The noir songs of…Porter Wagoner

Otto Penzler famously said:

“Look, noir is about losers. The characters in these existential, nihilistic tales are doomed. They may not die, but they probably should, as the life that awaits them is certain to be so ugly, so lost and lonely, that they’d be better off just curling up and getting it over with.”

Thereby providing as close to a true definition out there as possible. Or at least the one that people refer to the most.

If you think of Porter Wagoner do you think of noir? Probably not. First, I’m not convinced that he ever really fully crossed over into popular culture consciousnesses and stayed. To the extent he has, people think of his blonde pompadour, his nudie suits, his TV show, and, of course, his partnership with Dolly Parton.

What if I told you that that Porter Wagoner was one of the most classically noir musicians of all time.

There have been many posts online over the years, from the writing and music communities, about murder ballads and crime fiction songs, yet Porter Wagoner name hardly comes up.

From 1966 to 1970 Porter Wagoner released six albums: Confessions of a Broken Man (1966); Soul of a Convict (1967); The Cold Hard Facts of Life (1967); The Bottom of the Bottle (1968); The Carroll County Accident (1969); Down in the Alley (1970).

They were considered kind of concept albums, in many cases he would be inhabiting the character Skid Row Joe.


Bear Family Records collected these six albums in a three disc collection, The Cold Hard Facts of Life.

When taken as a whole these songs connect in surprising ways. The man who commits murder in one song may be the man in jail in another song. The wino bumming a dime in one song might be the man dying alone in another song. There are some songs that are of a type we have all heard before. But when placed in the context of this broader pattern, a new tragedy can emerge.

This is an outstanding collection of songs and worth seeking out. In the meantime check out a couple of the songs.

This darker aspect of his work would continue on in individual songs on oater albums but wouldn’t again be spread over an entire album. Here’s two songs not on this collection but worth remembering.



Author: Brian Lindenmuth

Former non-fiction of Spinetingler Magazine and fiction editor at Snubnose Press. Long time reviewer.

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