I’ve been grooving on this very odd and infamous Porter Wagoner song from 1972, a little thing called “The Rubber Room.” Best I can tell, it wasn’t any big hit, but Porter was near the top of his fame with the television show with as many as several million viewers a week, so he managed to put the thing in front of a lot of people. I would have been about nine at the time, and it made some freaky impression on me. It has sunk into obscurity since then, and it took weeks to find it even on P2P.
The studio recording features a lot of weird vocal effects and choruses that make it considerably freakier than what he could have done on stage. You might call the record “psychedelic country.” It deserves the title if any recording does.
The song is an odd minor key blues lament for those in mental lockup. It’s a sad tale, but then it shifts into the first person as the narrator realizes that he’s locked up in there with the other people he’s singing about.
As this kicks in, the tone of the song shifts from a lament into despair. He wails and gnashes his teeth, so to speak, as the weird fiddles and vocal choruses pile on. He adds some unfortunately heavy-handed reverb and echo effects that must have freaked the old folks out at the Opry. It sounds nothing like any country record you ever heard.
Yet undeniably it remains country. As his buddy Waylon Jennings once said, Porter “couldn’t go pop with a mouthful of firecrackers.”
Reading this description, I could imagine some would-be hipsters taking this song for mere camp. They would be wrong. He works up a real palpable sense of dread and despair that can’t be denied. It works.
Indeed Porter has had some weird mental stuff bubbling his whole career. Look at the picture of Porter as the titular character from his album Skid Row Joe/Down in the Alley. Yowsa. He put out albums with titles and themes such as Soul of a Convict and one called Confessions of a Broken Man.
To put it more specifically to a song, hunt down a copy of his murder ballad “The Cold Hard Facts of Life.” The general story line of a husband killing his wayward spouse is common, but the telling comes out making you think the singer standing at the mic might just be walking the edge himself. Even Alice Cooper never sounded quite so truly disturbed.
However much this effect in these records reflects Porter Wagoner’s real internal states versus being an artistic construct, it’s all good.
c 1972 Owepar Publishing
In a buildin’ tall with a stone wall around there’s a rubber room
When a man sees things and hears sounds that’s not there
He’s headed for the rubber room
Illusions in a twisted mind to save from self-destruction hmm it’s the rubber room
Where a man can run into the wall till his strenght makes him fall and lie still
And wait for help in the rubber room
From his blurry vision of doom a psycho in the rubber room
The man in the room right next to mine screams a woman’s name hits the wall in vain
He’s in the rubber room
I hear footsteps poundin’ on the floor God I hope they don’t stop at my door
Hmm I’m in the rubber room
Now they’ve come to get me but they find
I’m a screamin’ pretty words tryin’ to make ‘em rhyme
I’m n the rubber room hmm a psycho I’m in the rubber room hmm
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