George Jones and Johnny Paycheck: Double Trouble (1980)


Yesterday I spent time listening to Double Trouble, a collaborative album between Johnny Paycheck and George Jones. If one is being generous, they might say the album is merely okay, when the truth is a little bit harder to swallow: the album just isn’t very good. It doesn’t help the album’s case that the version I am listening to–a just-released reissue via Morello, paired it with a much better collaboration between Jones and Merle Haggard. A Taste of Yesterday’s Wine was a certified success and contained certified hits now considered classic later-period Jones numbers.

Yet it’s somewhat unfair to dismiss Double Trouble, because even though it’s not a very good record, it possesses an element that transcends critical notions of what makes something “good” or “bad,” and that is personality. What it lacks in quality, it makes up for in charm. Double Trouble breaks from Jones’ trademark country sound, and is something of a tribute to the rock scene of the 1950s. Covers of “Roll Over, Beethoven” and “Mabellene” are fast-paced and fun; it’s obvious Paycheck and Jones are having a blast stepping outside of their stylistic comfort zone and, in the case of Jones, enjoying the music of his contemporaries–music often dismissed by his audience at the time. Their take of “Proud Mary” is spirited, even if it adds nothing to the song’s legacy.

If one didn’t know any better–and perhaps I don’t–one might get the feeling that this one-off album was the result of a quick, one-off recording session. Double Trouble definitely retains a loose, rollicking spirit, feeling less like a studio session and more like two dudes getting together in their garage or basement, half-drunk, and bashing out the songs they love. Who knows, that may be exactly what Double Trouble was. The female backing singers feel oddly out of place and tacked on, which leads me to think that hypothesis may indeed be the case, as does the constant talking between the two at the beginning and the end of songs. The one moment of seriousness, the closing cover of Arthur Alexander‘s “You Better Move On,” shows that had the two explored some more serious fare, then they might have produced a better record.

What damned Double Trouble, then? That’s an easy answer. It’s the first two songs.

The first song, “When You’re Ugly Like Us (You Just Naturally Got To Be Cool),” is the most contemporary (and unknown) song in the bunch, and it’s pure corn pone. It sounds like a writer trying to be Shel Silverstein, turning out inferior Ray Stevens fare, and would be best left to a Hee-Haw skit. While it may have seemed a good idea at the time, it’s a terrible start to the album, and lowers expectations. “Along Came Jones” comes next, which is even worse–a mediocre cover of a novelty song that was probably only recorded as a play on Jones’ last name.

Though those songs are hokum, had they been programmed later in the record, Double Trouble would have been a stronger record. Had I been in charge of the running order, I would have started the album with “Roll Over, Beethoven,” placed “When You’re Ugly Like Us” at the end of side one, and put “Along Came Jones” on side two. Blending the weaker moments in with the album’s high points would have strengthened the album and made for a more enjoyable record.

Double Trouble isn’t a high point in Jones’ outstanding discography, and that’s okay, because in spite of its lesser status, it’s still a fun listen. Just make sure and do something with those first two tracks, though….

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