Sunday, May 15, 2011

May 15: Buck Owens, "Together Again"

Artist: Buck Owens
Song: "Together Again"
Album: My Heart Skips A Beat (single)
Year: 1964

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

Though many wish to place them on opposite ends of the musical spectrum, it is impossible to deny all of the common ground and links between rock and roll and country music.  One can easily see their shared roots within blues music, and throughout the late 1950's and early 1960's, as rock and roll began to take over mainstream music, one can find it seamlessly blending into the country style.  Though at first, many country "purists" rejected this new blend of music, known as "the Bakersfield sound," it would be these early musical pioneers that would shape modern country music, as well as most popular country music for the decades that followed.  Within this group of trailblazing performers, few were as important to the development of the new sound than Buck Owens, and though his songs have been covered countless times over the years, it is his original versions that still stand as the finest.  Whether it was due to his wide-ranging, yet straightforward voice, or the simple, yet beautiful ways in which he captured human emotion at it's finest, Owens' songs remain absolutely perfect even after many generations have passed.  It is also the way in which he was able to transition the traditional country sound to a more modern, electric style, without losing any of the core elements that had been in place for decades.  Though he had a number of truly unforgettable songs in his career, few present him as perfectly and beautifully as one can experience in Buck Owens' heartbreaking 1964 single, "Together Again."

Within moments of "Together Again" beginning, the stripped-down and straightforward nature of Buck Owens becomes clear, and it is this simple, almost sparse arrangement that immediately pulls in the listener.  The amount of emotion that Owens is able to convey through his guitar is virtually unparalleled, and this is one of the earliest examples of the idea of making a guitar "sing" on a track.  The slow, sorrowful sounds of his pedal-steel guitar match his voice and the lyrics perfectly, and it is also in this aspect where the connection to the "old" style of country music cannot be denied.  Complimenting the lone guitar is a similarly slow, steady drum beat, and it is in this element of "Together Again" that the feeling of somber movement can be felt.  The beat seems to almost pull itself along, and one can picture the protagonist with his head down, on a dark, empty street.  The mood set in place by the guitar and drums are truly timeless, and this is evident in the fact that after almost fifty years, they still hit just as hard and are just as accurate.  The rhythm guitar further enforces this defeated, almost listless movement, and one would be hard pressed to find a finer example of emotional expression in music.  The way in which these sounds combine also suggests a bit of influence from r&b, and if one follows the progression of the Bakersfield sound, this connection becomes more apparent.

However, the downcast, almost pitiful musical arrangement would not hit with maximum impact without the outstanding vocal work of Buck Owens.  The sense of raw emotion and honesty in the music are mirrored in his singing, as he brilliantly works all over the vocal scale.  The uniquely glum verses are made heavier by Owens' deep and powerful voice, and one cannot deny his ranking among the finest vocalists of his generation.  On "Together Again," Owens has clearly given himself completely to the song, and the way in which his voice soars across the musical scale remains one of the most truly beautiful moments in recorded history.  Again, it is the twang-tinged croon that he presents which keeps the spirit of country music intact, and yet his vocals are far more clear and forceful than most of what had previously been done within the genre.  Yet if there was one element that defined country music, it would be within the lyrical content; and in this aspect, "Together Again" is as country as one can find anywhere.  Rarely in any genre has there been as simple, yet perfect a composition of longing and heartbreak, and yet when one actually listens to the words, as opposed to the emotion, one can find the lyrics are of a reuniting.  It is within this juxtaposition that one can argue that the song is a dream or a wish, but regardless of how one interprets it, the vocal performance from Buck Owens is absolutely superb.

Strangely enough, "Together Again" was never meant to be a big single, as it was released as a b-side to Owens' "My Heart Skips A Beat."  However, shortly after its release, both sides began getting a great deal of attention, and there was a point where the two songs held both of the top spots on the "Country Singles" charts.  The two songs also switched positions with one another a few times, and it was largely upon this occurrence which Owens cemented his legacy.  In the decades that followed, the formula that Owens pioneered would become the "standard" approach for mainstream country music, and yet in many ways, he himself would become somewhat forgotten by the genre which he largely created.  This fact in some ways fits perfectly with his overall personality, as his music constantly seemed to contradict itself, and this was rarely more true than what one finds on "Together Again."  At face value, the song is a soft, sad lament for a lost love, and yet when one actually listens to the words, they are the complete opposite.  The fact that Owens was able to create such space between the mood and the words remains unrivaled to this day, and it is also the almost effortless manner with which he deploys the sound that sets him so far apart from his peers.  Though many long-time country fans wanted nothing to do with this new sound, it would eventually re-write everything the genre stood for, and it is due to this that one must experience firsthand the sonic bliss and beauty that is Buck Owens' 1964 single, "Together Again."

No comments: