Friday Five: Mental Institutions

Juli Thanki | November 5th, 2010

  • Dolly5. “Daddy, Come and Get Me” – Dolly Parton

    This song was a Top 40 hit for Parton in 1970. She sings from the point of view of a woman “crazy with jealousy” who’s been wrongfully institutionalized by the guy she loves…because he wants to see someone else. You know what else is crazy? Dolly’s outfit in the video below.

  • Highwayman4. “Committed to Parkview” – The Highwaymen

    Johnny Cash wrote this song for Porter Wagoner, who recorded a stunning version 25 years later on his final album, Wagonmaster. The lyrics—about an institution outside of Nashville that both Cash and Porter spent time in—paint pictures of patients that include a man who thinks he’s Hank Williams, a “superstar’s ex-drummer,” and a singer-songwriter who repeatedly attempts suicide. Whether you’re listening to Wagoner’s version or The Highwaymen, you’re hearing a damn good song.

  • A Far Cry From Dead3. “Sanitarium Blues” – Townes Van Zandt

    Knowing Van Zandt’s life story makes this song even more heartwrenching and horrifying. From To Live’s To Fly: The Ballad of the Late, Great Townes Van Zandt, written by John Kruth:
    “[Townes’] memory had been permanently fogged by a series of electric-and insulin-shock treatments he received after being diagnosed as a manic depressive with schizophrenic tendencies in the wake of a nervous breakdown suffered during his sophomore year of college…Van Zandt recalled his parents coming to visit him and the doctor having to reintroduce his mother to him as ‘the one with the long hair.'”

  • Busted2. “I Don’t Remember Loving You” – John Conlee

    This song, penned by Harlan Howard and Bobby Braddock, went to #10 in 1982. In my opinion, Conlee’s never sounded better, especially when he sings “If you’ll hand me my crayons I’ll be glad to take your name/In case I run across the guy you knew/But I don’t remember loving you.”

  • Out Of The Silence Came A Song: The Somber Sound Of Porter Wagon1. “Rubber Room” – Porter Wagoner

    Nobody sings a haunting song quite like Wagoner. This one’ll send chills down your spine.

  1. Bob
    November 5, 2010 at 6:49 am

    The only song I can think of isn’t country – “Knocking ‘Round the Zoo” by James Taylor.

  2. Barry Mazor
    November 5, 2010 at 7:29 am

    Johnny Paycheck’s “Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone to Kill” fits. And it’s polite, too.

    Eddie Noack’s “Psycho” (You Think I’m Psycho, Mama) is certainly a prelude to an institution song..

  3. stormy
    November 5, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Matraca Berg has a “I Don’t Remember Loving You” type song called “I Must Have Been Crazy.”

  4. Ollie
    November 5, 2010 at 8:20 am

    In interviews, James Taylor has explained that Fire and Rain, which has been covered by Willie Nelson, Sammi Smith, and Bonnie Bishop, among others, was largely based on reflections about his stay at Austen Riggs, a psychiatric hospital in Stockbridge, MA.

    Also, it’s not a country song, but Richard Thompson’s Behind Gray Walls is haunting.

  5. Paul W Dennis
    November 5, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Johnny Paycheck’s “(Like Me)You’ll Recover In Time”

  6. timeo
    November 5, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Re: Committed to Parkview, I think the best version was the first one — Johnny Cash by his lonesome on the “One Piece at a Time” album.

    When I first heard it years ago, I wondered if Tammy Wynette’s “‘Til I Can Make It on My Own” was written from the perspective of an institutionalized person.

    If we’re going beyond the confines of the country genre, there’s Napoleon XIV’s “They’re Coming to Take Me Away Ha Ha” and the Ramones’ “I Want to Be Sedated.”

    I guess the obvious songs — “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces” — don’t qualify because they’re not set in a mental institution.

  7. Dave D.
    November 5, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Solid list. The only one I’d suggest adding is Dale Watson’s “I Wish I Was Crazy Again.” While not about the mental institution per se, it was about the time he was institutionalized, and is a damned beautiful song to boot.

  8. Mike K
    November 5, 2010 at 10:38 am

    A song where the bar serves as a sanitarium is “We’re all here,” that Doug Supernaw recorded.

    “It’s not your normal institution, just a run down bar in Houston…”

    Thanks, Juli.

  9. Jonathan
    November 5, 2010 at 10:59 am

    The Porter Wagoner version of “Committed to Parkview” is also worth checking out, just as Juli says above. He adds a whole new dimension to the song. He should’ve been nominated for a Grammy for his work.

    The other song that springs to my mind is Diamond Rio’s “It’s All In Your Head” from their IV album. It was quite the departure for them at the time and the video (complete with Martin Sheen as the preacher) raised many an eyebrow, but the song is the best current example of the theme in commercial country music.

    “It’s All In Your Head” may not have been strictly written about an insane person, but after the video, that’s the angle everyone will take on the song.

  10. luckyoldsun
    November 5, 2010 at 10:59 am

    I can’t come up with the names of any offhand, but I think a couple of Johnny Paycheck’s Little Darling records may have involved mental institutions–They definitely came pretty close.

  11. the pistolero
    November 5, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    The only song that comes to mind for me (besides the Conlee classic) is “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” from Metallica’s 1986 album Master of Puppets.

    “Welcome to where time stands still, no one leaves and no one will…”

  12. Rick
    November 5, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Speaking of institutions, has everyone seen the news about Disney pop-starlet Demi Lovato going into rehab this week? Here’s the story:

    So she has an eating disorder and likes to cut herself in addition to anger control issues eh? I mean how could Joe Jonas have broken up with a gal like that? Then after the break up she stays on the Jonas Brothers tour! Demi really is a glutton for punishment…

    PS – The country artist who should be writing the best songs of this nature is Mindy McCready!

  13. Stormy
    November 5, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Eating disorders and self-mutilitation go hand and hand (around 50% of self cutters have at least one eating disorder) and both kind of make sense in the context of a child star.

  14. K
    November 5, 2010 at 8:30 pm


    It almost seems as if you want your comments to come off as funny; self-destruction is extremely serious and NOTHING to joke about.

    I respect anyone who steps up to get help, instead of letting themselves get caught up in a dangrous spiral.

  15. Ron
    November 5, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    I agree with Timeo, Johnny Cash’s version of “Committed to Parkview” is the best.

    From the first time, I heard “The Rubber Room” I never know what to think of it. Definitely not many songs like that. It would never be played today.

  16. Doug
    November 6, 2010 at 11:00 am

    I’m not familiar with the Dolly Parton song, but as soon as I saw the headline, I hoped you would have the other four songs – and there they were!

    Nice job, Juli!

  17. bob
    November 27, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Yep nothing funny about it, seek help if your in trouble

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