Songs

I’ve been writing songs since I was a teenager. Below you’ll find links (in no particular order) to the lyrics of some of my songs I think are worth keeping. Some of them show up on the Hot Shandy recordings; others have been written before or since. All songs © James Magill

Foley

Well, I was out one evenin’ throwin’ songs against the moon
Playin’ on my mandolin my favorite fiddle tunes
Leaves were crunching underfoot and a mist about me rose
When the sweet smell of a campfire came and grabbed me by the nose
And in a clearing up ahead a hunter old and tired 
Was drinkin’ from a jug of wine he stooped to tend the fire
He was startled when he saw me but a smile was close behind
And he handed me the bottle like I was right on time.

He said his name was Foley and that he’d been out all day
Hunting’ coon & possum until his hound dog ran away
He took out an old harmonica and he began to play
Then I came in with my mandolin and we picked the night away

CHORUS:

See the hoot owl dancing’ as he moves from star to star
Throw a pine cone on the fire, play a few more bars
We’ll try to draw that old raccoon out in the firelight
And if he plays the fiddle we’ll stomp & sing all night

Well we got drunk, I broke a string and stumbled off to sleep
Foley grinned, killed the jug and passed out in a heap
I don’t hear shotguns anymore out in the woods at night
Just now and then an old blues harp when the moon is bright.

CHORUS

Something Of Value

I was thinkin’ of you on the highway to Jacksonville
And the club we played the night you stayed behind
You know this life gets lonely at times
The ladies I meet treat me kind
But when we were alone I could tell you saw the heart of me
Yeah, when we were alone I could tell you saw my soul

CHORUS

There’s a place in me for what you have to give babe
And while I’m here I’ll give myself to you
And when the road sweeps me up again to chase after my quickly fading star
I’ll have something of value to remind me who we are

I’ve got ten days off in June I could fly you down
And we could make love in the mountains with only God for miles around
It’s the only time I could get away
I’m hoping I know what you’ll say
And it scares me to think that you might say it isn’t enough
Yeah it scares me to think that you might say it isn’t enough
‘Cause I know it isn’t enough

CHORUS

I was thinkin’ of you on the highway to Jacksonville
And the club we played the night you stayed behind
You know this life gets lonely at times
The ladies I meet treat me kind
But when we were alone I could tell you saw the heart of me
Yeah, when we were alone I could tell you saw my soul
When we were alone I felt your heart beat once for me
When we were alone I felt you touch my soul

The Executioner's Song

Well I pulled the switch when they nodded at me
And tried not to hear anything but the hum
Five minutes later the doctor looked up
And he said that we all could go home
And I can still see that black bag on the gurney
The hood and the straps and the smell of the burn
And the queasy reporters who ran for the can
And the rigid vein pulsing on the back of my hand

CHORUS:
‘Cause it’s my hand that sends them all home
Into the darkness, into the light
But will I go shining or bloody
Into the infinite glory, into the bottomless night?

I came back from Saigon in ’73
With a barb-wired heart and a pin in my knee
I kicked around town till the money ran out
And that old edgy feeling returned
The prison was hiring for miserable pay
But with a bonus for burning a creep now and then
So I put on a uniform, badge and a gun
I was back on patrol in a jungle of stone

CHORUS

Now Death Row is jammed up with innocent men
Every con that you talk to just got a bum deal
They’d tell me their stories and rattle the bars
And a lot of them sounded like mine
But the word got around on me after a while
It was me that they’d see when they walked the last mile
Then a poisonous silence would fall like a rock
For a twelve hour shift when I stepped on the block

CHORUS

The warden sent word someone’s time had run out
The lawyers were scrambling and grasping at straws
But the governor had taken his phone off the hook
And I could count on some nice overtime
The condemned was some Chinaman, it was Chinaman’s luck
As I drove home I was thinking he didn’t look all that tough
Then I kicked back with a shot of Jack and the news on TV:
Some kids raising hell in some square in Beijing

CHORUS

I woke before dawn on the day of the dance
Nicotine and caffeine in front of the tube
Where this boy stood in front of a column of tanks and said
“Freedom’s the death that I choose”
Well my coffee got cold as I pictured his face
Like so many I’d left in the ricefields of war
And it stuck in my head like a fragment of steel
I made a wrong turn driving up to the jail

CHORUS

My temples were pounding when I set up the chair
As I checked the connections and tugged on the straps
And I could feel something crumbling when the guards brought him in
And I stared into black almond eyes
Where I saw my reflection all plated with steel
My turret was swinging my cannon around
And I turned and left, wondering which killer was which
As a current shot through me like he’d pulled the switch

CHORUS

There’s snowflakes and stars in these mountains tonight
My campfire eats them like pieces of light
The coffee has fastened its teeth in my gut
And a sickle moon swings from a tree
It’s been a year since I went off to live in my head
To scour my soul and make peace with the dead
But when the night fills with stars so dim and so grand
I can just feel the presence of a redeeming hand

CHORUS:      
Like my hand sending me home
Into the darkness, into the light
Ah, but I’ll go shining and ready
Into the infinite glory
Into this glorious night…

The National Enquirer

I was over at a buddy’s house the other day when I heard nature call
So I picked up a paper, a little light reading and headed down the hall
I discovered the accommodations and made myself at home
I sat back, relaxed, and opened up the paper
To see what was goin’ on
Now I consider myself a literate man, reasonably well-informed
But I was unprepared for the kind of revelations the paper did unfold
I was gripped with fascination, astonishment and more
At the journalistic drama spread across the bathroom floor

There was a story about a woman from Ohio who was impregnated by a UFO
Yet another crisis in the lives of the royal family of Monaco
There’s a dentist who claims that pyramid power will keep us all from getting old
Was Elvis a quadrasexual? Now the story can be told

CHORUS:
I read it in the National Enquirer there in black & white for all to see
I read it in the National Enquirer you can buy in any grocery
Truth is stranger than fiction and when it isn’t then it oughta be
And when I read it in the National Enquirer I couldn’t help but agree

There were fifteen psychic predictions sent directly through the astral plane
Twenty-five miracle diets used by Hollywood’s biggest names
The rich aren’t really happy but here’s how you can get rich too
Sex will give you cancer but what a hell of a way to go

CHORUS

Well I was so captivated that I overstayed my chore
Until at last I gathered up my reading from the floor
And I reached to squeeze the Charmin but there to my chagrin
Was nothing but a cardboard roll where comfort should have been
And in the midst of this dilemma an answer came to me
And I confess I’m sure my eyes did shine with evil glee
As I removed the staples to avoid bodily injury
And I was comforted, relieved and by the truth set free

CHORUS

All I Really Wanted

Well you may think I’m like other men and that I’m only looking for your bed
Well that’s just what I settle for when I realize it’s all I’m gonna get
You see the ladies love a ramblin’ man until the day they need him and he’s gone
It ain’t always ’cause he wants to be but either way he’s moving on alone

CHORUS
And it gets hard sometime when you need to give your love away
And no one wants to take a chance when they know that you won’t stay
You know this freedom it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be
When you never feel quite free enough to say
‘I love you’ and that’s gift from me to you
I’m thinking’ of you even when I’m far away
Just to hold you in this open heart of mine
It’s all really wanted all the time
You know it’s all really wanted all the time

Well I know some people friends of mine who tell me I’ve got no right to complain
I’m living like I want to be and they tell me that’s supposed to be worth the pain
Yeah well maybe I’m too hard to please maybe there’s never been the woman born
Who can warm herself with promises when I’m leaving on another frosty morn

CHORUS

God Is A Good Guy

My brother shaved his head and joined the Krishnas
My mama gets into yoga a little bit
My sister chucked it all to join the Moonies
And my old man thinks it’s all a crock of shit

CHORUS
And every preacher says he knows the answers
To who and how and where and when and why
And every preacher’s rap just makes my head hurt
But I still think that God is a good guy

My college roommate joined the Jews for Jesus
My cousin meditates for hours on end
Grandma’s a charter member of the PTL Club
But grandpa calls the devil his best friend (and I get along with grandpa)

CHORUS

Ha-llelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, halle-lu-jah
Ha-llelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, what’s it to ya, halle-lu-jah

Well now and then I get feeling’ transcendental
But most time I just stumble ’round in sin
But I believe when I roll those pearly sevens 
God’s gonna say ‘Double-up and deal me in’

CHORUS

A-men

Sliding Down The Razor Blade Of Life

When life has put the visegrips on your privates
And fate has kicked you squarely in the teeth
When terrorists blow up your house and set your cat on fire
And your car develops cancer just as the warranty expires
And there’s really nothing anyone can do, so let’s sing a happy song
And watch your life go down the tubes. And we’ll go…

CHORUS
Sliding down the razor blade of life
Stumbling through the horse manure of existential strife
We can’t win anyway so let’s put on a happy face and we’ll go
Sliding down the razor blade of life

When fickle fate has got you by the shorthairs
And your friends decide you really are an asshole after all
Your girlfriend says she’s left you for your sister
And the only one who shows you any interest
Is the guy who keeps calling from the IRS
And there’s really nothing anyone can do
So come sing along if you’ve been shafted too. And we’ll go…

CHORUS
Sliding down the razor blade of life
Stumbling through the horse manure of existential strife
We can’t win anyway so let’s put on a happy face and we’ll go
Sliding down the razor blade
Just grit your teeth and ‘Have a nice day’
Sliding down the razor blade of life

(with apologies to Tom Lehrer for stealing his line for the title)

The Long Goodbye

Charlie hugs his teddy bear as if he might be drowning
Calls out in a frightened voice for his mama then he sighs
I touch his arm speak his name; he doesn’t turn or answer
Charlie strays, daylight fades till the nurse turns on the light 

         CHORUS
          And the light in his eyes comes and goes
          What comfort is there waiting for the old?
          When all you have is memories that flicker fade and die
          All you’re left with is a long goodbye

I put on Charlie’s favorite dress this morning
Today’s the day we talked about before he got so bad
The pills I’ve saved will be enough to do for me and Charlie
I’ll take his hand, he’ll smile when I say, “Come on now, time to go.”

          CHORUS

The Chamberpot

One day two nuns from Belfast town went driving along the road
When they perchance ran out of gas and they bitterly did moan
“Oh sister dear I greatly fear” the one of them did say, 
“That the good lord works in wondrous ways and we must walk today”
With me hey-dum diddle-dum di-dum derry-o

“Well the lord helps them that helps themselves” the other nun exclaimed.
“His will be done!” So off they went in search of gasoline.

They had not gone but half a mile when a station they did sight
And to the station manager had soon declared their plight
With me hey-dum diddle-dum di-dum derry-o

“Well, good sisters sure the gas I have, enough to suit the queen
But I’ve nothing but a chamberpot to carry the gasoline.
We’ll put it to a nobler use than chamberpots have been
So off the sisters went once more with the chamberpot between.
With me hey-dum diddle-dum di-dum derry-o

Now at length they reached their motor car and to the lord gave thanks
They soon were pouring petrol from the pot into the tank
And as they stood there with the chamberpot all lifted high
A parson on his bicycle by chance did pedal by
With me hey-dum diddle-dum di-dum derry-o

(spoken: Now in Northern Ireland where our story takes place it’s no great secret that the Catholics and the Protestants don’t get along very well. As a matter of fact they never miss the opportunity to take a shot at one another, verbal or otherwise, and so…)

At such a sight the parson stopped and with open mouth did stare
Until at last he found his wits and he solemnly declared
“I am a true-born Protestant, a parson by me trade 
And you’re Catholic and your souls be damned but I do admire your faith!”
With me hey-dum diddle-dum di-dum derry-o

Andy's Blues

Andy was a minstrel of the roadhouse school
You never heard a voice so clear
She never let me listen to a single tune that didn’t make me want to buy her a beer
And think about her tongue in my ear
She would hit ’em with a melody and I would lay the rhythm down
And when we had the truckers feelin’ lonely again
We’d stop and send my Stetson round
Shakin’ down another town

Andy joined the Navy out of sympathy
She left it when the sympathy died
I met her dealin aces in a DC bar with a hunger for the road in her eyes
And a thunderstorm between her thighs
She was harder than a dollar in dimes, righteous as a prophet’s friend
And when the bars were closin’ up and we’d get down
She’d let a little gentle in
And ride me up to heaven again

CHORUS

Andy come and lay me down
With the sweetest lovin’ I’ve ever found
I’ve got a heart full of thunder, a head full of rain
I never could afford cocaine
So come and take away this pain

Andy was a lover with a poet’s soul
She could have been a wrestler too
I asked her once to tell me of her bedroom bouts
And listened to the pride come through
Buddy if you only knew
She was anything but easy to leave
And even harder to forget
And I can’t help but grin at the memory of Andy headin’ south on a bet
With a sign that read “SLIPPERY WHEN WET”

CHORUS

The French Broad River Waltz

There’s a valley I know where the columbine grows
And the trees talk about the weather all day
Where the cool waters rush through the deepening hush
And the sun sends the mountains to bed

CHORUS:
There’s a moon on that old French Broad River
Where the dark waters ripple with light
Like a silver canoe we’ll step onto that moon
And off down that river we’ll glide
Dancin’ in the mountain moonlight

There’s a cabin I know where the corn liquor flows
And a stranger is family ‘fore long
Where an old guitar rings and a soft fiddle sings
And a life that has vanished lives on

CHORUS

There’s a girl that I know, through the meadow she goes
To the river where she waits there for me
And with the stars shining bright in her blue eyes tonight
I know just what I’m gonna say

CHORUS:
There’s a moon on that old French Broad River, my love
Where the dark waters ripple with light
Like a silver canoe we’ll step onto that moon
And off down that river we’ll glide
Makin’ love in the mountain moonlight
On the old French Broad River tonight

3 Kids

The soldiers had a list; they took my mother and my sister
To the camp where all the soldiers grin and all the women cry
I was a little girl with a broken doll, they laughed and said I was too small
And I still hear my mama calling for me to be strong
They said it might be safe here in the city
But the cannon crash like thunder from the hills
Now I fetch the water for the sick for no one else is small and quick
And sly enough to trick the sniper waiting at the well

CHORUS   
Oh starlight, starbright, first star I see tonight
Please tell me, does God listen when I pray?
Wish I may, wish I might, make it through another night
For at least while I’m asleep I’m not afraid …not afraid …not afraid

I was just a lad when the car bomb took my dad
And with none at home but sisters at age ten I was a man
At school the talk was all IRA and to the pub I’d slip away
Where no one listened when I’d say I’m ready for the fight
But one day when the taproom rang with laughter
To hear such bloody words from one so young
In the corner sat a quiet man who beckoned with a crooked hand
And now I go to meet him with a ski mask and a gun

CHORUS 

There’s pimps and pushers dealing goods on every corner of the ‘hood
So I take the alleys home from school to stay out of their way
But a big man in a silver ‘Benz said he don’t like my choice of friends
He saw someone who looked like me talking to the man
I want to take my mama and my brothers out of here
Where the drivebys don’t come cruisin’ the playgrounds
As I’m walkin’ home my blood runs cold at the big Mercedes comin’ slow
And as he hits the gas I see the window comin’ down

CHORUS
Oh starlight, starbright, last star I see tonight
Please tell me, does God listen when I pray?
Wish I may, wish I might, make it through another night
For at least while I’m asleep I’m not afraid …not afraid …not afraid

Generic Love Song

Every pair of lovers has a special melody
A many-splendored thing as time goes by
But do we need so many ways to say the same three words?
A hundred thousand love songs seems absurd

And it’s ‘Oh my darling (mmm), I am so in love with you’
And ‘Yes my dearest (mmm), when you’re gone I feel so blue’
The story never changes so the answer should be clear
Just sing the same song over and fill in your name here

Strangers in the night, yes friends no more will you be
Strangers in the night, your date will love you for it
When you croon her name things won’t be the same
Try it on a friend today, maybe she’ll go all the way

Oh dearest darling (mmm) I turn to jello at your kiss
And when you call me (mmm) I just puddle up in bliss
Oh yes my angel (mmm) you’re the only girl for me
But tell me do you spell that first name with one or two ‘t’s?

Just one generic love song is really quite enough
So let’s tell Barry Manilow just what, up where to stuff
Now everyone can write the songs for ones they hold so dear
Just sing the same song over and fill in your name here
And the same old song will apply as time goes by 

Famous Last Words

In the hills of central Texas back before the west got paved
The land was ruled by Comanches and the wily Kiowa
They didn’t think much of the white men who came to steal their land
And there was many an arrow left many a settler dyin’ on the desert sand

So the army put out a bounty, a terrible thing I’m told
A bounty for every Injun scalp fifty dollars in gold
And when they heard the news the cowboys came from miles around
And there was buckaroos and one or two who should have stayed in town

CHORUS
Whoopie-tie one on and bring another bottle Miss Kitty
‘Cause I’m young and dumb and I’m full of fun 
And I’m king of the wild frontier 

Well now, Charlie & Roy was good ol’ boys and just down on their luck
They’d been drinkin’ all day at the Silver Spur and were down to their last buck
When Roy felt an inspiration rising slow through a whiskey haze
He said, “Charlie I know how to make some dough giving haircuts the Indian way.”

So they camped out in the hills that evenin’ in an old dry riverbed
And the moon hung like a bear claw, old & yeller above their heads
And they drank the last of the whiskey and talked of women and beer
And all the things they was gonna buy with all that Injun hair 

CHORUS

Now Charlie wasn’t really dumb, he was just a bit light north of his ears
And he was always slow when he first got up until he’d had his morning beer
So when the dawn came creepin’ he could scarce believe his eyes
There was more Comanches than a dog has fleas on the ridges on every side

Well Charlie’s mouth fell open and his heart was pounding so
And he tried to count ’em all ’til he ran out of fingers and toes
Then he crept across the camp where Roy lay snoring’ in a ditch
And as he nudged him with his foot he said,
“Wake up Roy, we’re rich, we’re rich! Wake up Roy, we’re rich!!”

CHORUS

CHORUS

Where The Hieland Thistle Grows

When the mist lies in the valley on a chilly autumn morn
The cabin fills with memories of the glen where I was born
I see my father’s kindly face, myself a girl so gay
Where the hieland thistle grows so many years and miles away
My name is Molly Fraser though a Campbell I was born
Among the dewy dens sae braw of Argyll I did roam
The sun shone on the heather, my days were filled with joy
Until the landlord’s agents did our happy home destroy

From our land we were evicted and with us hundreds more
My father swore we’d abandon Caledonia’s bitter shore
And so we gathered what we could and to Amerikay
From kith and kindred, hearths and homes we sadly sailed away
The weary voyage to New York was but a fitful dream
My father took a sickness and from his bunk was seldom free
To friends in Carolina we through hardship made our way
But soon his spirit weakened and in my arms he passed away

I was but a lass of sixteen years, an orphan made to stray
It was very soon decided I should marry straightaway
And I cannot say I wed for love, but Fraser had good land
And to be free of landlord’s men to him I gave my hand

And here in these green mountains the years have made me fey
Since heart’s delight, my own dear sons to battle rode away
My Robert took the union cause, my Billy wore the grey
But no matter now, in silence joined they sleep beneath the clay

CHORUS
My heart beats in this mountain my blood runs through this stone
It’s here I raised my children it’s here I’ll leave my bones
But still I see a laughing girl where the mist a memory shows
Come trippin’ through the heather where the hieland thistle grows

I pass my days in silence now and from the maker’s hand
I take the bitter with the good and wisdom when I can
I dream of the thistle blooming in the Argyllshire far away
But its strongest roots have flowered here in green Amerikay

CHORUS 

Daddy's Song (For My Children)

When you ask me for a story I will reach for my guitar
And silver strings will send you anywhere beneath the stars
The trembling wood will murmur then until the tale is told
With strings of singing silver and words of hammered gold

And when it’s joy that fills you then the dulcimer will shout
And send its merry waves of music splashing all about
Like sparkling water scattered by the hammers’ rise and fall
Delight will surely bubble forth and soak you one and all

And when your feet are restless I will play the mandolin
And you can dance the crazy eights, the jig and the double-spin
An avalanche of tumbling notes will tickle tiny feet
You’ll jump and shake like a rattlesnake ’til the Sandman calls retreat

For sweet and sleepy music then the fiddle is the best
To heal the daily bruises and to lay your cares to rest
Beneath the rosin-dusted bow no troubles ever could
Survive the tender whisper of the wise and polished wood

But when it’s time to speak of love no instrument will do
No music but the voice alone could ever speak so true
For love it is my little ones that in your eyes I see
When from each hopeful tender face my soul looks out at me. 

 

 

Government is to life what pantyhose are to sex.

– P.J. O'Rourke

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