Hank Thompson

Smoky the Bar

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On the back cover of Hank Thompson's 1969 classic Smoky the Bar, Carol Ehler calls Thompson "The Poet Laureate of beer drinkers." No sh*t. With titles like "Let's Get Drunk and Be Somebody," "Pop a Top," "What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)," "Drunkard's Blues," as well as a few sidewinders like "Cocaine Blues" and Jimmie Rodgers' "My Rough and Rowdy Ways," you get the picture. This is honky tonk music made for the people who frequent them. Thompson may have changed his topic by the late '60s to almost exclusively drinking songs, but his unique musical vision hadn't. The hard Ernest Tubb honky tonk and the gorgeous swing of Bob Wills and the vocal harmonies of the early cowboy songs meld perfectly in Thompson's relaxed croon, and with a host of whining fiddles, strummed guitars, and barely audible percussion all covered by a tinkling upright piano. In fact, his approach to his material is so laid-back, lyrics like "through these bloodshot eyes the whole world looks rosy..." sound perfectly natural. There are some interesting sonic textures and ambiences here added by producer Joe Allison, especially the film noir-ish backdrops created by the pedal steel and the Nashville sounds in "Drunkard's Blues." But if Thompson had an anthem, it was "Pop a Top," a song so perfectly suited to the foolish drunk who's lost everything except the ability to drink. The hard Western swing with elements of country boogie is laced inside a barroom mid-tempo romp laced with fiddles (not strings). This and "Six Pack to Go" were the man's anthems, and in the refrain: "Pop a top again/I think I'll have another round/Another one my friend/And then I'll be gone and you can let/Some other fool sit down." Thompson's drinking songs are tremendous for the way they chronicle both the good-time aspect and camaraderie of drinking and the dark side caused by its excess. This is one of Thompson's finest works from top to bottom and should be sought out by every fan of great 1960s country music.

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