10 country songs about fightin'
On this day in country music history, in an evening session in a studio on Nashville's storied Music Row, Johnny Horton recorded "The Battle of New Orleans." While his version became the best known over the years, peaking at Number One on both Billboard's Hot Country Singles and its Hot 100 lists as well as in Australia and Canada (and hitting 16 in the U.K., where lyrics were altered to be less disparaging of the British), the song itself dates back to long before Horton recorded it.
The melody finds its roots in a traditional American song for the fiddle known as "Jackson's Victory," later changed to "The Eighth of January" after Old Hickory's reputation lost its clout. Please imagine I'm reading all this to you in a really old-timey, man-with-a-corncob-pipe voice, or if you'd prefer, in the voice of one of the animatronic bears from Country Bear Jamboree in Disney World's Magic Kingdom's Frontierland.
Years later, Jimmy Driftwood, an Arkansas educator with a passion for history and a powerful drive to rouse an interest in his students for learning history, set a historical account of the Battle of New Orleans, which happened on 8th of January, to this old fiddle tune. And by Henry, it stuck.
Johnny Horton died the year after he recorded the tune. He'd tried to get himself out of a gig he was to play because of his eerie premonition he would be killed by a drunk. But he played, and driving home after the show he was, you know, killed by a drunk. An intoxicated young man driving a truck hit Horton's Cadillac head-on, and it is believed Horton's skull was impaled by the rod of his sun visor. His wife, Billie Jean Jones, became a widow for the second time at the age of 28. Her first husband, Hank Williams, had also died in a Cadillac. Shortly before Williams's death, Hank and Billie Jean and Johnny were all having a conversation backstage during a show when Hank had his own premonition: that Billie Jean and Johnny would someday be married.
As for Jimmy Driftwood? He went on to write 6,000 more songs (300 of which were recorded or published), become an environmental advocate, and be appointed musicologist by the National Geographic Society before dying in 1998 after an extended illness, at the age of 91.
In honor of Johnny Horton, Jimmy Driftwood, and all those who've died in battle or lived to sing about it, just wanted their students to pass a test, or hell, just liked to engage in fisticuffs: 10 country songs about fightin'.
Johnny Horton - "The Battle of New Orleans"
The song that inspired it all, complete with weird reenacted battle scene! Notable lyric: We took a little bacon and we took a little beans and we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans.
Hank III - "PFF"
Written in dedication of GG Allin, convicted rapist and poop- and blood-smeared punk who enjoyed breaking bottles over his head and shoving bottles and such up his orifices and whatnot while onstage. If there was ever anyone more fitting of a tribute song... Notable lyric: And I'm lookin' for a whore gonna fuck her black and blue, my blood is like a poison, always raping you.
(Disclaimer: GG Allin was a disgusting man who was not and is still not cool. You know what's punker than raping women? Not raping women, y'dead dumbass. This song makes me want to send Hank III on a one-way trip to Fist City, and moving on...)
Loretta Lynn - "Fist City"
You know who has always kicked some serious ass? Loretta Lynn. That's who. Notable lyric: You'd better close your face and stay out of my way if you don't wanna go to Fist City. If you don't wanna go to Fist City you'd better detour round my town 'cause I'll grab you by the hair of the head and I'll lift you off of the ground.
Merle Haggard - "Fightin' Side of Me"
Merle made it cool to counter the counterculture with this song. Check out how cute Bonnie Owens, ex-wife to both Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, looks there singing on Merle's left (your right). She, like Loretta, seems the type who'd send you to Fist City should you ask fer it. Notable lyric: If you don't love it, leave it: Let this song I'm singin' be a warnin'. If you're runnin' down my country, hoss, you're walkin' on the fightin' side of me.
Bobby Bare - "The Winner"
Bobby Bare walked away from this fight with his perty face intact, so that makes him the winner. Notable lyric: I'm gonna tell you just a little 'bout what it means to be a winner. He said now you see these bright white smilin' teeth you know they ain't my own. Mine rolled away like Chicklets down the street in San Antone. But I left that person cursin' nursin' seven broken bones, and he only broke ah three of mine that makes me the winner.
Johnny Paycheck - "Colorado Kool-Aid"
If you're ever drinkin' Colorado Kool-Aid in a bar in Houston, Texas, you ought not spit in anyone's ear 'cause, by golly, he might cut your ear off and tell you to spit in your own ear! It's true. It's happened. Notable lyric: An' we was....what's that you say? What's Colorado Kool-Aid? Well, it's a can of Coors brewed from a mountain stream. It'll set your head on fire an' make your kidneys scream. Oh, it sure is fine.
Johnny Cash - "A Boy Named Sue"
Speaking of slicing off ears, this Shel Silverstein-penned country hit has a moral at the end, as any good Shel Silverstein-penned country hit should. Notable lyric: Well, I knew that snake was my own sweet dad from a worn-out picture that my mother'd had, and I knew that scar on his cheek and his evil eye. He was big and bent and gray and old, and I looked at him and my blood ran cold and I said: "My name is 'Sue!' How do you do!
Now you're gonna die!!"
The Louvin Brothers - "The Knoxville Girl"
On the day after Charlie Louvin passed, inclusion of this song is essential. Notable lyric: I took her by her golden curls and I drug her 'round and 'round, throwing her into the river that flows through Knoxville town. Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl with the dark and roving eyes. Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl, you can never be my bride.
Toby Keith - "As Good As I Once Was"
Of course Toby likes to sing about fighting--terrorists or rednecks in bars! Keith detractors, this video might make you find a tiny little warm spot in your heart for Toby. Notable lyric: I used to be hell on wheels back when I was a younger man. Now my body says, "You can't do this boy" but my pride says, "Oh, yes you can.
Homer & Jethro - "Battle of Kookamonga"
To bring us back full circle, the extraordinarily unusual duo of Homer & Jethro. Notable lyric: We're the boys from Camp Kookamonga. Our mothers sent us here for to study nature's ways. We learned to make sparks by rubbing sticks together but if we catch the girls then we'll set the woods ablaze.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.