AMERICANS NEVER SEEM TO BE entirely satisfied with sinning unless they can regret it afterward. “I used to smoke and drink and dance the hootchy koo,” LaVern Baker sang in one of her best songs, and bully for her, as it sounds like she must have had a grand old time. But just when the listener is thinking that Miss Baker sounds like a great sort of gal, she roars out, “but now I’m SAVED.” She has, like so many before her, traded in her entertaining previous life for a stern-faced current one, standing on a street corner, banging a bass drum, and railing against wickedness.
Tim Spencer, the gangly, strong-featured cofounder of The Sons of the Pioneers, used to smoke and drink and dance the hootchy koo as well, it seems. He authored a song about the subject, released by his singing cowboy group (whose members included Roy Rogers) in 1947 and called, magnificently, “Cigareetes, Whusky, and Wild, Wild Women.” Over a background of a heavily plunked double bass and a chattering mandolin, the Sons of the Pioneers don’t bother with LaVern Baker’s reproachful tone. Instead, they affect an attitude of mock contrition, setting their voices warbling as though they were on the verge of an embarrassing fit of weeping as they recount their tale of woe.
And what is their tale? “Once I was happy and had a good wife,” they tell us, but then, tragically, another woman entered the picture: “She started me smokin’ and drinking whusky.”
And that’s it. The Sons of the Pioneers don’t even bother explaining what happened next. They didn’t need to. In the 1930s, such confessions were so common and so public that the degradation that followed exposure to sin needn’t be spelled out. Evangelists such as former baseball player Billy Sunday toured the United States in tents, dragging remorseful sinners, many of them alcoholics, onto the stage and demanding that they confess. And they did, in the thousands, in tearful, extended expositions.
But The Sons of the Pioneers weren’t simply creating a musical version of these exhausting atonements. With their choked, weepy presentation of the song's lyrics and the genuinely lust in their voice as they sing the chorus, they sounds as though they were slyly mocking such repentance narratives. To its credit, “Cigareetes, Whusky and Wild, Wild Women” sounds more like a song that you would sing while drinking — and while drunk — then while rejecting alcohol. These things might drive you insane, as the song warns, but you get the genuine sense from the singers that it might be a very pleasant madness. (SPARBER)