Label / Cat No: Gusto Records - SD-968X
First Released: 1976
What The Album Blurb Says:
The Country Music industry is made up of all sorts of people. Most of the performers seem to have one particular area in which they excel. Some have great personalties [sic] which overcome thier lack of talent, some are beautiful to look at, some are fantastic musicians, some have superior voice qualities, and I could go on and on.
I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that every successful entertainer possesses a certain quality which seems to set him apart from all the rest. The fact that he or she is unique is one reason for that artist's success. I believe that to become a superstar you must have a voice that is easily recognizable. For instance, when you hear Johnny Cash, you know immediatly [sic] that it is Johnny Cash. Nobody has to tell you. The same is true of Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow and all the others.
Red Sovine is a man with that quality of voice. He is gifted with that certain unique difference that sets him apart from all the rest. His voice seems to have been especially designed to allow him to do the kind of songs which have made him as popular as he is. When I listen to Phantom 309, Giddy Up Go, and now to Teddy Bear, I know that there is no other man who could have done them any better. He is the best in the world at what he does. And most performers will tell you that it is much more difficult to talk a lyric than to sing it. Red Sovine tells his stories with a warmth that is untouchable. He milks every drop of meaning out of every song he records.
I was present when no less than a dozen people heard Teddy Bear for the first time, and without exception, They all reached for something to wipe that uncontrollable tear from their face. Those tears let you know that the performer has captured the song and projected the words with believability, and believability is what recording is all about.
Red, I envy you. I wish that I had the ability to do what you do with a spoken lyric. For what you do, you are the best in the world.
And, incidentally, the first time I ever heard about Teddy Bear was in a telephone conversation with Charlie Dick.......... He didn't see me pull my hankerchief [sic] out of my pocket....... Nobody did.
What I Say...
Back in the heady days of 2010, when the world seemed young and fresh and hope was abundant, I pre-recorded a load of albums so they were ready to pop onto my steam powered phone and listen to at my leisure. I'd set the album recording, go and do something else, and pop back just to flip the vinyl over and check. These files have been sitting on my hard drive, faithfully backed up and transferred onto each new computer, waiting for their moment in the sun.
On playing back this particular album, I found that the third song, "It Ain't No Big Thing" included 2 minutes of the needle stuck in a groove. As I was driving at the time, forwarding through wasn't really an option, and as I listened hypnotised by the repetitive 'can it be, can it be, can it be' I had a sudden realisation that I was enjoying this loop more than I had the previous two songs.
A comment on a previous incarnation of this blog called me 'fashionably cynical' when I announced my dislike for the mawkishly sentimental. It's the only time I've ever been called fashionable, so I choose to take it as a compliment. However, if the mawkishly sentimental is your thing, then these opening tracks are definitely for you.
Red, or Woodrow as his mother knew him, found a niche market in country music with his sentimental and/or trucker songs. I've encountered albums full of trucker songs before, and I'll be honest, it didn't really turn me into a fan. In 'Teddy Bear' Red is clearly mining deeply into both seams - bear with me while I try and explain....
'Teddy Bear' is the C.B. handle of a disabled (or in the acceptable parlance of the time, 'crippled') boy, who is lonely and calling up truckers. We find out in sequence that a) his mother has told him not to use the radio, b) he uses it anyway because he gets lonesome sometimes, c) he gets lonesome because his Mom's at work, and d) his Mom's at work because his Dad, an erstwhile trucker, died in an accident a while ago because he was driving home in the snow and let his desire to get back to the family overbear his ability to drive safely in hazardous conditions.
After telling his tale of woe to a soft-hearted trucker over the radio, he says he has to go because his Mom will be home soon. This duplicity is unforgivable - he knows he's doing wrong, as he's aware he has to hide his actions from his grieving single parent, but Teddy Bear doesn't care. As he's leaving, the trucker asks him his address, and Teddy Bear gives it to him!
I know we live in an age where we're all aware of the dangers of giving out too much personal information over the internet, but even in 1975 I'm sure this would be considered a risky move, but nobody, especially Red seems overly bothered that a disabled boy has announced to strangers over the radio that he's home alone. Anyway, our soft-hearted trucker immediately turns his rig around to go to the house, only to find on his arrival that all the truckers around were queued up around the block to take Teddy Bear for a ride in their cab. That fashionably cynical part of me can't help casting Teddy Bear as a master manipulator, playing these truckers like a cheap violin, making them come round and take him out for trips.
And so as the song ends, our primary trucker is going home, safe in the knowledge that he's made a little boy happy when Teddy Bear's Mom comes over the radio to say Thank You to all the truckers who've made Teddy Bear so happy. The same Mom who had been telling Teddy Bear not to use the CB while she was out. Seems that she was won over easily - more manipulation from the boy himself no doubt.
All this is delivered in Red's sincerity-overdriven voice over what is admittedly a really nice country tune. All the ingredients are there - steel guitar introduction, rolling piano, brushed drums, but the cloying sentimentality of this song just leaves me cold. When this was released in the mid-seventies, it proved to be Red's biggest hit and stormed the Country Music charts. And to be fair, if I try really hard to remember what it was like before the cynicism took over, I can sort of understand why people would latch onto this - though that's for another post. But looking at some of the comments under the YouTube video for this song, people still unironically (is that a word?) consider it to be a great track, and the manufactured sentimentality doesn't seem to bother them the way it does me.
From what I can make out, this was Red's career peak which to me seems a shame as there are so many better tracks on this album. Red also recorded a song called 'Little Joe' in which Teddy Bear as an adult is a character. Except apparently by this stage, Teddy Bear can walk. Given the evidence above of his abilities in manipulation, is it so far fetched of me to speculate that his attention seeking behaviour might also extend to pretending he couldn't walk? Yes, yes it probably is, but I'm just putting it out there.
Having dwelt so long on the title track, I'm going to break with tradition and split this review into a number of parts. After all, if you thought that this song was cloyingly sentimental, just wait until we get to track two...
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, Teddy Bear by Red Sovine
Little Joe, the 'sort of follow up' to Teddy Bear. I hope you have your hankies ready - he's upped the ante, and on top of the sentimentality and truckers, we also have a heroic dog. I know!!
And because I can't resist a foreign language song, here's a cover of Teddy Bear in Dutch. You can't say I don't treat you right, you lucky people.
For those of you who want to have a go at being Red Sovine for a day (and why wouldn't you, eh?) there's a Karaoke version of 'Teddy Bear' here. Go on, you know you want to. And oddly enough, I'm pretty convinced that it wouldn't be too hard to use the same track for 'The Green Green Grass of Home'.