Song of the Day #1,100: ‘You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive’ – Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley’s second album, 2001’s Part II, further entrenched the styles he touched on in his debut and would explore throughout his career, but introduced a new focus on the album as a thematic unit. A man after my own heart, Paisley is a fan of albums as works of art unto themselves, not just collections of songs.

The story behind the concept of Part II is almost too good to be true. Paisley had seen Father of the Bride with a woman who later left him. When the sequel came out, he says he went to the same theater on the same day as that previous date with the silly notion that maybe she’d be there, too, and they could rekindle their romance. She wasn’t, and they didn’t.

Years later, he thought back on that experience and reflected that in Hollywood, there’s always a sequel — a “Part II” — but in relationships we rarely get that chance. He wrote a song about that and made it the title track of this new album. Most of the album is about missed opportunities and the need for second chances. And of course it was Paisley’s second album, making the whole concept click just perfectly.

The greatest twist, of course, is that Paisley wound up finding his future wife shortly after this album was recorded, and she turned out to be the star of the Father of the Bride films, Kimberly Williams. So it turns out he shared that sequel with the love of his life after all.

He alluded to these events in a reprise to his song ‘Welcome to the Future’ on American Saturday Night.

I’ll get into how he met Williams with tomorrow’s selection, but today I’m featuring one of the highlights of Part II, the stately ballad ‘You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.’

In the deep dark hills of eastern Kentucky
That’s the place where I trace my bloodline
And it’s there I read on a hillside gravestone
You will never leave Harlan alive

Oh, my granddad’s dad walked down
Katahrins Mountain
And he asked Tillie Helton to be his bride
Said, won’t you walk with me out of the mouth
Of this holler
Or we’ll never leave Harlan alive

Where the sun comes up about ten in the morning
And the sun goes down about three in the day
And you fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you’re drinking
And you spend your life just thinkin’ of how to get away

No one ever knew there was coal in them mountains
‘Til a man from the Northeast arrived
Waving hundred dollar bills he said I’ll pay ya for your minerals
But he never left Harlan alive

Granny sold out cheap and they moved out west Of Pineville
To a farm where big Richland River winds
I bet they danced them a jig, laughed and sang a new song
Who said we’d never leave Harlan alive

But the times got hard and tobacco wasn’t selling
And ole granddad knew what he’d do to survive
He went and dug for Harlan coal
And sent the money back to granny
But he never left Harlan alive

Where the sun comes up about ten in the morning
And the sun goes down about three in the day
And you fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you’re drinking
And you spend your life just thinkin’ of how to get away

Where the sun comes up about ten in the morning
And the sun goes down about three in the day
And you fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you’re drinking
And you spend your life digging coal from the bottom of your grave

In the deep dark hills of eastern Kentucky
That’s the place where I trace my bloodline
And it’s there I read on a hillside gravestone
You will never leave Harlan alive

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,100: ‘You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive’ – Brad Paisley

  1. Amy says:

    Your post certainly didn’t prepare me for today’s SOTD 😉 I was all ready for a romantic ballad, so I’ll look forward to Sunday’s song. Meanwhile, I like this song. The first few seconds sounded as though they might be on the “O Brother” soundtrack.

    So… the theme is second chances, but there is no connection among the songs on the album? Is there an actual song on the album about the original girl not showing up at the theater? I guess this song would be about how Granny should have held out for more money! 🙂

    Kentucky is a state we haven’t yet visited (as a family, at least) – and one I bet is quite interesting. When I go, I’ll look for that gravestone.

  2. Clay says:

    The songs aren’t related to each other directly, but most are about failed relationships. This one is an exception, but I really like it so I figured what the hell.

    The title song is about the girl who didn’t show up at the theater, but it doesn’t describe those events in detail.

  3. Dana says:

    like the whole Father of the Bride Story. Song does nothing for me.

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