Super excited for another music post from Lauren!

I'm sure that if y'all are anything like me, you grew up reading Shel Silverstein. As a child, I spent hours upon hours with Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. He made learning to read a joy, and even as an adult I probably have at least 10 of the poems memorized and banging around in my brain. I even dressed up as Backwards Bill for a 6th grade project. It involved putting overalls on backwards, which is harder than it may appear when you're in a middle school bathroom stall.
via encyclopedia britanica.

Recently, I've been encountering Uncle Shelby in a very different way. As many of you may know, he was a cartoonist for Playboy magazine throughout the 1950s-1970s and many of his cartoons were compiled into books which were "adult only". One of my favorites, Different Dances, has a permanent place on our bookshelf. I think what a lot of people don't realize is that Shel was also a talented songwriter. With seeming ease, he translated his quick wit into a songwriting style all his own. He wrote songs for a lot of folks, but y'all know me. The ones that appeal to me most are the country ones.

The most well-known Shel penned tune in the country world is Johnny Cash's Boy Named Sue. (This song is well-loved by my husband. He random yells "SAM OR BOB OR GEORGE OR ANYTHING BUT SUE" at the dog. Maybe one day we'll get a dog and name him Sue). I love that whimsy is added to a country tune. (And if you ever get the chance, check out Father of a Boy Named Sue... Shel answers your burning questions about the man who named his child a lady name... as always, with a twist). Another Cash tune that Silverstein wrote was 25 Minutes to Go. The song, about the last 25 minutes of the life of a criminal, alternates humor with the somewhat distressing. Experiencing those two elements poised side by side is, in my opinion, the best way to feel both emotions. My favorite recording of the song is from the 1968 live album At Folsom Prison. What giant balls John had to perform a hangin' song in front of some rowdy inmates.

Well I sent for the governor and the whole dern bunch with 21 minutes to go
I sent for the mayor but he's out to lunch I've got 20 more minutes to go
Then the sheriff said boy I gonna watch you die got 19 minutes to go
So I laughed in his face and I spit in his eye got 18 minutes to go

In addition to Cash, he also wrote for Loretta Lynn. I am forever impressed with Loretta's forward thinking. Her own songwriting tackled some issues that were difficult and delicate for female fans in the 1960s (Rated X, The Pill), and I feel she paved the way for some badass country ladies. She is unapologetic about who she is and is not afraid to experiment with new ways to approach her music. She had a resurgence in 2004 with the release of Van Lear Rose, produced by Jack White. In 1972, she had a number one hit with One's On the Way, written by Shel. It's fascinating to me how he captures the feelings of women saddled in homemaker positions and does it in a way that was believable for Loretta to sing. He also wrote Hey Loretta, using the verses as the voice of a woman running away from her husband and the chorus to as the voice of her husband who has clearly taken her for granted. Again, funny but also incredibly astute and easy for her fans to identify with.

And you'll say hey Loretta I love you more than my Irish Setter
Hey Loretta don't leave me alone
Hey Loretta I swear I'm a gonna treat you better
Buy you brand new overalls if you'll only come back home

Bobby Bare was also graced with tunes by Shel, as were a band called Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show who recorded Cover of a Rolling Stone in 1973. (Buck Owens did a parody of the song called Cover of the Music City News, if you're looking for some country flair). In his lifetime, Shel wrote a lot of other songs and published a lot more books than this blog post can address. But since I'm the resident country-obsessed lady in these parts of blog land, I thought I'd just share with you some of my favorites. 
If you're looking to hear some more of Shel singing his own tunes, check out Shel Silverstein: Boy Named Sue and His Other Country Songs. Preferably on vinyl with a drink in hand. Hearing his quirky, raspy, squeaky voice is only made better by the crack of the vinyl. 


  1. I have a copy of Different Dances too and it is one of my all time favs. We had a copy of Barbi Benson's debut album (she was a playboy bunny) on vinyl and it had a few songs by shel but I think the hubs might have put it in the thrift store pile!

  2. I LOVE Lauren music posts. I just learned so much.

  3. I met Naurnie back in 2005 and she opened my eyes (or ears, rather) to some amazing music. She has impeccable taste and could probably teach a college course on Bob Dylan alone.

  4. Anonymous5:00 AM

    @emilia jane - too bad that made it into the thrift store pile! i would love to hear that.

    @nikki - thanks, love!

    @megan - i can't tell you how happy it made me to see you comment on a blog! i miss ya.

  5. Anonymous10:20 AM

    Yeah Shel was a talented guy. My husband and I are big fans. In fact, our cat is a boy named sue. When we tell people they either totally get it and LOVE it, or we explain the story and they love it. Great post.

  6. Naurnie,Do you remember the day Shel died? I woke you up that morning, rubbing your back, telling you that I had some sad news. Love, Mom

  7. amazing! I was just wikipediaing Shel S the other day and was taken aback with all his accomplishments (beyond my childhood faves).

  8. I hear he has a new book being released soon...

    I know he's passed away, but I think his children are still releasing his poems. :]

    love the giving tree.