Ranking John Prine’s album openers

Committed to casual mastery, John Prine avoided Grand Gestures imposed on nuevo-Dylan acts, which limited his range but consolidated his strengths. No terrible songs here, just ordinary songs positioned as album openers. “Illegal Smile” and “Sweet Revenge” remain manifestos, all I want from the late non-genius. The absence of grand gestures endears me to him, and after his COVID death I never knew hate for Donald Trump before.


Shop Talk
Lulu Walls

Sound, Solid

Knockin’ on Your Screen Door
Fish and Whistle
New Train
Be My Friend Tonight

Good to Great

Sweet Revenge
Illegal Smile
(We’re Not) The Jet Set (w/Iris DeMent)
Picture Show
Glory of True Love

One thought on “Ranking John Prine’s album openers

  1. I can’t tell you enough how much I love “Illegal Smile”‘ waltz-like chrorus. The build-up to it. His voice in it. I still prefer my interpretation of the song as “I do dope and waltz with it, any questions?”. Instead of what later Prine said about it. Similar to the claptrap explanation of “it’s about heroine” Richards said about “Brown Sugar”. Bullshit. Some things are better left unexplained. It’s a trait I detest about Henley and others among many things. But that is the worst, by far. because the author exposes his self-importance and pomposity “just in case people is stupid enough they doesn’t get it”. And spoils the way you heart it, always.

    I want to quote one of my favorite phrases about this. It’s from E. Costello interviewed for Q Magazine in 1997:
    A: What’s the story behind “I Want You”? Is it just a personificaction of lust?
    C: I’m very reluctant to tell people the stories. For one thing is none of their fucking business. And the other thing is, knowing how much is real and how much is invention spoils the way you listen to it. Your bussiness is to work how you feeel about the song , and if you can make up an even more dramatic story than the one I intended then you’ve done a good job.

    A: Alison: Who Is she?
    C: That’s an impossible one. It’s whoever you want it to be. I know who the song relates to, but I’m not going to tell you because the song is for you to listen to. It’s for who it should be in your own mind. Is that a slippery enough answer?

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