Happy June, everybody. Summer’s in the air and it seems like everywhere you look, flowers are blooming uncontrollably. As it turns out, June’s birth flower is the rose. Thus, that’s the theme for this month’s playlist. There are literally hundreds of songs that fit this topic (more if you count songs about women named Rose, which we didn’t, if only so we can use it as the subject of a later playlist), but we narrowed it down to three dozen songs.
36. “Weeds In My Roses” – Paul Thorn
This one’s from Thorn’s upcoming record Pimps & Preachers, due out at the end of the month. Fans of Ray Wylie Hubbard might dig Thorn’s gritty, bluesy Americana and the way he snarls lyrics to this song about a straying woman like a man possessed.
35. “Doghouse Rose” – Sara Petite
The title track from this Californian’s third album is straight up honkytonk heaven. Doghouse roses, which come with that little doohickey filled with water at the bottom of the stem, can be bought at your average gas station by those who are in a little bit of trouble on the home front. Just don’t offer it up with an apology like this: “Soaked in liquor, soaked in sin/I swore I’d never drink again/I swear I’ll never cheat again/So I bought you this doghouse rose.”
Love won’t grow between a cactus and a rose, especially in a New York townhouse. Stewart, a mighty fine country singer, barely broke into the Top 50 with this depressing 1980 single off the record of the same name.
Also recorded by Toby Keith, this heartbreaker’s about the White Rose filling station, a town’s crown jewel back when gas was 50 cents a gallon. But once a highway was built, things changed. The boarded up station became just a memory, and that small town “lost its will to live.”
This smooth, smoky ballad—and album of the same name—saw Jackson working with Alison Krauss instead of longtime producer Keith Stegall. “Like Red on a Rose” isn’t exactly his typical neotraditionalist fare, but it’s a beautiful showcase of his rich baritone and one of his best singles of the past decade.
There are two really good covers of this Tom Waits’ song; the CCD’s oldtime-influenced version is the most recent, but Alison Krauss and Robert Plant did a fine job on the eerie version they recorded for Raising Sand. If you’ve not acquired a taste for Waits’ gravelly, grotesque rasp, stick with the aforementioned covers. Otherwise, give the original a listen, and pay special attention to the cool cigar box banjo (played by Marc Ribot, who also appears on Raising Sand).
A single yellow rose both begins and ends a relationship, leaving a woman with, you guessed it, the blues. “Yellow Roses” was the second single off the Ricky Skaggs-produced White Limozeen. In case the song doesn’t make it clear, don’t give someone flowers right before you dump her/him. Along this vein, check out another, more recent, Parton song, “I Will Forever Hate Roses.”
Loveless’ cover of this Barbara Keith song was one of the best tracks of Mountain Soul II. The folky/country original is fantastic too, thanks to Keith’s soaring vocals describing how love—often cruel, often kind—mimics an intertwined rose and bramble.
Eric and Leigh’s brother harmonies shine here as they sing bout lost love and disillusionment. Sure, the subject matter is depressing, but this barnburner of a bluegrass song (from Iron & Diamonds) is a blast to listen to.
“I guess you noticed there is only eleven roses/I chose them from our garden where they grew/Take the roses and look into the mirror/And the twelfth rose will be looking back at you.” If those lines won’t get her back, nothing will.
Black Cadillac is a staggering, gorgeous outpouring of no-holds-barred emotion. Grief, beauty, and spirituality are all wrapped up in four of Cash’s finest musical minutes as she sings “We’re falling like the velvet petals/We’re bleeding and we’re torn/But God is in the roses and the thorns.” If only we could all be so eloquent when reflecting on personal tragedy.
A vacationing man is preparing to wire his mother some roses for her birthday when he meets a little boy who wants to buy roses for his own mother. In true country song fashion, the kid’s mom is dead and he’s bringing the flowers to her grave. Of course this inspires the man to take the flowers to his mama in person. Anyway, it’s a really sad recitation, minus a hilariously awful chorus.
Why be sad over a broken relationship when you can just destroy everything the woman left behind? It’s hard to think of any catharsis more gratifying than burning an ex’s clothes, pouring out her perfume, and mowing down a bed of carefully planted roses. At least, any catharsis more gratifying that won’t also land you in prison.
“Buy Me a Rose,” released as a single in 1999, was Rogers’ first #1 in over a decade. The song—which features background vocals by Alison Krauss and Billy Dean—tells the story of a man who realizes that his wife doesn’t want expensive gifts, just courtesy and simple gestures of affection.
22. “Rose of My Heart” – Johnny Cash
Cash sounds frail on this recording from American V: A Hundred Highways, but his love for June was as strong as ever on this cover of the Hugh Moffatt song.
21. “Red Rose from the Blue Side of Town” – George Morgan
A rose sent to a mansion on a hill holds more memories and more love than money could ever buy on this ’74 single. George Morgan was one of country’s finest singers, and the steel guitar on this single, courtesy of Little Roy Wiggins, is the perfect backdrop. Also by Morgan: “Room Full of Roses,” “One Dozen Roses (And Our Love),” and “Tears and Roses.”
20. “Moonlight and Roses” – Jim Reeves
This might be the least depressing song on this month’s playlist, as smooth Jim sings about how the moonlight and roses conjure up wonderful memories and beautiful thoughts. His version of “Roses Are Red (My Love),” is worth seeking out as well.
The polar opposite of Bocephus’ “11 Roses,” this #1 from 1948 finds the smooth-voiced Arnold sending a woman a giant bouquet: one flower for every time she broke his heart. Now if red roses signify love and yellow roses mean friendship, what color means “hit the road, skank?”
The title track from Lynn’s collaboration with Jack White is a sweet tale about the courtship of her parents: the “belle of Johnson County” that everyone called The Van Lear Rose and the miner who stole her heart.
When a lady like Emmylou propositions some barfly by singing “If you’ll be my tall, dark stranger/I’ll be your San Antone Rose” in that legendary, ethereal voice, it’s hard to imagine who could turn her down.
16. “18 Yellow Roses” – Marty Robbins
Bobby Darrin hit the Top 10 with this song in the ’60s; Robbins covered it a decade later. Roses are delivered to a girl and the “other man” only has one plan in mind: to make sure the sender has good intentions, because “Eighteen yellow roses will fade and die someday/But a father’s love will never fade away.” Pssst, Father’s Day is this month too.
Hag isn’t just a helluva singer, he’s a helluva songwriter too. His composition “I Threw Away the Rose” went to #2 in ’67. Turns out when you’re a one man bacchanalia, the bottle eventually gets the best of you, while your pals wise up and ditch your boozy self.
Where Robbins’ song about yellow roses was sweet, Snow brings us back down to earth with this downer. This time it’s the man who gets sent flowers from a woman who, accusing him of unfaithfulness, decides that roses are the perfect parting gift. That makes her the third character so far in this month’s playlist to do such a thing. It’s kind of an overdramatic gesture, don’t you think?
Anderson’s signature song rocketed to the top of the country charts in 1970 and proved to be a massive crossover hit. Folks like Martina McBride and Southern Culture on the Skids have covered it over the years, but Anderson’s version is still the best.
One of Shenandoah’s best—and best known songs—was written by Robert Byrne and Mac McAnally. Nowadays stations may only play it during the occasional “retro hour,” but 20 years ago, you couldn’t flip on country radio without hearing Marty Raybon begging you to take him back: “If I could cry a little harder/And get a little less sleep at night/If I had two dozen roses would it change your mind?”
In this song’s 80 year history, it’s been recorded by everyone from smooth Bing Crosby to wildman Jerry Lee Lewis. The Singing Cowboy’s 1935 version might be the best, though. Check out the Killer’s tribute to Autry below.
“Tear” was originally a demo Whitley recorded with pal Ricky Skaggs in 1987. After Whitley’s death in 1989, his widow Lorrie Morgan recorded her own vocals and placed the track on Whitley’s Greatest Hits compilation. The “duet” is beautiful but it’s also tinged with sadness: it’s impossible to hear the song without thinking about the loss of Whitley’s incredible talent.
9. “My Filipino Rose” – Ernest Tubb
Take the pathos of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, countrify it, and cram it into 3 minutes. That’s Tubb’s “Filipino Rose.” Now opera might be the only genre of music with more tragic songs than country music, so Butterfly ends with a suicide while “Rose” just has a sad letter upon learning that her sailor has married another far across the ocean.
8. “You Sent Her an Orchid (You Sent Me a Rose)” – Jean Shepard
When “plain as the sunshine” Jean Shepard finds out her man’s cheating on her with some chick clad in fancy clothes, she’s brokenhearted…but still composed enough to dish out an earful, telling the bum “the thing that really breaks my heart is finding out you lied/If you’d been honest from the start, I would have stepped aside.” Shepard ends the song by handing back the rose; a lady to the last, she doesn’t tell him where to stick it.
Here bluegrass’ Wiseman, who recently celebrated his 85th birthday, relates the story of a dying soldier who has promised his sweetheart that they’ll be together “when the roses bloom again.” Sure, it’s a sad song, but who can be depressed with that sprightly mandolin in the background?
Laura Cantrell also recorded a version for her second album When the Roses Bloom Again. Below is Wilco’s take on the song, which they (along with Billy Bragg) had originally planned to include on Mermaid Avenue, their Woody Guthrie tribute album until they learned that oops, the lyrics weren’t originally written by Guthrie, but instead are credited to A.P. Carter.
Monroe biographer Richard D. Smith writes about how this classic bluegrass song came into existence: the Georgia Rose was Bill’s illegitimate daughter that was given up for adoption. There are two recordings of this song: one was done at Monroe’s first Decca session in 1950, the other (“a more ambitious arrangement…with triple harmony fiddles”) recorded in 1954.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to appreciate somebody: “useless are flowers that you give after the soul has gone.” That’s good advice. Would AP, Sara, and Maybelle steer you wrong? Below is Wilma Lee Cooper’s version, and there are several other recordings worth a listen including Jimmy Martin’s “Give Me the Roses Now” (it’s not nearly as demanding as it sounds).
Did she run away with the gardener, or did he leave the mansion alone? The only one who knows is the otherworldly rose in the garden that blooms in the dead of . Plus, you know, the gardener. Anyway, it’s spooky, and one of Waylon’s best. Rising star Chris Young, joined by Nelson, covered the song on The Man I Want to Be, and if you need more Jennings (which you do), there’s always “Black Rose.”
The first is a swingin’ instrumental composed by Wills; the latter has lyrics added. Perhaps Wills’ most famous work, “New San Antonio Rose” has been recorded by myriad artists and is one of country music’s seminal songs.
2. “Yellow Rose of Texas” – Wilf Carter
“Yellow Rose of Texas” is a folksong based upon a woman named Emily D. West, aka Emily Morgan, a mixed race servant who was kidnapped by Mexican troops during The Texas War of Independence. She’s credited with seducing Santa Anna, leaving him unprepared to face Sam Houston’s troops at the Battle of San Jacinto. This story is probably untrue, but facts never get in the way of a good song. This song, told from the point of view of a soldier missing his Yellow Rose, has been recorded hundreds of times, but Carter’s yodelicious version is my personal favorite.
1. “A Good Year for the Roses” – George Jones & Alan Jackson
If this isn’t an example of a perfect country song, it’s pretty damn close.
Juli Thanki is the editor of Engine 145 and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Bluegrass Unlimited, and M Music & Musicians Magazine. In 2011 she received the International Bluegrass Music Association Print Media Person of the Year award.