Although current country music has little to no appeal for me, I actually very much like listening to really old ’50s country musicians, like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash — the kind of stuff my grandfather listens to.  A 1952 single, “You Win Again,” in which Williams sadly laments his dysfunctional, doomed romance, has been a particular favorite of mine this week.  Williams’ heartbroken singing on this recording is excellent, but better still are his almost poetic, strikingly unrepetitive lyrics.  I especially love this verse:  “I’m sorry for your victim now/For soon his head like mine will bow/He’ll give his heart but all in vain/And someday say, ‘You win again.'”

Plagued by drinking and drug problems, Williams died prematurely at the age of 29 in 1953.  “You Win Again” stands as one of the greatest of his many downbeat ballads, and has been widely covered.  In 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis recorded it as the B-side to “Great Balls of Fire,” which of course became a massive hit.  Lewis, showing off his piano chops, nudged the tune towards rockabilly in this somewhat livelier version of the song.

Johnny Cash recorded a dour, more faithful cover of “You Win Again” in 1958 for what ultimately became a 1960 Hank Williams tribute album, Johnny Cash Sings Hank Williams.  It’s respectable but unremarkable, and Williams’ original version is significantly better, in my opinion.

In 1962, on his album Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music, Ray Charles performed a more inspired, soulful cover version, with a backing choir and orchestra.

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