From Hank Williams’ “Half as Much” to David Frizzell’s “A Million
Light Beers Ago,” country music is saturated with songs that use numbers to signify the scarcity, abundance or perseverance
of strong emotions.
A list of all these songs would extend from here to “The Twelfth of Never” (yes, there were two
country troubadours — Slim Whitman and David Houston — who charted
covers of this 1957 Johnny Mathis pop hit). So instead of attempting completeness, let me just run down a few examples of
this genre that rattle through my mind 24/7.
“One in a Row,” Willie
Writer: Willie Nelson
No. 19 in 1966
Here Nelson is plagued by a notoriously inconstant lover,
to whom he bitterly complains, “If you can truthfully say/That you’ve been true just one day/Well, that makes one in a row.”
Also check out Diamond Rio’s inconsolably mournful “One More Day.” Written
by Steven Jones and Bobby Tomberlin, it reached No. 1 in 2001.
“Two Divided by Love,” the
Writers: Marty Kupps, Dennis Lambert, Brian Potter
No. 53 in 1972
Originally a 1971 pop hit
for Grass Roots, this lament advises us, “Two divided by love can only be one/And one is a lonely number.” Four years after
releasing their version, this father-and-daughter duo blew the doors off country music with “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away,” which
topped the charts for four weeks. Also check out Emmylou Harris’ make-the-best-of
it “Two More Bottles of Wine.” Her recording of the Delbert McClinton
song topped the chart in 1978.
“Three Days,” Faron Young
Faron Young, Willie Nelson
No. 7 in 1962
There’s not a lot of hope in this one: “Three days that I dread to see
arrive/Three days that I hate to be alive/Three days filled with tears and sorrow/Yesterday, today and tomorrow.” Also check
out the faux folk fable, “Three Wooden
Crosses.” Doug Johnson and Kim Williams wrote Randy Travis’ hit that
reached No. 1 in 2003.
“Four Walls,” Jim Reeves
George Campbell, Marvin Moore
No. 1 for eight weeks in 1957
With his baby out honky-tonking, the lovelorn lad in
this song faces the claustrophobia of being home alone and thinking, “Four walls to hear me/Four walls to see/Four walls too
near me/Closing in on me.” Also check out Faron Young’s regretful “It’s Four in the Morning,” a Jerry Chesnut composition
that spent two weeks at No. 1 in 1972.
“Five Minutes,” Lorrie Morgan
Beth Nielsen Chapman
No. 1 in 1990
Morgan has had enough in her first No. 1 single. She’s got her suitcase packed
and is waiting for a taxi. So when her neglectful bozo walks in, she blasts him with, “Lately you’ve forgotten what loving
me’s about/Well, now you’ve got five minutes to figure it out.” Tick. Tick. Tick.
“Six Days on the Road,” Dave
Writers: Earl Green, Carl Montgomery
No. 2 for two weeks in 1963
This is the supreme trucker’s
song. It combines all the classic elements of loneliness, highway hazards, pride of job, the competitive spirit, name-dropping
of truck brands and low-grade eroticism. “Six days on the road” it announces, “and I’m gonna make it home tonight.” Steve
Earle recorded this song for the soundtrack of the 1987 movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. His version went
No. 29 in 1988.
“Seven Year Ache,” Rosanne Cash
No. 1 in 1981
Forgive me for succumbing to the urge to say that a seven-year ache is what you get after
six days on the road. I just couldn’t help myself. But, no, it’s really about trying to talk some sense into a mate who’s
tempted to graze in fresher pastures. Is that a common problem? Also check out the even more mystifying “Seven Spanish Angels,”
recorded by Ray Charles and Willie Nelson and written by Troy Seals, Eddie
Setser, It reached No. 1, 1985.
“Eight More Miles to Louisville,” Grandpa
Writer: Grandpa Jones
In Grandpa’s day, the roads were narrow and twisted — if
they even existed. This fact explains the joy in his voice when he twangs, “Eight more miles to Louisville/The hometown of
“Nine Pound Hammer,” Merle Travis, Tennessee
This much-performed folk song dwells on the hard life of the
working man, a condition Travis examined more closely in his 1955 numbers-oriented hit for Tennessee Ernie, “Sixteen Tons.”
Rounds With Jose Cuervo,” Tracy Byrd
Writers: Casey Beathard,
Marla Cannon, Mike Heeney
No 1 in 2002
Next to penicillin and long conversations with Deepak Chopra, the surest
remedy for love gone bad is — as Byrd illustrates here — repeated ingestions of tequila, interspersed by forcing upon strangers
convoluted stories about the bitch who did you in. Our motto: Country Music When Medicare Fails.
Months and 29 Days,” Johnny Paycheck
Writers: Johnny Paycheck,
No. 34 in 1976
More than most country artists who sang about the experience, Paycheck actually knew
what it was like to serve time. This one reveals him at his unrepentant best.
I also have an unexamined fondness for
Jimmy Martin’s “Twenty-Twenty Vision (and Walking Around Blind),” Dwight
Yoakam‘s “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere,”
Kathy Mattea’s “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” and John
Conlee‘s “The Backside of Thirty.”
If you have any questions, just call “Lonesome 7-7203.” (Hawkshaw
Hawkins took the Justin Tubb composition to No. 1 for four weeks in 1963.)
Or, better yet, call 911 and get me
out of this maze.