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James McMurtry — Levelland
Album: Where'd You Hide The Body
Avg rating:
7

Your rating:
Total ratings: 483









Released: 1995
Length: 5:16
Plays (last 30 days): 1
Flatter than a table top
Makes you wonder why they stopped here
Wagon must have lost a wheel
Or they lacked ambition one

In the great migration west
Separated from the rest
Though they might have tried their best
They never caught the sun

So they sunk some roots down in this dirt
To keep from blowin' off the earth
Built a town right here
When the dust had all but cleared

They called it Levelland
Levelland
Levelland

Grand dad grew the dry land wheat
Stood on his own two feet
His mind got incomplete
And they put him in a home

Daddy's cotton grows so high
Sucks the water table dry
His rolling sprinklers circle back
Bleeding it to the bone

And I won't be here when it comes the day
It all dries up and blows away
I'd hang around just to see
But they never had much use for me

In Levelland
They don't understand me
In Levelland

Well I watch those ships trails comin' out that big blue sky
Coast to coasters, watch 'em go
And I don't blame 'em one damn bit
If they never look down on this
Ain't much down here they'd want to know

Just Levelland
You could wash your hands
In nothin' but Levelland

Mama used to roll her hair
Back before the central air
We'd sit outside and watch the stars at night
She tell me to make a wish
I'd wish we both could fly
I don't think she's seen the sky
Since we got the satellite dish

I can hear the marching band
Doing the best they can to play
Smoke on the water
And joy to the world

I payed up all my debts
Got some change left over yet
I'm getting on a whisper jet
Going to fly as far as I can get

From Levelland
Done the best I can
In Levelland
Comments (63)add comment
Superb storyteller.
 Steely_D wrote:
Mama used to roll her hair
Back before the central air
We'd sit outside and watch the stars at night
She'd tell me to make a wish
I'd wish we both could fly

Don't think she's seen the sky
Since we got the satellite dish 
Still one of my fave bits of songwriting. Paints the image, then laments what's become of it.

I get why some folks don't dig Mr. McMurtry, his style isn't everyone's cuppa. But his songwriting is superb.
c.

Thematically speaking, this terrific track should be followed by the epic, monumentally perfect TELEGRAPH ROAD by Dire Straits. What a one-two! 
I went to one of his shows about 15 year ago in Austin and afterwards I asked him to autograph this CD. He said, "where'd you find that? in the trash bin?" I laughed and he signed it. He said, "thanks kid." It was cool.
This song inspires a feature request: Rather than play a song I rate as "Sucko-barfo", just go ahead and PSD.
McMurtry is Excellent!
RP is my favorite class in the school of Life, each day learning of strong artists and wonderful fellow listeners, cheers all!
Cool song. This guy reminds me of Bob Dylan with a country twang.  

I understand his father is an acknowledged writer.
Song hit me in an open mood. 7 > 8.  Sing it, brother, nice tune. 
Mama used to roll her hair
Back before the central air
We'd sit outside and watch the stars at night
She'd tell me to make a wish
I'd wish we both could fly

Don't think she's seen the sky
Since we got the satellite dish 
 MortimerS wrote:
They stopped on level land because it was the best farmland on earth. You remember farms and family farms don't you?  You know that 60% of the working United States until the mid 1980's? Since he didn't understand level land or water conservation I am not so sure he has any ability to sing about it.

Sorry, this song just pushed a very big button about American society today. The triad of evil, Hollywood, Wall Street and Washington DC. All of the trouble seems to come from the coasts.

 
Stop being disingenuous, Mort, you should know better.  When your water table is "sucked dry", it doesn't matter how good the soil is.  This song is for the entire southern Ogalalla aquifer, which is in bad, bad shape.  (Northern part, up Nebraska way, is doing somewhat better.)
I love McMurtry's songs and lyrics. One of the great observers of the American midwestern experience.
Agreed. Seems to me some people just can't abide constructive criticism - which is one of Jame's specialties.

bam23 wrote:

Years ago, in the late 1960s, driving through that part of the country (I wouldn't live there if they paid me, indeed) we passed a highway sign for Floydada, Texas. The speculation was that the name was a hybrid of Floyd and Ada. This is the first reference I have seen to that name in more than 40 years. James McMurtry surely seems to elicit some pretty negative reactions from those to the rightward side of the political spectrum in this forum, as well as those who fail to see that a description is not necessarily a prescription. I find his observations to be spot on. 

 



Great tune.

"Daddy's cotton grows so high
Sucks the water table dry
His rolling sprinklers circle back
Bleeding it to the bone
And I won't be here when it comes the day
It all dries up and blows away"

Now that's a harbinger set of lyrics if'n ever I did read any.  Especially given the drought that's expanding out that way.....we very well just might be here when it all blows away after all....
Jesus Christ! An honest-to-god rock tune with an electric guitar. ...get's an 8 minimum.
 stratzippy wrote:

"I read in an interview that James said the song is really about the town of Floydada, Texas, but Floydada didn't fit the meter, so it became Levelland."

 
Years ago, in the late 1960s, driving through that part of the country (I wouldn't live there if they paid me, indeed) we passed a highway sign for Floydada, Texas. The speculation was that the name was a hybrid of Floyd and Ada. This is the first reference I have seen to that name in more than 40 years. James McMurtry surely seems to elicit some pretty negative reactions from those to the rightward side of the political spectrum in this forum, as well as those who fail to see that a description is not necessarily a prescription. I find his observations to be spot on. 
 MortimerS wrote:
They stopped on level land because it was the best farmland on earth. You remember farms and family farms don't you?  You know that 60% of the working United States until the mid 1980's? Since he didn't understand level land or water conservation I am not so sure he has any ability to sing about it.


Texas, which is the place this song is about, is hardly the best farmland on earth, nor even in the United States.
 bentonian wrote:

Does that mean that where they make the tinfoil, for the hats, is the source of all good?

 

must be... james shure ain't to blame. been there , know it's true....if you have never seen the sky from the middle of the great planes, or lived in a red neck town you have no idea of what this tune is about
 MortimerS wrote:
They stopped on level land because it was the best farmland on earth. You remember farms and family farms don't you?  You know that 60% of the working United States until the mid 1980's? Since he didn't understand level land or water conservation I am not so sure he has any ability to sing about it.

Sorry, this song just pushed a very big button about American society today. The triad of evil, Hollywood, Wall Street and Washington DC. All of the trouble seems to come from the coasts.

 
Does that mean that where they make the tinfoil, for the hats, is the source of all good?
 MortimerS wrote:
They stopped on level land because it was the best farmland on earth. You remember farms and family farms don't you?  You know that 60% of the working United States until the mid 1980's? Since he didn't understand level land or water conservation I am not so sure he has any ability to sing about it.

Sorry, this song just pushed a very big button about American society today. The triad of evil, Hollywood, Wall Street and Washington DC. All of the trouble seems to come from the coasts.

 

Art, co-opted for political purposes of any kind has rarely, if ever, been effective.  In general, it's a defect in art.

This should not be confused with the fact that freedom of artistic expression, in its own right, is extremely significant politically. 

It's everything.
Love James McMurtry.....

Good music.  Real music.  Music stories tell about Life. ALl kinds of life 
They stopped on level land because it was the best farmland on earth. You remember farms and family farms don't you?  You know that 60% of the working United States until the mid 1980's? Since he didn't understand level land or water conservation I am not so sure he has any ability to sing about it.

Sorry, this song just pushed a very big button about American society today. The triad of evil, Hollywood, Wall Street and Washington DC. All of the trouble seems to come from the coasts.
The antithesis of John Mellencamp's "Small Town".

"I read in an interview that James said the song is really about the town of Floydada, Texas, but Floydada didn't fit the meter, so it became Levelland."
Thought this was Lou Reed before checking details.
Yep, gets me hankerin' to hit the road... how I yearn to drive south.
 Monkeysdad wrote:
Lou Reed meets Hank Williams???
 
A Texan Bruce Cockburn.
 
 Giselle62 wrote:
i like his lyrics from what i've heard of 3 or 4 songs
  The acorn doesn't fall very far from the tree.  Dad Larry is a terrific novelist and screenwriter and mom Jo is an English professor and author.


i like his lyrics from what i've heard of 3 or 4 songs
I'm a sucker for songs like this. Now, if only I could figure out what that is. It's something I can't define yet, but I know I like it. A lot.
Man, don't like the country at all, but the lyrics are pretty good.
jagdriver wrote:
Enough country crap, already. :butt:
enough of your crap already!!!!
Enough country crap, already. :butt:
Huh. I first heard this done by Robert Earl Keen, who has equal TX songwriting chops, and figured it was his own. But AMG says it is McMurtry's. Credit where credit is due. Though I'd like to hear more of REK on RP, I'll take McMurtry's version on this one.
Recently bought all of his albums (well except St. Mary of the Woods...already had it) and man is this guy a fantastic talent! Please play more McMurtry!
Yeah! This is one of my top three McMurtry songs. Yay him! my grandparents were sharecroppers in that area of Texas, and my mom couldn't get away fast enough. pride o' man...
Yup! Real Middle America stuff. :motor:
I bought McMurtry's CD based on another song played here. This song rocks! My folk music gude says that if this song doesn't rouse you, you have no pulse. I would add, you've probably decayed away as well. Didn't know this was an actual place, but I do know the water and soil problems are real all over the Great Plains. I worked on the Great Plains last fall. Strangely and awesomely beautiful landscape at that time of year, level indeed, and yes perhaps a little boring. Thanks for turning me on to this artist, RP! I may have even seen him performing at the Saw Mill Cafe when I lived in Tucson.
mouse wrote:
The song doesn't refer to the Midwest but to Levelland, Texas. It's a small town near Amarillo and Lubbock, as if that's any help to non-Texans. It's desolate and depressing, and exactly as the song (and the town's name) describes it. As the local joke goes, "the sheriff gave him an hour to get out of town and three days to get out of sight."
I knew McMurtry was from Texas. I was kind of lumping the whole middle America thing together. Most of it fits the tone if not the physical description. Is this Levelland where McMurtry is from by any chance?
chrisp54 wrote:
YEAH!! If there was EVER a song that makes me want to hit the road, this is IT! Turn up the volume! McMurtry is a great writer, and his vocals are perfectly paralled to his songs. A lot like Lou Reed. I've got all his CDs, and this song is at the top. More McMurtry! :clap:
about that song at the top : Seems I haven't heard "Walk Between the Raindrops" lately
mouse wrote:
The song doesn't refer to the Midwest but to Levelland, Texas. It's a small town near Amarillo and Lubbock, as if that's any help to non-Texans. It's desolate and depressing, and exactly as the song (and the town's name) describes it. As the local joke goes, "the sheriff gave him an hour to get out of town and three days to get out of sight."
Yeah, I grew up near there in a little town named Cotton Center (no kiddin'). I really noticed the line about "Daddy's cotton is suckin' the water table down". That's what my Dad was, a cotton farmer. By the way he and my Mom still live in the area. In a town named...wait for it....Shallowater.
The song doesn't refer to the Midwest but to Levelland, Texas. It's a small town near Amarillo and Lubbock, as if that's any help to non-Texans. It's desolate and depressing, and exactly as the song (and the town's name) describes it. As the local joke goes, "the sheriff gave him an hour to get out of town and three days to get out of sight."
Wow, what a scathing assessment of the midwest. And I suppose just of complacency in general, but I tell you I'm from Kansas and Missouri and his descriptions of the area and its people are, unfortunately, spot on.
Absolutely LOVE this writer and his music, though his latest CD is dark. I mean, this song is dark, but the new one makes me want to put him on suicide watch. Sigh. Hmm, wonder if anyone has uploaded any of the songs for Bill to listen to.... But love this line: "and I can hear the marching band doing the best they can to play Smoke on the Water and Joy to the World"
Ugh...one of those \"Quick, hit the fast-forward button!!! WAIT! THERE IS NO FAST FORWARD BUTTON!!! AAAAGGGHHH!!!!\" :frustrated:
Norman Rockwell Music. Perfect!
Lou Reed meets Hank Williams???
YEAH!! If there was EVER a song that makes me want to hit the road, this is IT! Turn up the volume! McMurtry is a great writer, and his vocals are perfectly paralled to his songs. A lot like Lou Reed. I\'ve got all his CDs, and this song is at the top. More McMurtry! :clap:
Originally Posted by zaphodb: "Smoke on the water, Joy to the World" I'm never paying attention to the lyrics on the song, so I really don't know the context or meaning to this one line, but I have to give my vote to it as one of the best song lines since it always catches my attention! :eek:
The lyrics in this (and most of this album) are really much much better than you'd suspect by his laconic delivery. Like Dylan (shuddering at the obligatory Dylan comparison) his strength isn't the delivery, but the content.
Great song, more please ! (pimp)
\"Smoke on the water, Joy to the World\" I\'m never paying attention to the lyrics on the song, so I really don\'t know the context or meaning to this one line, but I have to give my vote to it as one of the best song lines since it always catches my attention! :eek:
And I was just thinking - Why don\'t you play James McMurtry ! His records are almost unobtainable in Europe and why he isn\'t on the superstar circuit I don\'t know. Maybe he likes it the way it is. Next trip to the states will be timed to catch a concert someplace. The sense of place in his lyrics (and particluarly in this track) are spot on.
Just saw him last week!! awesome show! Go see him!! in Phoenix Next Friday 2/14 look it up!! $10 at the door! Great artist!!
Perfect description of this little dusty town in the Panhandle of Texas.
:notworthy:
Originally Posted by Dotman: I don't know anything about this guy, but i remember reading a comment he was a songwriter that never lived up to his promise. I can only hope I'm so unsuccesfull. Dot
:lol: Good one!
I don\'t know anything about this guy, but i remember reading a comment he was a songwriter that never lived up to his promise. I can only hope I\'m so unsuccesfull. Dot
can\'t get into his voice. or cockburns voice, either. i don\'t know why they are similar to me. i\'m sure there is a world of difference.
I LOVE James McMurtry!!! Hey you guys in Tx, I\'m from Lockport NY and have a bunch of his stuff. If you think he doesn\'t get on the air much down there, try living here!!!He IS a great, underrated artist--our little secret!
Thought it was Lou Reed. Sounds good. Dot
I only know a couple of songs by McMurtry, untill now, but this is one of my favourites, so far. No More Buffalo, is another one. Like his father he sure got his way with storytelling and with such great music and voice, a better chance to get it across.
Yea! More McMurtry. I love it when people get dissed for doing \"versions\" of their own songs like this and the Victoria Williams before it. You people could try a little research before you pronounce a song original. Like reading liner notes.
I really dig this man\'s voice.
McMurtry\'s brilliant.