Witty Songs

ŠTed Schaar 2011

13.  "I'm the Only Hell Mama Ever Raised."

Number 13, with its great play-on-words title and refrain, was written by Wayne Kemp, Mack Vickery, and Bobby Borchers and recorded by Johnny Paycheck in 1977--smack dab in the center of a period when he and others were labeled "outlaws."  Although Merle Haggard--who served time at San Quentin prison--was probably the most deserving of the title, his "Okie from Muskogee" seemed to put him completely behind even stupid laws such those against marijuana and LSD.

In "I'm the Only Hell..." the protagonist's mother tells him "not to smoke it" which might refer to pot, freebase cocaine (now called crack), or worst of all, tobacco. 

The reference to "Rock of Ages"41  had me contemplating exactly what that song is about for the first time (it wasn't a hymn in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church of my naive youth). I always liked the melody and the "rock of ages" lyric but hadn't really thought about what it meant and missed entirely the word "cleft" in the song, thinking it was "meant" as in "rock of ages meant for me."
 
Now that I've read the lyrics it's obvious the rock is Jesus.  Dictionary.com defines "cleft" as "to split or divide as if by a cutting blow" which metaphorically works well with the image of Jesus tortured and murdered to absolve the sins of the protagonist and other believers.

What most Christians don't think about is how Jesus is a human sacrifice similar in many ways to those carried out by the Maya and other primitive cultures.  The Old Testament has plenty of examples of animal sacrifices and the practice culminates in a way with the sacrifice of the man-God Jesus in the New Testament. 

Then I backed up to consider "Precious Memories" in the previous line and have to admit I had never heard of the song although versions of it, according to a website titled "The Forever Notebook," were recorded by a flock of singers, from Bob Dylan to Dolly Parton.42

According to a web page43    that promotes Hamlin, Texas, "Precious Memories" was written by "John Braselton Fillmore Wright (1877-1959), composer of about 500 gospel songs...'"  Wright was living in Hamlin when he wrote the song in 1923.

Paycheck himself eventually served time in prison and probably warbled this tune now and then to understanding fellow jailbirds.  Behind a lot of mischief in the song is that good ole boy the devil, and he plays a role in the next witty song, too.  (Visit YouTube [Paycheck] for the song).

Lyrics

I can't sell my momma short on loving me
I guess that's why she let me go so far
Momma tried to stop me short of stealing
I guess that's why I had to steal that car

She told me not to smoke it
But I did and it took me far away
And I turned out to be
The only hell mama ever raised

I rolled into Atlanta, stolen tags and almost out of gas
I had to get some money, and lately I'd learned how to get it fast
Those neon lights was calling me and somehow I just had to get downtown
So, I reached into the glove box, another liquor store went down

And I sing "Precious Memories," take me back to the good old days
I can hear my momma singing "Rock of Ages" cleft for me
She tried to turn me on to Jesus, but I turned on to the devil's ways
And I turned out to be the only hell my momma ever raised

Well they put those handcuffs on me, Lord how I fought to resist
But the agent's clamped 'em tighter, 'til that metal bit into my wrists
They took my belt and my billfold, my fingerprints, and the profile of my face
Then they locked away the only hell my momma ever raised

And I sing "Precious Memories," take me back to the good old days
I can hear my momma singing, "Rock of Ages" cleft for me
She tried to turn me on to Jesus, but I turned on to the devil's ways
And I turned out to be the only hell my momma ever raised

She tried to turn me on to Jesus, but I turned on to the devil's ways
And I turned out to be the only hell my momma ever raised


Next Song


Footnotes Introduction Links to all Songs