Cyclic Selects: David Thrussell – Twelve Hillbilly Songs That Should Have Changed The World


We’re not going to introduce David Thrussell. We figure you should know him by now. If not you should catch up. You can start with Snog or Black Lung and work your way back through a remarkable oeuvre of music and musical projects. Or you can check out the last Cyclic Selects he did for us. He’s the first person we’ve ever asked back for another bite of the cherry. Surely that should stand for something…(What follows are all his words)

We live in an upside-down world.

The most fearsome military empire the planet has ever seen wages perpetual war against the dispossessed – surreally branded as ‘The War On Terror’. ‘Free’ trade agreements are signed, the precise details of which are known only to a handful of corporations, politicos and lobbyists. Meanwhile, every three or four years in our ‘democracies’ corporations bid for the government of their choice. These auctions are known as ‘elections’.

Almost any aspect of public affairs that is commonly held to be correct is shown, after even the smallest investigation, to be essentially a sham.

Youth listens to music constructed and audience tested by corporations to be the most attractive simulation of (harmless) rock rebellion. Pill-poppers escape the tedium of the mainstream through ‘dance’ music blander than the most sedate oldies station on the dial.

Is there no-one that you can turn to, no-one to trust?

Well, yes. Hillbillies, hayseeds and hicks, of course.

1. Henson Cargill – Going Backwards (from the LP ‘The Uncomplicated Henson Cargill’ 1970)
A staggering song that posits that humankind is essentially going backwards in wisdom, knowledge, empathy and compassion (the theory of ‘Devolution’ – from whence the band Devo got their name), lambasting the Space-Race as a foolish and wasteful pursuit, while lamenting racism and poverty amongst a myriad of other social ills – all atop a jaunty swing and searing fuzz lick. Interestingly, the song mirrors the cosmological theory of Hinduism, that the Earth travels through degenerative eras (Yugas) and that humans are devolving from a spiritual form into a purely materialistic being – the precise opposite of the capitalist/progress/perpetual-growth paradigm that predominates in the West.

Henson Cargill was the king of socially conscious Country music in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His smooth baritone graced the Country charts over a dozen times and yet he is basically forgotten today. This cosmic album cut was waxed in the Monument Recording Studio, Nashville February 1970.

2. Jimmy Driftwood – What Is The Color Of A Soul Of A Man (from the LP ‘Voice Of The People’ 1963)
Backwoods teacher Jimmy Driftwood stumbled upon the power of song to interest his students in history lessons, so he proceeded to chronicle events in lyric and music, eventually writing a reputed 6000 new ‘folk’ songs. Among them were massive hits for Johnny Horton, Eddie Arnold and Johnny Cash. Driftwood was always a clandestine progressive, environmental advocate and profound thinker, leading campaigns that saved the Buffalo River and the Blanchard Springs Caverns. His 1963 Monument LP ‘Voice Of The People’ resounds with New-Frontier fever and tackles racial prejudice, apocalyptic apes, black magic, inbred families, wiccanism, libertarianism, ritual dismemberment, limbs that communicate from beyond the grave and other charming facets of Arkansas mountain life. Forever an engaging stew of backwoods philosophy, cryptic observations, progressive candour, homespun spirituality and the stirring desire for a better life, these timeless recordings make you tap your feet as they gently mess with your mind.

3. Tom T. Hall – 100 Children (from the LP ‘100 Children’ 1970)
Joyous clarion call against thermo-nuclear annihilation and environmental devastation, youthful chant for future preservation – ‘100 Children’ is incredibly spritely – banjos set to 11 and a children’s choir that just tries to keep up. Somehow this was actually a hit, although its exuberant utopianism may have doomed it to the cultural memory hole. Australian readers may stumble across Kamahl’s droll cover version on 45 in a dusty op-shop nearby sometime.
Tom T. Hall is probably the most consistently intelligent and beguiling songwriter in Country music, a ‘songwriter’s songwriter’ whose laconic observational skills are the equal of his wit and wisdom. Check ‘The Monkey That Became President’, ‘I Want To See The Parade’ and ‘Hang Them All’ to gain a deeper understanding of Tom’s quietly revolutionary muse.

4. Burl Ives – The Almighty Dollar Bill (from the LP ‘The Versatile Burl Ives’ 1961)
Hauled up before the ‘House Un-American Activities Committee’ in 1953 and accused of being a Communist, Burl Ives eventually fled to Nashville (!) in the early 1960s, where he cut this world-weary and wise number about that most human of foibles – the infinite power and vice-like grip of Mammon over the hearts of men (and women).
Burl led a travelled and interesting life, a prodigious collector and performer of folk and country songs – he eventually became a 33rd Degree Freemason and has a museum dedicated to him in the Supreme Council’s 33º Headquarters in Washington D.C.

5.Roger Miller – The Animal Of Man (from the LP ‘Dear Folks, Sorry I Haven’t Written Lately’ 1973)
Knock-about maverick and surreal wordsmith Roger Miller had a serious side too. When the ‘King Of The Road’ had ‘Chug-A-Lug’-ed one too many he reflected on the dire state of humankind, our ravenous relationship with nature and cruelty to each other – the result – a song as thoughtful as it is broodingly angry. Miller name-checks a sadly timeless list of socio-political complaints – war, murder, ecological destruction and racism before suggesting that mankind might just be genetically doomed to repeat an endless cycle of carnage and iniquity.

6.Mel Tillis – Survival Of The Fittest (from the LP ‘Mr. Mel’ 1967)
This extraordinary song decries social darwinism, free market determinism and the rapacious warrior instinct, all in a compact, handy 2 1/2 minute package. From the scavenging gulls in the opening moments to the bitter closing coda, Mel sings his disillusionment with scorching passion and scathing insight – virtually accusing the creator deity of shackling humankind to ‘man-forged manacles’ of hate and prejudice.
Mel Tillis was a journeyman country singer/songwriter throughout the late 1950s and 1960s before his smoother material became regularly chart-bound in the 1970s. Often identified for his speech impediment (‘Stuttering M-M-Mel Tillis’), as much as for his obvious talent, Tillis probably had some vague inkling of just how cruel people could be.

7.Henson Cargill – Pencil Marks On The Wall (from the 45)
Staggeringly mournful and heartfelt, Henson Cargill’s ‘Pencil Marks On The Wall’ rails against the great death machine…war. By some miracle, the 45 even charted briefly upon its 1971 release. A gently coo-ing female chorus and a friendly nursery-rhyme motif lull the casual listener, but the strident lyric has a sting in its tail, resoundingly condemning war in all its forms and in all ages. There is no ‘just’ or ‘noble’ war. An unknown classic of Nashville agitprop.

8.The Carter Family – 2001 (Ballad Of The Future)(from the 45)
Profound and prophetic, just listen to this song and think back to the year 2001. ‘Eerie’ barely does it justice, a lament for the mediocrity and barbarism that has brought the world to an endless state of war, dishonesty and mesmeric delusion. The song was written by Kenny Jones (the son of Helen Carter of the famous Carter Family) who tragically died in an automobile accident in 1969 at the age of just 16. A few years later the family group recorded this incredible song as a tribute to Kenny’s talent and memory. Play it again. Listen to those lyrics.

9. Dick Curless – Old Bob Burton (from the 45)
An eye-patched basso profoundo, Dick Curless could recite the telephone book and give it gravitas. ‘Old Bob Burton’ is an episode of the Twilight Zone in folksy, Country music verse…with a dark and fearsome anti-Vietnam war coda. It was a brave single release in 1973 Nashville. And it would still be brave (maybe even more so) today. (Link to the music is here).

10. Arlene Harden – Congratulations (You Sure Made A Man Out Of Him)(from the 45)
Beautiful. Perfect. Nothing else to say. Just listen to the record.

11. Tom T. Hall – America The Ugly (from the LP ‘I Witness Life’ 1970)
Searing indictment of injustice and inequality. Tom T. Hall always called it as he saw it, the crown prince of Country music storytelling, his lyrics have been studied in universities and sung in barrooms. As the ‘1%’ rape and pillage the planet (before heading off to further planets to disembowel?) a song like this will never go out of date.

12. Henson Cargill – Daddy, What’s A Tree?(from the LP ‘This Is Henson Cargill Country’ 1973)
Ode to the approaching eco-apocalypse, describes a time in the distant (?) future (?) when a young boy asks dad about the long past days when the Earth was green, verdant and habitable. Henson nails it again, with a song that is equal parts frightening and toe-tapping. What else could you possibly want?

There are plenty of other relevant songs that could have been posted here, but the all-knowing Internet tells me they don’t exist. But I swear I just had the 45 in my hand a second ago? Oh well. Must have been my imagination.

David Thrussell has just released Snog – Compliance™ (Metropolis Records).
You can check out the clip to the first single Cheerful Hypocrisy here.


About Author

Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.