The Countertop Chronicles

"Run by a gun zealot who's too blinded by the NRA" - Sam Penney of

Monday, February 09, 2004

Monday Song Lyric

Yesterday I discussed that great American art form, the western. Clint Eastwood has been known to say that America has given the world only two art forms, the western and jazz. Well, I would add a third. I really believe the music that characterizes the stories of the post civil war years in the American west is an art form of itself. Like the minstrals of an earlier time, the cowboy crooner�s conveyed a sense of urgency and frustation, with the hope of a better tomorrow in simple songs accompanied by one or two instruments. This style of music led the way for what eventually became Western ( Oh, we got both kinds. We got country *and* western.)

In the late 50s and mid 60s, in part I suppose because of the success of On The Road and the Beat�s romanticizing of the dust bowl years and great depression, the style began to make a come back among both folk musicians (who might argue never lost touch with it) and the burgeoning hippy population in San Francisco and New York City. Bob Dylan, of course, was the bridge between the two.

Dylan's Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, from 1966's John Wesley Harding is as good a representation as any. Long a favorite of his fans, the story tells a painful tale of hope and expectation for a brighter day, met instead by disaster where it is least expected, dealt from the hand of cards played while helping a friend. The moral, as the song states is to not go where you don't belong. Of course, while this song may be one of the Dylan best, it has always been overshadowed by its placement immediately after Dylan's most famous song, All Along The Watchtower.

For me though, what's most fascinating about this song is that it provided the inspiration for one of my favorite bands � Judas Priest (Yes, I know Andrew Sullivan would be proud, though I wasn�t aware of that fact until much later.)

Judas Priest's story (or at least part of it) was famously told in the motion picture Rock Star. The early story though comes from the web page of Alan Atkins their original lead singer. As he recounts, his original band included a guitarist from the band Earth, which famously became Black Sabbath. Impressed with Earth's new name, the bandmates searched for something in a similar vein and original bassist Bruno Stapenhill stumbled upon Dylan�s masterpiece sometime in 1969. Soon thereafter, the band broke up and Atkins was looking for something new when he stumbled on KK Downing and Ian Hill playing in a three piece. KK had auditioned for Judas Priest but was turned down, mostly because of his age. Looking for a singer, they quickly teamed up with Atkins and replaced their thee pieces name with the one Atkins bought � Judas Priest. Priest toured throughout England and began to see some success, but by 1973 Atkins familial commitments forced him to leave the band. He was replaced by Rob Halford, the Metal God.

As Priest shot to worldwide fame through the 70s and 80s, and as Jimi Hendrix's as others covers of All Along The Watchtower continued to chart, the Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest slipped into the musical holding cell of oblivion.

The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest

Well, Frankie Lee and Judas Priest,
They were the best of friends.
So when Frankie Lee needed money one day,
Judas quickly pulled out a roll of tens
And placed them on a footstool
Just above the plotted plain,
Sayin', "Take your pick, Frankie Boy,
My loss will be your gain."

Well, Frankie Lee, he sat right down
And put his fingers to his chin,
But with the cold eyes of Judas on him,
His head began to spin.
"Would ya please not stare at me like that," he said,
"It's just my foolish pride,
But sometimes a man must be alone
And this is no place to hide."

Well, Judas, he just winked and said,
"All right, I'll leave you here,
But you'd better hurry up and choose
Which of those bills you want,
Before they all disappear."
"I'm gonna start my pickin' right now,
Just tell me where you'll be."

Judas pointed down the road
And said, "Eternity!"
"Eternity?" said Frankie Lee,
With a voice as cold as ice.
"That's right," said Judas Priest, "Eternity,
Though you might call it 'Paradise.'"

"I don't call it anything,"
Said Frankie Lee with a smile.
"All right," said Judas Priest,
"I'll see you after a while."

Well, Frankie Lee, he sat back down,
Feelin' low and mean,
When just then a passing stranger
Burst upon the scene,
Saying, "Are you Frankie Lee, the gambler,
Whose father is deceased?
Well, if you are,
There's a fellow callin' you down the road
And they say his name is Priest."

"Oh, yes, he is my friend,"
Said Frankie Lee in fright,
"I do recall him very well,
In fact, he just left my sight."
"Yes, that's the one," said the stranger,
As quiet as a mouse,
"Well, my message is, he's down the road,
Stranded in a house."

Well, Frankie Lee, he panicked,
He dropped ev'rything and ran
Until he came up to the spot
Where Judas Priest did stand.
"What kind of house is this," he said,
"Where I have come to roam?"
"It's not a house," said Judas Priest,
"It's not a house . . . it's a home."

Well, Frankie Lee, he trembled,
He soon lost all control
Over ev'rything which he had made
While the mission bells did toll.
He just stood there staring
At that big house as bright as any sun,
With four and twenty windows
And a woman's face in ev'ry one.

Well, up the stairs ran Frankie Lee
With a soulful, bounding leap,
And, foaming at the mouth,
He began to make his midnight creep.
For sixteen nights and days he raved,
But on the seventeenth he burst
Into the arms of Judas Priest,
Which is where he died of thirst.

No one tried to say a thing
When they took him out in jest,
Except, of course, the little neighbor boy
Who carried him to rest.
And he just walked along, alone,
With his guilt so well concealed,
And muttered underneath his breath,
"Nothing is revealed."

Well, the moral of the story,
The moral of this song,
Is simply that one should never be
Where one does not belong.
So when you see your neighbor carryin' somethin',
Help him with his load,
And don't go mistaking Paradise
For that home across the road.


Post a Comment

<< Home