Talkin’ Tunes: “My Elusive Dreams”

Do you know what you get when you play a country song backwards? Sure you do.

It’s no secret that country music is (perhaps unjustly) portrayed as being all about loss; losing your mate, losing your job, losing your truck, losing your dog, etc. It’s depressing, country music. Well, yes and no. I love country music, make no mistake here. But I will admit that if I listen to it for long stretches, a mood does overtake me. I could go on about this but I think you get my meaning. And let’s not forget that country music is simply too good to be dismissed as music that is nothing more than depressing. However…

Here today I need to talk about a seriously depressing country tune, a song that actually gets me angry. Although I like it. If that makes sense. “My Elusive Dreams” was written by two men. Billy Sherrill (1936 – 2015) was a prolific songwriter and producer who was born in Phil Campbell, Alabama (Pop. in 1940 – 533). Sherrill is known mostly for being one of the architects of Nashville’s countrypolitan sound and found success with Tammy Wynette (he helped choose her stage name) and George Jones. He co-wrote many songs with and for the artists he worked with such as “Almost Persuaded”, “Stand By Your Man” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”.

Courtesy MadMax 1861 YouTube channel

Claude “Curly” Putman, Jr. (1930 – 2016) was another Alabama boy who’s big claim to fame is having written the standard “Green, Green Grass of Home”, a song that has been recorded 100’s of times by countless artists. He also co-wrote “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and a tune called “You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith, Too”. The Paul McCartney and Wings song “Junior’s Farm” was inspired by the band’s short stay at Putman’s spread in Tennessee.

These two country gentlemen got together to write “My Elusive Dreams” and Putman himself recorded it and released it in June of ’67. As often was the case in this era, many different versions of the song were released in a short period of time. Four versions in total were recorded and charted on the country charts in 1967, with a duet from David Houston and Tammy Wynette hitting #1 on that chart. There have since been over 70 versions issued. I first heard the track in a version by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood and later in an Andy Williams take from 1974.

“My Elusive Dreams” tells the story of a young, transient couple who are trying to find their way. They are moving from town to town trying to find, I assume, work:

“You followed me to Texas, you followed me to Utah
We didn’t find it there so we moved on
Then you went with me to Alabam’
Things looked good in Birmingham
We didn’t find it there so we moved on…”

Texas to Utah to Alabama; that’s a lot of miles. Things are so bad that such extensive movements are required. At this point, you could argue that the two lovers are content to be with each other and the travel could even be seen as romantic. But…

“I know you’re tired of following
My elusive dreams and schemes
For they’re only fleeting things
My elusive dreams.”

So, the male, I’ll assume, has admitted to himself that he has no plans, only dreams. While dreams and aspirations are OK, these ones are ill-defined, they are “elusive” and “fleeting” suggesting that they may be aspirations that can never really be achieved. The man comes clean to the woman. I know what you are doing for me. I feel bad about it but my search goes on. And things are about to change.

“You had my child in Memphis, then I heard of work in Nashville
But we didn’t find it there so we moved on
To a small farm in Nebraska, to a gold mine in Alaska
We didn’t find it there so we moved on…”

The stakes have been raised. Think about it; a young couple tramping around the country, looking for work, barely scraping by. And now they have a child. Let’s face it, though; there are few cooler cities in the US in which to be born than Memphis. Perhaps with a third mouth to feed, the man gets serious about looking for work in nearby Nashville but, of course, it didn’t work out. In seeming desperation, the little family makes the jump to Nebraska and then all the way up to Alaska. When you’ve made the choice to pan for gold in Alaska, it’s pretty well over. You’re hitting bottom. And then we run into some good old fashioned country music-style devastation.

“Now we’ve left Alaska because there was no gold mine
But this time only two of us moved on
And now all we have is each other and a little memory
To cling to and still you won’t let me go on alone…”

The first time I heard this I had to rewind to make sure I heard right. Did Billy and Curly actually allow a child to die? I know this is a country song but, dang. Joking aside, when you listen to music with your imagination, as I do, a song like this can draw you in. I found myself invested in this tale and I also found myself shook by this child dying. More on that later. The pathetic man in the song must realize now that this way of life is failing – to the point where they could not keep their child alive. Perhaps he thinks that it makes matters worse that the woman will not leave him although he realizes that she has been devastated and deserves more, a better life, a stable life. Things he cannot provide. The song closes with his repeated lament.

“I know you’re tired of following
My elusive dreams and schemes
For they’re only fleeting things
My elusive dreams.”


OK, let’s talk about this and beware because I may drop my opinion on you. What I hear in “My Elusive Dreams” is a story of two hobos. Sure, there is romance inherent in their travels together. But I can’t get past the idea that the guy in this story simply can’t get or keep a job. See, I worked at McDonald’s for nine years until I was 24. For many of those years I also worked in a department store at the same time to make ends meet and keep myself alive while living in my beloved bachelor apartment, Apartment Zero. So, don’t tell me. You can work anywhere. Just get a job, man.

© The Orchard Enterprises & Boots Enterprises

And the poor woman. She could, I’m sure, do so much better than this loser. I hate to think that she is settling for this life for some unknown reason. I would think that a woman would want a home and a measure of stability. Certainly after she has had a child. And that’s the other thing that really burns me. This guy is such a loser that he cannot even keep his newborn baby safe. And after they bury the child – in Alaska! – they just keep carrying on, drifting.

This song, written by two men in the 1960’s, may smack of the times a little. The woman, Billy and Curly say, is so in love with this guy that she continues to tramp the country and watch him blow one job after another. Because what would she be without her man, right? I love the old days but attitudes like this make me angry. I have no choice but to accept them as part of my music and movie choices as these attitudes are inextricably linked to the past; that’s just the way it was. Attitudes simply were not as evolved as they are now. I’d like to think today’s woman would leave this dud in a heartbeat.

© Sony Music Entertainment

“My Elusive Dreams” has a cousin of sorts in the Kenny Rogers tune “She Believes in Me”, while that 1979 tune from Kenny’s The Gambler album is gentler and easier to accept. In “She Believes in Me”, the male is a singer trying to make it. This requires much sacrifice and staying out ’til all hours. But his woman has faith in him and is always there waiting when he gets home; “While she lays sleeping, I stay out late at night and play my songs…while she lays dreaming, I try to get undressed without the light. And quietly she says ‘how was your night?’. And I come to her and say ‘it was alright’. And I hold her tight.” This seems pleasant by comparison. This is more understandable. But the guy in this song is still chasing his muse to the detriment of their relationship. When the guy goes to the kitchen for a bite, he sees his ol’ gi-tar “just waiting for me like a secret friend”. The pursuit of his career is like a mistress and his girl feels the effects; “while she lays crying, I fumble with a melody or two and I’m torn between the things that I should do”. The guy in Kenny’s song seems to have tricked her, in a way. He’s told her that with her by his side he could “change the world with my little song. I was wrong. Here’s another tale of the woman sacrificing her own happiness for that of her man. As I say, this was just the way back then. These two songs are something of an equivalent to me of many of my beloved old movies. So often in old films, the woman just can’t make it alone. She needs a man to help her out – and give her one of those violent movie kisses during which the guy smashes his lips onto hers. I always wondered how that could be enjoyable.

© Universal Music Group

Ever since I wrote about my beloved Jan & Dean, putting forth the notion that they really couldn’t sing their way out of a paper bag, I’ve been leery of presenting any topic in any sort of unfavourable light. But let me say this; I’m a truth merchant and here at Your Home for Vintage Leisure, we can talk straight about things. And know this – declaring something “lousy” or stating that I cannot “latch” with something does not mean that I don’t like that something. It doesn’t mean that I don’t “get something” from that thing. It doesn’t mean that there is nothing there for someone to enjoy. I believe you can roll your eyes at something while at the same time you hold it close to your bosom.

Having said all this, I really like “My Elusive Dreams”. “Liking” doesn’t always mean it makes me feel good. This song may make me mad but I can respect that. It has told me a story, a realistic and challenging story that has stirred up emotions in me. And that’s a good thing.

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