This morning I tapped out some thoughts about “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” in a thread about the passing of Kenny Rogers. A melancholy country-western tune that was written by Mel Tillis, the song was first recorded by Waylon Jennings in ’66. It became a C&W hit the following year when a version by Johnny Darrell was released. The most popular version, released in ’69, was by Rogers and the First Edition.
Comment: “Sad as it is, I could never relate to the self-pitying nihilism of that song. A youngish paraplegic Vietnam veteran is not only furious but borderline suicidal over his inability to sexually perform — obviously a hopeless situation.
“The narrator’s conclusion is that his wife, Ruby, has failed him by not resigning herself to a life of loyal abstinence. And so she’s Lucretia McEvil. He’s so consumed by rage over their tragic misfortune that he’s half-contemplating killing her (‘put her in the ground’). Which suggests that he’s also an alcoholic. Or is so consumed by anger and bitterness that he’s no longer capable of compassion.
“It’s a sad and tragic bind all around and your heart goes out, but a gentleman would man up and not insist that his wife submit to a life of celibacy or at the very least limited sexual activity (I’m thinking of Jon Voight and Jane Fonda’s sex scene in Coming Home as well as Marlon Brando and Theresa Wright’s situation in The Men) and not having children.
“You initially feel sorry for them both, but toward the song’s finale it’s impossible to side with a would-be murderer. Which is why I always felt pushed away by it. Who wouldn’t be?”
HE commenter Mike Schaefer wrote that “everything you mentioned is precisely what makes [the song] great. It’s easily one of the darkest lyrics ever to hit the Top Ten.”