Kris Kristofferson – Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends: The Publishing Demos 1968-1972

January 01, 1970

(Light in the Attic)


In the beginning, Kris Kristofferson simply wrote songs, and
tried to get other people to record them. Once that happened, the dam burst,
and for a few years there (roughly 1968 – 1972, the period covered in this
compilation), everybody wanted to put their stamp on his uniquely care-worn
views of the world. While Kristofferson himself soon became a recording artist
who had hits with his own material, he was always willing to let Roger Miller,
Ray Price, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Sammi Smith or Bobby Bare have a crack
at his stuff. Heck, for that matter, he didn’t mind the cash generated when
Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin sang these songs, either.


In order to let potential vocalists hear what he was
writing, Kristofferson, like all Nashville
songwriters, made demo recordings. These were very rough, warts-and-all
documents, sometimes with full arrangements but more often with just a single
plucked guitar and maybe a harmonica or some backing vocals. Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends collects
16 such demos, and it’s a fascinating look at the way Kristofferson felt about
these songs before they got famous.


Surprisingly, though everything here did wind up getting
covered by other musicians and later recorded properly by Kristofferson
himself, we aren’t given glimpses into the early days of his very biggest hits,
save one. Instead, we get the title track, a hit for Bobby Bare in 1971 but
only a deep album cut in 1979 by Kris. Though it doesn’t seem like an
efficacious method to sell the song to Bare, this album leaves in the charming
false start, in which Kristofferson pops his p’s a bit too sharply in the
microphone. Even more fun is the difficulty at the opening of “Getting By, High
and Strange,” when he repeatedly has to stop singing and/or picking the guitar,
letting out a decidedly frustrated “Fuck” each time.


But never mind all that. As enjoyable and enlightening as
the rest of the record is, you want to know about “Me and Bobby McGee,” the
only one of Kristofferson’s gold standards to be included here. Well, it’s yet
another take on a song that you’d think could never be rethought. The key to
this lonesome, weary, and downright haunting version of the song (which so often
spends more time on the joy of Bobby’s company than the pain of her or in Janis
Joplin’s triumphant case, his, departure) is the fact that nobody, but nobody
had ever sung it any other way before. This is the proto-McGee, and by the time
Roger Miller had the first hit, and Kristofferson rode it to his first album
success, the song had taken on a new life. This is the way he originally
conceived it, and while Kristofferson will never be mistaken for a great
vocalist, he stakes a very effective claim on the emotional truth of this
version. That right there is reason enough to hear this album; all the rest is
just plain extra goodness.


Standout Tracks: “Me
and Bobby McGee,” “Slow Down,” “Border Lord,” “Getting By, High and Strange”


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