Songwriter Three Way: Mel Tillis – “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”
Mel Tillis is available on iTunes.
by Walter Price
In 1967 radio was filled with soon to be classics tracks by The Young Rascals, Frankie Valli, Aretha Franklin, and The Monkees. But you were a thinker, a person who liked to hear a story unfold. Even if that story was dark and with hints of political undertones (allegedly).
In 1967, a future songwriting and performing legend Mel Tillis wrote a song that was filled to the brim with tragedy. A war veteran returns home injured, unable to fill his marital duties and suffers and pleas as his wife leaves home to find satisfaction. Devastating imagery for a song in an era of bubblegum pop and beautiful soul music ruling the airwaves. The song, “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”.
An Airforce vet himself, it has been said that Tillis took inspiration for the song from a WW II veteran and friend mixed with the songwriter’s memories of the Korean War. But at the time of its initial release, a recording by Johnny Darrell, and subsequent recording by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition in 1969, the world was relating it to the Vietnam Conflict.
Some folks going as far as accusing Roger’s upbeat version of being contemptuous towards veterans in which he responded in an interview with Beat Instrumental, “Look, we don’t see ourselves as politicians, even if a lot of pop groups think they are in the running for a Presidential nomination. We are there, primarily, to entertain. Now if we can entertain by providing thought-provoking songs, then that’s all to the good. But the guys who said ‘Ruby’ was about Vietnam were way off target – it was about Korea. But whatever the message, and however you interpret it, fact is that we wouldn’t have looked at it if it hadn’t been a good song. Just wanna make good records, that’s all.”
Interpreting song lyrics can be as blatant as they are subjective from listener to listener. “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” is a track that has a life, how you choose to decipher the content Tillis penned is ultimately up to you. Just as these three performances have done. Let’s check out three very different takes on this classic and tragic song.
1932 – 2017
Kenny Rogers & The First Edition
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