In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: songs with the word “hit” somewhere in the title.
Sadly, I didn’t really get into George Jones’ music until right around when ol’ Possum died. Since then, I’ve spent countless hours with his many, many records, and it’s been interesting seeing the trajectory and breadth of his career. With hundreds of songs under his belt, Jones did just about everything, from slow compositions like “He Stopped Loving Her Today” to total ragers, like 1959 hit “White Lightning.” While I generally prefer the former, especially coming from Jones’ smooth baritone, there’s still something charming about the latter. “White Lightning,” a song about bootlegging in the North Carolina mountains, is a good reminder of both Jones’ rambunctious background (he was so drunk that the record required 83 takes) and the somewhat rough-and-tumble history of country music. (I also like how “White Lightning” speaks to the history of NASCAR, which also burst out of Carolina bootlegging.)
A little bit rockabilly, “White Lightning” is the kind of track that’s great for hell-raising. With lyrics that tell the story of a lawbreaking pappy engaged in some furious “corn squeezin’,” the song celebrates both the virtues of and hazards of alcohol. Knowing what we know now about Jones, the track is also bittersweet, as the singer dealt with both sides of that coin throughout his life. Still, it’s a hell of a cut, perfect for blaring during any rowdy get-together.