It’s time to shine the Vinyl Spotlight! Every now and then on Paloozapalooza, I like to focus on a random LP from my collection. This week, we have:
John Prine – John Prine (1971)
For such an unassuming, gentle guy, John Prine sure makes a hell of a first impression. People typically fall in love with his music from the get-go, and that fondness only grows as time goes on.
Take Kris Kristofferson, for instance—he first saw Prine play in a small club and helped him get a record contract with Columbia almost immediately. Heck, even Bob Dylan became an immediate fan, singing Prine’s own songs to him at a party before the young singer’s debut had even been released.
Of course, another way he makes great first impressions is that his very first record might just be the best one he ever made. John Prine is an outright masterpiece, blending elements of country, folk, and rock and roll into a fantastic record jam-packed with classics.
Five of Prine’s most well-known compositions are here—”Illegal Smile,” “Hello in There,” “Sam Stone,” “Paradise” and “Angel from Montgomery”—and there’s plenty more where that came from!
But before I move on, I do need to slow down and tip my hat at “Hello in There” and “Sam Stone” individually; they’re too damn good to simply mention in passing. “Hello in There” is Prine’s beautiful ode to an elderly couple, written from their perspective with both sympathy and compassion, while “Sam Stone” tells the tale of a drug-addicted veteran who dies after popping “his last balloon.” There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes, Prine sings, Jesus Christ died for nothin, I suppose.
My personal favorite of the whole bunch is the song that kicks off John Prine’s second side: “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.” Check it: But your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore/ They’re already overcrowded from your dirty little war/ Now Jesus don’t like killin’, no matter what the reason’s for/ And your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore. Great, right? It’s no wonder guys such as Dylan were Kristofferson were such fans.
The verses are even better, letting the listener follow along as the narrator keeps describing his love of flag decals:
Well, I went to the bank this morning and the cashier he said to me/ “If you join the Christmas club we’ll give you ten of them flags for free”/ Well, I didn’t mess around a bit, I took him up on what he said/ And I stuck them stickers all over my car and one on my wife’s forehead.
Prine could make you fall out of your chair laughing, but then he’d toss in the occasional pitch-perfect political statements.
John Prine’s debut record is absolutely essential for any record collection. If you have yet to listen to the man’s stuff, it really is the best place to start.
And, please, check out the recent Rolling Stone feature and his recent appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast while you are at it; Prine is incredibly charming and relaxed in both interviews, and they help reveal a bit more about the man behind the songs
Listen to John Prine below: