Song of the Day #418: ‘L.A. County’ – Lyle Lovett

pontiacLovett’s second album, 1988’s Pontiac, expanded on the jazz influences he touched on in his debut. In fact, the album is split right down the middle between traditional country songs on the first side and the jazz/blues tunes on the second.

Which side you prefer probably depends on your fondness for country music. I know a certain country-averse commenter here will have a strong preference for side B. And certainly there’s a great case to be made for those songs.

I’m torn, though, between the sweet horn-blasted deliciousness of such songs as ‘She’s No Lady,’ ‘M-O-N-E-Y,’ ‘Black and Blue’ and ‘She’s Hot to Go’ and the more straight-forward country fare that opens the album.

Album opener ‘If I Had a Boat,’ for example, is among Lovett’s best songs (I’ve featured it on the blog already which is why it’s not my choice today).

‘Give Back My Heart’ is a honkytonk talking country blues number that suggests “redneckness has got to be a disease” and features this fabulous verse:

But the road was long and home was far
So I stopped off at this little cowboy-looking bar
I walked on through the door and she just smiled
In a long pony tail and a pretty white dress
She said “Hi, bull riders do it best”
I said “Oh my God, what’s your name?
My name’s Lyle”

Lyrically, Lovett is in fine form on Pontiac, showcasing his scathing wit and clever wordplay. ‘She’s No Lady,’ which got him in trouble in some circles, is a prime example:

The preacher asked her
And she said “I do”
The preacher asked me
And she said “Yes, he does too”
And the preacher said
“I pronounce you 99 to life
Son, she’s no lady she’s your wife”

Today’s song, ‘L.A. County,’ anchors the album’s country side. I chose it over some of the jazzier fare on side two because it’s easy to play up that aspect of Lovett’s career and ignore what a fine country writer and performer he is.

Also, this is probably the bounciest music to ever accompany a tale of jealous murder, and that’s got to be worth something.

She left Dallas for California
With an old friend by her side
Well he did not say much
But one year later
He’d ask her to be his wife

And the lights of L.A. County
Look like diamonds in the sky
When you’re driving through the hours
With an old friend at your side

One year later I left Houston
With an old friend by my side
Well it did not say much
But it was a beauty
Of a coal black .45

And the lights of L.A. County
Look like diamonds in the sky
When you’re driving through the hours
With an old friend at your side

So I drove on all the day long
And I drove on through the night
And I thought of her a’waiting
For to be his blushing bride

And the lights of L.A. County
They looked like diamonds in the sky
As I drove into the valley
With my old friend at my side

And as she stood there at the altar
All dressed in her gown of white
Her face was bright as stars a’shining
Like I’d dreamed of all my life

And they kissed each other
And they turned around
And they saw me standing in the aisle
Well I did not say much
I just stood there watching
As that .45 told them goodbye

And the lights of L.A. County
Look like diamonds in the sky
When you’re kneeling at the altar
With an old friend at your side

And the lights of L.A. County
Are a mighty pretty sight
When you’re kneeling at the altar
With an old friend at your side

10 thoughts on “Song of the Day #418: ‘L.A. County’ – Lyle Lovett

  1. Amy says:

    So I guess my two favorite songs on the album – and two of my all-time favorites – each kick off an aspect of his muscial styles. “If I Had a Boat” and “She’s No Lady” are two of the finest songs I’ve ever heard, and I never cease to marvel at his word play in either of them.

    Today’s song is bouncy and wonderful, though “Give Back My Heart” is the country gem I prefer. M-O-N-E-Y was ruined for me after The Firm. Boo, Tom Cruise:)

    Otherwise, this album is among my favorites.

  2. Dana says:

    I had a sneaking suspicion that you were going to use this theme to feature Lyle’s country fare over his far more interesting and brilliant jazz, blues and swing work. And that’s a shame if this is the only nod you are going to give to Pontiac, because what made the album truly special was the B side songs.

    Now, sure, this SOTD is okay, but can you honestly say Lovett would have caught your interest and then remained amongst your favorites had it not been for the genius he created in those jazzy blues songs? Perhaps you might have circled back to Lovett years later, given your growing love affair with country music, maybe after reading some blog where Tift Merritt lists Lovett as an influence, but I doubt you would have gravitated to him in the first instance.

    i so wish you had chosen to feature She’s No Lady or Black and Blue from this album, or if you had to push the country like the peddler you have become, at least feature the beautiful title track. So, for those of your blog readers who may actually be less familiar with Lovett’s non-traditional country music, I offer you the true brilliance of Lyle:

  3. Clay says:

    Was it my selection of the only non-country song on his debut album that gave you that sinking feeling? 😉

    I disagree that Side B of Pontiac is what makes it special. I love both sides equally for different reasons. I don’t think there’s a better song on that album than ‘If I Had a Boat’ – do you not think that Side A track makes it special?

    I’ll set your mind at ease and reveal that I don’t plan to focus on Lovett’s country fare over the next two weeks, at least not exclusively. What I want to do is showcase the many things he does well, and whether you like it or not, that includes country music.

    A Lyle Lovett fan who dismisses more than half of his work because of its genre isn’t much of a Lyle Lovett fan at all. He’s not a jazz/blues musician. And he’s not a country musician. He’s both, and that’s what makes him so special…. a “long tall Texan” who can write and perform such fabulous songs as ‘L.A. County’ and ‘She’s No Lady.’

  4. Amy says:

    … and can weave references to the two-step and caviar into his lyrics, without seeming disingenuous in either instance. I agree 100%, which is why I was quick to point out a “B side” song that wasn’t among my favorites. He is a brilliant artist, who has written songs which bridge genres. I can’t wait to hear every one you feature and to read what you have to say about each of them!

  5. Dana says:

    Look, I was THERE when you first began loving Lyle, and it wasn’t the country stuff you were most drawn to at first. It was, if anything, the jazz and blues numbers on your introduction point of Large Band. So, let’s not reinvent history and say that you first heard Pontiac and that you were equally drawn to both the country and non-country fare. Puh-leaze!

    “If I Had a Boat” is, without question, a great song, but I understand your not featuring it today as you had featured it in the past. However, do you not agree that, after that opening gem, the next best song on the album is “She’s No Lady?” You really feel LA County is the better song? If so…wow!

    As for my fan status with Lyle, I concede that the height of my fandom came with Large Band and the scattering of his swing/jazz tunes from his first and second album. Having said that, my fan level certainly stayed steady through Joshua Judges Ruth and Road to Ensenada–though, as to each of those albums, my least favorite songs remain the most country-ish ones.

    I had really hoped that, over time, post Ensenada, Lyle would do more of the style I love and less of the country fare, but that, unfortunately, has not been the case so far. I have fairly little use for his post Ensenada work, save a couple of songs I like (but don'[t necessarily love) from subsequent albums. In that sense, unlike someone like Elvis Costello, who continues to expand in musical flavors in every direction, I have been a bit disappointed in Lovett’s more recent stuff. So, am I still a Lovett fan? Well, I guess so, much in the way I still consider myself a fan of Paul Simon, even though, candidly, I haven’t loved much since Rhythm of the Saints.

    And do I like some of Lyle’s country work? Sure, just as I like some (but not all) of Costello’s country work. I’m confident that you will feature some of those great tunes in the next few weeks, but, when you choose an average song like “LA County” over the far better “She’s No Lady” I will, to paraphrase our president, call you out on it every time!

  6. Clay says:

    My goal in these theme weeks is not to highlight the “best” song on every album… and yes, if I were to use that as my criteria for Lyle Lovett then his jazzier fare would certainly dominate.

    Instead, I’m interested in giving a relatively well-rounded look at each artist’s career. And to cover Lyle Lovett without highlighting any country music would be silly.

    And you’re right that my appreciation of country music has grown over the years, including my appreciation of Lyle Lovett’s country music. The difference is that I see that as a good thing.

  7. Dana says:

    Agreed that to not cover Lyle’s country music would not give an accurate representation of Lyle and further agreed that there are indeed worthy country songs of Lyle’s to feature. But I don’t think LA County is the best song on Pontiac, nor is it even the best country song on Pontiac.

    Just please don’t go featuring “I Married Her Just Because She Looks Like You” tomorrow over any of the first 5 songs on Large Band or I will go into an apoplectic fit.:)

    And, I’m not saying your recent love of country is a “bad” thing–I am simply saying that twenty years ago, you would not have said that the first half of Pontiac was “equal” to the second half and, if only the first half had existed (save “If I Had a Boat”), you may never have become as a big a fan of Lyle as you are today.

  8. Clay says:

    See, I disagree with you there. I’ve always loved ‘L.A. County,’ ‘Walk Through the Bottomland’ and ‘Give Back My Heart’ along with ‘If I Had a Boat.’ ‘I Loved You Yesterday’ is the only one I could take or leave from that first side, and that’s an opinion I’ve held from the beginning.

    I think Large Band is the album where the country stuff is clearly inferior to the rest, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

  9. Dana says:

    I like “Walk through the Bottomland” quite a lot and “GIve Back My Heart” is very good (and funny) as well. Both would have been, in my view, better selections to show the country side of Pontaic than LA County, although I still maintain that a failure to feature “She’s No Lady” or “Black and Blue” is just plain wrong:)

  10. Amy says:

    I believe Dana has been offered a chance to guest blog whenever he so desires. So… I hope he stops complaining about Clay’s choices just because they aren’t the choices he would have made!

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