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And the answer is

Country Musings by Robert Loy, November 2004

I got a question for you. Whatever happened to answer songs? You know, those "follow-ups" of the '50s and '60s where someone musically responded to someone else's hit song. (By "responded," we mean "attempted to ride on the coattails of")

Most of the time the sequel never reached the heights commercially or artistically of the original. Both Jeannie Black and "He'll Have to Stay," her response to Gentleman Jim Reeves' immortal "He'll Have To Go," are deservedly forgotten. And how many of you know the words to "Queen of the House" by Jody Miller? Not near as any as can sing Roger Miller's original "King of the Road," I'll wager.

Sometimes a song would even have two responses. Dion's "Runaround Sue" begat Ginger & Snaps "I'm No Runaround" and Linda Laurie's "Stay at Home Sue." A few of the songs do not deserve to be tossed on the scrap heap. The mono-monickered Judy's "She Can Have You" is a refreshing look at the other side of Patsy Cline's "She's Got You."

And I personally have a soft spot in my heart for what I call "beyond the grave answer songs"; Ray Peterson's dying words were "Tell Laura I Love Her" and Marilyn Michaels countered with "Tell Tommy I Miss Him." Bobby Goldsboro recorded what is widely considered the schmaltziest song of all time "Honey," but that honor probably should go to Margaret Lewis' sequel "Honey (I Miss You Too)"

Listen to a few of these wretched rip-offs, and you'll say that the answer song probably deserved to die. But then I say what about the most famous answer song of all - Kitty Wells' "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels", which as most people know, was a response to Hank Thompson's "The Wild Side of Life," containing the line "I didn't know God made honky-tonk angels."

Thompson's song was a great one, but it's definitely been eclipsed by the response to it, which has become a classic, a million-seller that also crossed over to the pop charts despite being banned by the Grand Ole Opry and some radio stations. Anybody who watches CMT knows whenever they do one of their greatest country songs of all-time countdown things, "It Wasn't God..." will be on the list; "Wild Side" won't.

(Less well known is that Ms. Wells (nee Ellen Muriel Deason) took her stage name as something of an answer to an old Pickard Family tune "Sweet Kitty Wells" - or that Kitty has not received her due as a true country music pioneer, who blazed the trail for every Dolly, Reba and Shania that came after her, and the only reason she's not recognized as the all-time Queen of Country Music (despite having 81 charted singles - 81!) and that overrated hussy Patsy Cline gets the credit for many of her songs is because Kitty has led a quiet, scandal-free life and she didn't die young.

(But, ahem, that's probably another topic for another time.)

The point is that every once in a blue moon, a sequel is better than the original. And that may be reason enough to keep doing them.

(By the way, anyone interested in answer songs should try to hunt down"...And the Answer is" a series of CDs from the German label Bear Family Records.)

The views in this column are those of Robert Loy and do not necessarily reflect those of CST.