John Prine (self-titled album)

10 albums that shaped my musical tastes and styles

In 1971, I was watching the Roy Leonard Show, a local Chicago talk show on WGN-TV, on which Kris Kristofferson was the musical guest. He had brought with him an unknown, 24-year-old singer-songwriter he said he had just discovered, whom he described as “a cross between Bob Dylan and Don Ho.”

This was my introduction to John Prine, who sang a song or two, one of which was most likely “Paradise.” I knew I was hearing something great and unique — country-flavored folk music with killer lyrics, at a time when country was anything but cool. Around that time, Prine’s self-titled debut album was released.

It’s hard to imagine a debut album better than that of John Prine, who died yesterday. At least 10 of the songs on the album are absolutely outstanding, superb blendings of melody and lyrics. They are alternately political (“Your Flag Decal…”), autobiographical (“Paradise”), humorous (“Illegal Smile”), bitter (“Sam Stone”) and poignant (“Hello in There”).

I’m proud of the fact that Prine was from Maywood, a working class town west of Chicago, just a few stops up the C & NW line from my hometown, and that he composed some of his great, early songs while working nearby, delivering the mail.

It’s a measure of how highly I regard this album that songs such as “Angel from Montgomery,” “Sam Stone” and “Hello in There” — which are among the best songs written by Prine or any other American songwriter — don’t even rank among my “top 5” personal favorites from this album.

I’m drawn to the twangy sounds of the devil-may-care “Spanish Pipedream” and the sweetly sad “Far from Me,” which Prine considered the best song he ever wrote. I don’t disagree. And “Paradise,” no longer waiting, is simply a perfect song.

Favorite tracks: Far from Me, Spanish Pipedream, Paradise, Illegal Smile, Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore, Angel from Montgomery

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