Retro Review: Hank Williams Jr.- High Notes
At first I was a little disappointed that the “new” car I bought following my accident didn’t come equipped with a CD player. While not an essential by any means, I have always loved listening to my favorite albums in the car and hated the thought of having to listen to the radio. Luckily, I was able to locate my box of cassettes and for the past two weeks I have been rediscovering a lot of old favorites: Molly Hatchet’s debut, ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres, Guns n’ Roses’ The Spaghetti Incident, Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind, and, last but not least, Hank Williams Jr.’s High Notes.
To me, Hank Jr. has always been one of the most underrated acts in country music history in the eyes of critics and “serious” fans. The reasons for this are numerous, but mainly boil down to the fact that he has never reached the level of his father (they ignore the fact that nobody else has either), that the persona has become bigger than the music, and, of course, that there is a tendency in certain circles to label anything commercially successful as crap.
1982’s High Notes is a perfect example of why Hank Jr. needs to be taken seriously as an artist. It opens with the explosive 1-2 punch of the classic honky tonk anthem “If Heaven Ain’t a Lot Like Dixie” and the lost classic “Whiskey on Ice,” before increasing the tempo a bit for “High and Pressurized,” an ode to air travel where Bocephus brags about being a member of the “Mile High Club.” He slows things down a bit with the confessional ballad “I Can’t Change My Tune” before delivering the anthem-like “The South’s Gonna Rattle Again.”
Side two kicks off with “Ain’t Making No Headlines (Here Without You),” a midtempo number complete with mariachi horns and continues with “I’ve Been Down,” a powerful tune about “Reaganomics and plastic people makin’ good luck hard to find” that is, unfortunately, more relevant today than ever. The album ends with the great Southern rocker, “If You Wanna Get to Heaven,” an ill-advised cover of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” and an excellent cover of his father’s “Honky Tonkin’.”
Overall, this is an album that is demonstrative of it’s era. Outlaw country was on it’s last legs and the “urban cowboy” movement that would eventually open the door for the likes of Garth Brooks was on the rise. Throughout the decade, Hank Jr. would be one of the few remaining commercially successful holdouts and already on this record he is flying in the face of Nashville by making pure honky-tonk and Southern rock delivered with an unbending dedication to upholding the family name. While not as essential as Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound or Hank Williams Jr. & Friends, this is nevertheless a classic album from Hank’s golden era.