Alternative plot summaries for bluegrass songs

Have you ever looked at the song titles of a new album and wondered what those songs are about? In some cases, the guesswork is removed for you by the specifics in the title, like Wreck of the Old 97, Wreck on the Highway, or Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

But beyond titles beginning with the word “wreck,” there’s a lot of mystery associated with song titles. Just scanning through current hit pop recordings I’m not that familiar with, I randomly selected Meghan Trainor’s It’s All About That Bass. The title led me to assume this was some kind of feel-good dance number that celebrated the bass’s role in the band, maybe with some kind of hot bass solo worked in. How wrong I was: the song is actually about the positive side of having a larger-than-average behind.

New Country song titles don’t really pique my interest much because no matter how vague or abstract the titles are, I just assume they’re about drinking beer with a hot girl in a truck down by the river (set to the same melody and chord progression as the previous song).

I’ve often wondered what images some of our bluegrass standards conjure up in the minds of listeners who have no familiarity with bluegrass music at all.

Here are some alternative plot summaries of bluegrass songs that could be imagined based on the suggestions of the titles:

Banks of the Ohio – A pair of Bonnie and Clyde-style robbers hit a series of southern Ohio banks, from Cincinnati to Portsmouth, wreaking havoc along the way, before they’re gunned down in dramatic fashion in Huntington, West Virginia.

Bringing Mary Home – A man is bringing his wife home from the hospital where she had been in a coma for over 10 years (or possibly 13 years). He has done his best to try to make sure their house looks exactly the same as it did on the day of the unnamed “dreadful accident,” in the hopes that she’ll recall their life together as it was. She remembers the home and everything in it but has no idea who her husband is.

Toy Heart – A man is the recipient of a heart transplant, and he affectionately calls it his “toy heart.” The chorus might go something like this:

So thank you Dr. Wilson, surgeon without peer
The next that I meet you, I’ll buy you a beer
You gave me this toy heart, and I’ll treat it with care
My body won’t reject it, thanks to drugs and prayer
(That probably needs some work.)

 Uncle Pen – A state prison is dubbed the “Uncle Pen” because several prisoners were housed there whose only family members who ever visited them were their nieces and nephews (they’d killed everyone else in the family).

I’ve Got That Old Feeling – A soldier who had lost all feeling in his right hand after a gunshot wound suddenly regains it after a miraculous acupuncture session. He launches a new career as a fiddle-playing dentist.

On and On – A woman mourns the fact that her husband won’t stop talking about himself and his accomplishments, which she finds less-than-impressive, especially the 90th time she’s heard about them.

Polka On a Banjo – A song about playing a polka on a banjo. How hard was that?