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Hank Cochran – The King of Traditional Country Heartbreak

Country songwriter hank Cochran before he died

Country songwriter hank Cochran before he died

It was announced last week that Hank Cochran will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with Ronnie Milsap and bluegrass vocalist Mac Wiseman. During a songwriting career that started in 1960 and continued for five decades, Cochran had his songs recorded by diverse group of artists including Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Natalie Cole, Dinah Shore, Nancy Sinatra, Henry Mancini, and a steady stream of Nashville vocalists. Cochran’s wasn’t interested in clever wordplay or innovative song structures. His specialty was traditional country heartbreak, served up in a simple ballad format. Listed below in chronological order are some of his most enduring contributions to country music.

1. “I Fall to Pieces,” Patsy Cline (1961). Songwriters – Cochran, Harlan Howard. Cochran had performed with Eddie Cochran as the Cochran Brothers (they weren’t related) before Eddie’s solo career took off. Moving to Nashville, Cochran teamed with Harlan Howard to write “I Fall to Pieces,” the first major hit Patsy Cline had after a five year dry spell following “Walkin’ After Midnight.” “I Fall to Pieces” established Cline as both a viable country and pop artist.

2. “Everything But You,” Willie Nelson (1961). Songwriters – Cochran, Willie Nelson. Cochran recognized Nelson’s unique talent in the early 1960s, and helped the young Texan get a publishing contract. This 1961 recording wasn’t released until 1978 and is a fine reminder for Nelson fans of the commercial perils of being ahead of one’s time.

3. “A Little Bitty Tear,” Burl Ives (1961). The genial Ives had been hitting the pop charts since the late 1940s, but with “A Little Bitty Tear,” he went #1 country and hit the Top Ten pop charts in the U.S. and England. This effort truly reflects Cochran’s motto, “Make it short and sweet, make it rhyme.” Ives nearly replicated his chart success with his ensuing single – the Cochran written “Funny Way of Laughin’.” Has there ever been a happy clown?

4. “She’s Got You,” Patsy Cline (1962). Hank contacted Patsy Cline right after he wrote this brilliant number and informed her that he had just composed her next #1 song. Being a practical gal, Patsy made two requests of Hank – bring over the song and a bottle of liquor.

5. “Make the World Go Away,” Ray Price (1963). This was a major hit for Ray Price in ’63 (#2 country), then two years later it was Eddy Arnold’s turn to carry the weight of the world (#1 country). Price also scored hits with Cochran compositions “A Way to Survive” and “You Wouldn’t Know Love.” “Make the World Go Away” was also the last U.S. Top 40 pop hit for Timi Yuro, who wailed as though the Earth was crushing her spine.

6. “Don’t Touch Me,” Jeannie Seely (1966). Cochran must have enjoyed marriage, Seely was the fourth of his five wives. This is a rather lusty number (“Don’t open the door to heaven if I can’t walk in”) for 1960s country music. Seely would also chart with the Cochran numbers “It’s Only Love.” “I’ll Love You More (Than You Need)”. “A Wanderin’ Man.”

7. “I’m a Long Way from Home,” Waylon Jennings (1966). If you did the blindfold Pepsi challenge on this tune, you might guess it’s Jim Reeves singing instead of ol’ outlaw Waylon. Later covered by Shooter Jennings on the Walk the Line soundtrack. (Puts a lot of pressure on a kid being named “Shooter.” What if he’s both a lousy basketball player and sterile?)

8. “It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad),” Merle Haggard (1972). Songwriters – Cochran, Grady Martin. Hank wasn’t riding a hot streak in the ‘70s, but Merle’s take on preferring comfort over love knocked Donna Fargo’s “Funny Face” off the top of the country charts. You know, Donna Fargo wouldn’t be attractive enough to have hit records in the modern era and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

9. “That’s All That Matters,” Mickey Gilley (1980). Such a stately song that I wonder what a real singer could do with it. Still, another #1.

10. “The Chair,” George Strait (1985). Songwriters – Cochran, Dean Dillon. George Strait picks up a bar floozy by purposefully mistaking the seating arrangements. Too bad George didn’t cover Nick Cave’s “The Mercy Seat” before Johnny Cash got to it.

11. “Ocean Front Property,” George Strait (1986). Songwriters – Cochran, Dean Dillon, Royce Porter. The country version of John Waite’s “Missing You.” See, they don’t miss that woman at all. Except, WHEN THEY DO.

12. “Set ‘Em Up Joe,” Vern Gosdin (1988). Vern Gosdin. Songwriters – Cochran, Dean Dillon, Buddy Cannon, and Vern Gosdin. Gosdin slipped in just in time – that last moment when country singers could look like warehouse managers instead of deodorant models. Working with different songwriters, Cochran wrote a number of Gosdin hits including “Right in the Wrong Direction,” “Is it Raining at Your House,” “This Ain’t My First Rodeo,” “What Would Your Memories Do,” and “Who You Gonna Blame It On This Time.” A number of keepers in this group, but this tribute to Ernest Tubb is my favorite.

13. “Don’t You Ever Get Tired (Of Hurting Me),” Ronnie Milsap (1989). As far as I know, Hank never wrote about sadomasochism or enhanced interrogation techniques, so this must be about an evil pain-inflicting woman. Ray Price went to #11 with this song in 1965, but visionary Country Hall of Fame member Milsap took this to the top slot.

14. “She Never Got Me Over You,” Mark Chesnutt (2008). Songwriters – Cochran, Dean Dillon, Keith Whitley. Cochran co-wrote a number of minor hits for Keith Whitley and this was the last song that Whitley penned before his untimely death. There’s an unreleased Whitley demo version on YouTube that cuts the Chesnutt version with a machete, but it’s hard to compete in the sadness department with a guy that drank himself to death. Bottoms Up!

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