For a man who sang about death a lot during his lifetime, John Prine’s death still came as a major shock to his fans in 2020.
Moments like “Please Don’t Bury Me,” where he asks to be separated and taken across America for one last hurray or to start a pearly-gate rock n’ roll band in “When I Get to Heaven” , Prine filled his songs to the brim with his signature humor and humanity that made the world a little less daunting.
His albums are full of hard truths that are made a little softer with his unrivaled humor, creating countless timeless classics. With so much great material to work with, some of his other bits might get overlooked. We are here to give your 5 deep Prine titles that deserve their flowers.
1. “Donald and Lydia” (From Jean Prine1971)
This track sees Prine doing what he does best: telling a story. The old adage that country music is simply “three chords and the truth” has never been more apt than with Prine’s music. Boiling heavy concepts into bite-size pieces is a Prine classic and “Donald and Lydia” is no exception.
It portrays two lonely characters who somehow find love with each other through the song’s verses. Lydia, a girl who spends her weekends alone in her room, consoles herself with Donald, a young PFC. The chorus is deeply connected to anyone who’s ever been in love as it sings, dreaming becomes natural… like the love hidden deep in your heart.
3. “The Great Compromise” (from rough diamonds1972)
“The Great Compromise” is a commentary on Vietnam-era America done especially in Prine fashion — with deep humor. In the song, he compares the country to a woman who is sometimes a little hard to love. The lyrics evoke his own personal disillusionment with the “American Dream” after spending time in the service.
He cleverly draws the line between anti-war ideas and a relationship gone wrong while singing Many times I fought to protect her / But this time she went too far. It’s Prine’s classic tongue-in-cheek lyricism with a deeper meaning that awaits the second or third listen.
2. “Pretty good” (from Jean Prine1971)
Again tackling heavy stuff with a characteristic levity, Prine hid this gem of a song on his self-titled debut in 1971. In this song, he takes on apathy and the idea that everything “is about the same”. .
He uses characters to re-tell him the story (a friend in Fremont, a girl named Venus and Molly from Arkansas), each of them telling the folk icon that everything is just “pretty good”. Never one to shy away from the potentially controversial lyrics he sings in the song’s final verse, I heard that Allah and Buddha sang at the Feast of the Savior / And up there in the sky an Arab rabbi / Feeds Quaker oats to a priest / Because in fact all these gods are about the same.
4. “Dear Abby” (From sweet revenge1973)
This track was recorded live at a concert at New York State University after a studio session was unsuccessful. It’s the spontaneity of the interpretation that makes this song great. Moments of awkwardly forgotten lyrics only add to the comically provocative track.
He takes letters written to the famous columnist, Dear Abby, asking for her advice on a number of goofy issues like his kids all being monsters and his stomach making noises every time he kisses. In the chorus, Abby responds with a lot of nothing, singing, You have nothing to complain about / You are what you are and you are not what you are not / So listen well and listen well / Stop wishing bad luck and knock on wood.
5. “Quiet Man” (from Jean Prine1971)
Prine’s debut album is widely regarded as one of the best debuts ever released, with almost all of the songs considered classics. But one that’s often overlooked is his ode to letting go in “Quiet Man.”
His “quiet man” walks down the highway oblivious to the world asking others not to pin their blues on him. All he wants is to enjoy the night sky with amazing dream rays and beams. They are carefree people of the highest caliber.
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