Tom T. Hall “Ballad Of 40 Dollars” Classic Album Review
Greetings from Asheville, where good music is always found. Today’s Classic Album Review is the 1969 debut album from Tom T. Hall, Ballad Of Forty Dollars And His Other Great Songs. Released by Mercury in May, the album included five singles already released, including “I Washed My Face In The Morning Dew”, “Beauty Is A Fading Flower”, “The World The Way I Want It”, “Ain’t Got The Time” and the title cut. The album failed to chart, his only non-charting album until 1979’s Saturday Morning Songs.
The album opens with a song that Tom T. Hall wrote, but became a hit for Bobby Bare in 1970, “That’s How I Got To Memphis”. An outstanding song, everytime I hear it, it sticks in my head, be it Tom T.’s or Bobby Bare’s version. I wonder why they didn’t release his version as a single.
Nearly all of us can relate to “Cloudy Day”, as we all have had those times that are on the trying side. As always, Tom T. Hall can put an interesting spin on nearly any subject.
“Shame On The Rain” is a slower, rather bluesy-styled number that comes off pretty well. Great melody, here. Hidden Gem contender.
Another one I really like is “Highways”. A quick-paced piece that compares a journey on highways with the journey of trying to reach someone’s heart. Sound complex? Tom T. Hall makes it work.
Another fine composition, here, is “Forbidden Flowers”, particularly from a lyircal standpoint. While the lyrics speak of flowers, there’s much more hidden in the lyrics, one has to just really listen.
Side one ends with “Ain’t Got The Time”, which charted briefly in the Summer of 1968, is an up tempo piece with lyrics that bring a similar message to a mid-1960’s pop hit, “You’ve Got Your Troubles, I’ve Got Mine”. Nice little track.
Side two opens with the title cut, which also became Tom T. Hall’s first top ten single, “Ballad Of Forty Dollars”. When released as a single in the Fall of 1968, it was completely unlike anything else on Country radio, at the time. No real refrain, a true story song that just tells the whole story of a man’s death and funeral, ending with a surprise; the deceased still owes the narrator forty dollars. It’s my understanding that label execs weren’t sold on this track, but of course, the public loved it, and with good reason.
“I Washed My Face In The Morning Dew” was Tom T. Hall’s first single, and his first Country 40 single, peaking at 30 in 1967. A moralistic message, something once common in the genre, but even by the 1960’s, much less common.
“A Picture Of Your Mother” is a sad song talking about a father and daughter dealing with the loss of their wife/mother, and the daughter wants to know more about her.
“The World The Way I Want It” is yet another up tempo piece that spent a brief time charting as a single in early 1968. A Utopian message that might have been a little more progressive than what country audiences were ready for, at that time. That said, it’s a decent track, lyrically strong.
Whereas much of this album has a distinct folk feel mixed with the country sound, “Over And Over Again” is more straight country (maybe a little country-pop, actually). A basic love song, not anything spectacular, but a nice little track.
The album ends with the fast moving “Beauty Is A Fading Flower”, a non-charting single at the end of 1967. An alright track, again, nothing spectacular, but not bad. Again, pretty strong, lyrically.
Originally released on vinyl, this album is still available as a two-fer compact disc, being paired with his second album, Homecoming. A bit surprising that I didn’t find too many used copies on the market and the few I did find were in the $10 to $15 range.
The title cut gets my Standout Track nod, while I’m giving “That’s How I Got To Memphis” my Standout Track nod. If there’s one track that’s a little weaker than the rest, I’d say “A Picture Of Your Mother”, but then again, that may be because it’s a bit too depressing for me.
Overall, not a bad debut effort that started what ultimately wound up to be a Hall of Fame career. This isn’t his strongest album, but it’s a good album that a Tom T. Hall fan should enjoy. I rate it a 3.5 out of 5.
Saving vinyl, one record at a time.