Friday Five: Boxers
Boxing is the sweet science, and, lucky for us, it’s the subject of some pretty sweet songs, too. Let’s check out a few of them.
5. Bill Evans and Megan Lynch – Song for Sonny Liston
Liston, who had “a left like Henry’s hammer,” was one of the finest boxers of the 20th century. This cover of Mark Knopfler’s song is a fine tribute, as Lynch, accompanied by Evans’ banjo, describes everything from Liston’s troubled childhood to his criminal activities to his mysterious death (declared to be from a heroin overdose, though his wife said he hated needles).
4. Todd Snider – Iron Mike’s Main Man’s Last Request
Here, Tyson’s main man does everything a main man should do: agree with everything, call his ex-wife a gold digger, and offer helpful suggestions like “keep your eyes fixed on this fight” and “let’s take the Porsche to the titty bar.” Things fall apart when he asks to borrow three hundred bucks—fair compensation for the man who carried the boombox, leads the entourage, and washes the cars, if you ask me.
3. Jim Lauderdale – Jack Dempsey’s Crown
This bluegrass tune can be found on Lauderdale’s newest album, Reason and Rhyme, a collaboration with Robert Hunter. It’s a wonderful piece of storytelling, as a down on his luck ex-boxer explains why he’s “such a wreck”: “Ever since I won Jack Dempsey’s crown/There doesn’t seem no place to go but down.”
2. Bob Dylan – Hurricane
Dylan wrote this eight minute protest song about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a middleweight arrested (and later freed) for a triple murder in 1966. The song focuses on Carter’s trial, but about Hurricane’s fighting, Dylan says: “Rubin could take a man out with just one punch/But he never did like to talk about it all that much/’It’s my work,’ he’d say, ‘and I do it for pay/And when it’s over I’d just as soon go on my way.’”
1. Emmylou Harris – The Boxer
Emmylou’s cover of the Simon and Garfunkel classic is, like nearly all of her covers, fantastic. Paul Simon penned the song at a time when critics were being less than kind about his music, placing himself in the role of the boxer, “a fighter by his trade” who carries the reminders of “every glove that laid him down.” Even after those knockouts, the man just won’t stay down: the final lyric leaves listeners with the image of the fighter who still remains. Waylon Jennings and Chet Atkins have also covered the song.
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