Conway Twitty was an exceptional musician, and though his hairdos might have been funny, he was a seriously talented man. He was also a rarity in that unlike many of the country singers of the 1950s era such as Johnny Cash or George Jones, Twitty made the transition to modern country era, even though he seemed to have washed up after his initial success in 1958 with “It’s Only Make Believe.” While his contemporaries would struggle with success, Twitty smoked ’em all. Csae in point: in the 1970s, he released 29 singles; of those, only one single, 1978’s “Grandest Lady of Them All,” would fail to make the Billboard Country chart’s top ten, peaking at #16, while twenty of those singles would top the charts. The trend continued well into the next decade, and though he didn’t top the charts as much as he did in the 1970s, he only once failed to make the top 40.
One of my favorite songs of this era was his second hit of 1984, a version of Harlan Howard‘s “I Don’t Know A Thing About Love,” and part of the reason I love this song so is because of how it predates and somewhat predicts the coming of one of my favorite artists. Take a listen to the song before you read further and then ponder what I say afterwards.
This song tells the story about a man confused and frustrated about love and his relationship with a woman he suspects is cheating on him. In his frustration, he consults with the moon–and the moon responds to him, informing him that he is simply the moon, and though he sees all and knows all, he doesn’t understand the human concept. When asked if she is cheating, he simply says, “Son, I could tell ya things that might kill ya, but I don’t get involved in what’s wrong or right,” a devastating non-answer. The moon then goes on to explain to him that though he has great power on his own, he doesn’t control everything–that such things are left to God.
In 1997, I conducted my very first interview. Unfortunately for me, the person interviewed was a guy by the name of Stephin Merritt. At the time, he was beginning work on 69 Love Songs, but his recent album, Get Lost, was one that I loved intensely, and I came to the realization that this Howard song sounded a lot like a Stephin Merritt composition. So I asked him if he’d heard the song, and if it was one that he felt an affection to. The conversation went something like this.
Me: “Are you familiar with the Conway Twitty song, ‘I Don’t Know A Thing About Love?’ With your moon themes, and the song structure, it reminded me of your songwriting.”
Stephin: (No comment.)(Pause)(Pause continues)(I grow uncomfortably nervous) “Well,” he said quietly,”who wrote it? Harlan Howard? I like Howard’s work, and I do find he has an interesting rhythmic style, but I’m not familiar with that song, so I can’t answer your question.” (Silence)
I still stand by my thesis that it sounds like a Stephin Merritt composition!
As for the B-side, “Don’t Cry Joni,” it wasn’t a new song; it was a reissue of his 1975 single, a duet with his daughter Joni Lee, added to promote a forthcoming Greatest Hits record. That single reached #4 at the time, and is a weepie about young love, a young girl falling in love with a much older boy who lived next door. He naturally shuns her–he’s 22 and she’s 15–and breaks her heart. He moves away, and a few years later, he starts to thinking about her, and he rushes home to declare his love–only to discover she’s moved on.
Combined with the modern hit and the old hit, this little 1984 single is a one-two punch of Conway Twitty greatness, and is well worth seeking out…and I still think it sounds like something Stephin Merritt would write.