ I didn't know God made honky-tonk angels/ and went back to the wild side of life."2

Lyrics

1.What a beautiful thought I am thinking | Concerning a great speckled bird | Remember her name is recorded | On the pages of God's Holy Word.

2. All the other birds are flocking 'round her | And she is despised by the squad | But the great speckled bird in the Bible | Is one with the great church of God.

3. All the other churches are against her | They envy her glory and fame | They hate her because she is chosen | And has not denied Jesus' name.

4. Desiring to lower her standard | They watch every move that she makes | They long to find fault with her teachings | But really they find no mistake.

5. She is spreading her wings for a journey | She's going to leave by and by | When the trumpet shall sound in the morning | She'll rise and go up in the sky.

6. In the presence of all her despisers | With a song never uttered before | She will rise and be gone in a moment | Till the great tribulation is o'er.

7. I am glad I have learned of her meekness | I am proud that my name is on her book | For I want to be one never fearing | The face of my Savior to look.

8. When He cometh descending from heaven | On the cloud that He writes in His Word | I'll be joyfully carried to meet Him | On the wings of that great speckled bird.

The Great Speckled Bird,
sung by Kitty Wells



4. The Wild Side of LIfe

The melody was resurrected by Hank Thompson with new lyrics written by Arlie A. Carter & William Warren, renamed The Wild Side of Life and recorded in 1952.

You wouldn't read my letter if I wrote you
You asked me not to call you on the phone
But there's something I'm wanting to tell you
So I wrote it in the words of this song

Chorus:
I didn't know God made honky tonk angels
I might have known you'd never make a wife
You gave up the only one that ever loved you
And went back to the wild side of life

The glamour of the gay night life has lured you
To the places where the wine and liquor flow
Where you wait to be anybody's baby
And forget the truest love you'll ever know

The Wild Side Of Life,
sung by Hank Thompson


5. It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels

Kitty Wells responded to The Wild Side Of Life with lyrics written by J. D. "Jay" Miller.

As I sit here tonight, the jukebox playing
The tune about the wild side of life
As I listen to the words you are saying
It brings memories when I was a trusting wife.

Chorus:
It wasn't God who made honky tonk angels
As you said in the words of your song
Too many times married men think they're still single
That has caused many a good girl to go wrong.

It's a shame that all the blame is on us women
It's not true that only you men feel the same
From the start, 'most every heart that's ever broken
Was because there always was a man to blame.

Honkey Tonk Angels,
sung by Kitty Wells


6. Martina McBride's Version

Martina McBride and her father combined The Wild Side Of Life & Honkey Tonk Angels into a duet.

Martina McBride Duet