Monday, 16 January 2017
Oliver: Tex Morton - Big Rock Candy Mountain (1 March 1992)
Peel declared himself and Andy Kershaw "spellbound" by the compilation album, Yodelling Crazy, He described it, with some degree of sincerity as "the first essential album of 1992".
Yodelling, like morris dancing, has never quite achieved much of a cultural cachet, though Peel was always a fan of some of its leading exponents - Ronnie Ronalde in particular enjoyed as much airplay as The Fall did on Peel's show in the early years of the Millenium. It may have been because of its adaptability within forms of country and roots music. Peel was still some way off his reimmersion into country music in early 1992, but listening to different versions of Big Rock Candy Mountain ahead of writing this, I was struck by how much the song, originally written by Harry Mac Mclintock in 1928, brought out the vocal gymnastics in its performers. Burl Ives's version not only re-writes large portions of the lyrics, but recasts it as something close to country madrigal.
Ultimately, you're better to go with New Zealand born singer, Robert "Tex" Morton's version, which opened Peel's show on 1/3/92. The yodelling is easier on the ear than the previous night's selection had been from Slim Whitman. Although taken at a quicker lick than most of the versions mentioned here, he doesn't miss a trick in bringing out the almost psychedelic strangeness of the lyric, which casts the titular edifice as a utopia of cigarette trees, streams/lakes of whiskey, lemonade springs and barns full of stew - not to mention a laissez-faire approach to work and the law. That mountain of rock may not be as innocent as it seems. Whereas the yodelling could serve as an irritating distraction, Morton instead makes it fit like a glove. The sound of a community deliriously out of its mind within its much envied rural idyll.
Video courtesy of Feelinx Sound.