Little Jimmy Dickens hit the biggest with “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose” and several broadly similar rockin’ country songs with novelty appeal, including my big favorite “Out Behind the Barn.”
Lately however, his sad 1970 song “Raggedy Ann” has been working on my mind.
This may be the most effectively morbid song I know. The pure bleakness of the widower struggling up the hill to his daughter’s grave just lays on you.
Many people would consider Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” the gold standard of morbidity, but that’s really largely extra-musical. The singer killed himself shortly after making the record. Admittedly, that’s a great gimmick for getting your record a big reputation.
However, “Raggedy Ann” has a more overwhelming musical quality by far, a dry and parched world of isolation and grief that stretches for decades. Dad has soldiered on bravely- to no relief or reward. There was no spike of grief relieved by your own hand, but years of no one to talk to but the doll on his daughter’s grave.
This is one of those country recitatives, broadly like the Dolly and Porter classic “Jeannie’s Afraid of the Dark.” This one is far blacker, though. You want goth, you got it.