Harlan Howard once defined country music as “three chords and the truth.”
Howard (left) was one of Nashville’s most prolific and preeminent songwriters spanning the late 1950s to the late 1990s. He wrote dozens of hit songs, fifteen of which charted in 1961 alone. Among his best known songs are I Fall to Pieces, Heartaches by the Number, Busted, Pick Me Up on Your Way Down, Streets of Baltimore, Tiger by the Tail and one of the greatest crossover songs ever, The Chokin’ Kind.
Two verses, a thoughtful change up, another verse and a reiterating coda tell the story of the singer’s realization that the partner wants more than love, they want utter control of the singer’s life, frighteningly so. The partner will go to any lengths to achieve this but the singer is gone. In the final verse the singer advises the partner to change for their own sake and that of future relationships. The coda reaffirms the fear and the untenable nature of the relationship.
The line that opens the second verse, “You can kill a man with a bottle of poison or a knife…” is often misheard as being “..a Bible or poison or a knife.”
Several of Howard’s songs crossed over into other genres but it was The Chokin’ Kind that scored biggest. I picked it to feature not just because it’s a fantastic song but it’s been covered in very distinct fashion by these five artists. I inserted audio players so you can hear the full versions of each. You’ll find the players under the album covers.
Originally a hit for Waylon Jennings, The Chokin’ Kind reached #8 in the U.S. and #4 in Canada on the country music charts in 1967. The song appeared on his 1968 album Hangin’ On which reached #9 on the U. S. country chart.
Joe Simon recorded a gorgeous soulful version of The Chokin’ Kind that became the song’s best known version and biggest chart success. It stayed at #1 on the U.S. R & B charts for three weeks in the spring of 1969, selling over a million copies. On the U.S. Pop charts it reached #13 and #17 in Canada. Though he had two other #1 songs, this would be Joe’s biggest hit.
Allen Toussaint, New Orleans singer, producer and songwriter (Working in a Coal Mine, Southern Nights, Mother-In-Law, Ride Your Pony) added his delta spice to the song on his 1971 album Toussaint.
Extraordinary master of a 1953 Fender Telecaster (nicknamed Nancy), Roy Buchanan brought his hypnotic style to the song. At the outset it’s almost an arena rock epic but Roy switches into a funky mode retaining the song’s subtleties. Roy included it on his 1986 album Dancing on the Edge. That’s not Nancy in the picture.
She sounds black and southern but she is blond and British. Joss Stone wails her marvelous rendition of The Chokin’ Kind on her 2003 release The Soul Sessions. The album was a huge hit in Britain, selling over a million copies and going platinum, a feat it also achieved in the U.S. and Canada.