The lead actors wrote or had a hand in creating their songs, as opposed to Nashville pros, for reasons Altman explained in Jan Stuart's book on the making of the film, The Nashville Chronicles:
It became too expensive," insists Altman as he attempts to explain why he avoided the inclusion of bona fide country songs and singers. Of greater consideration than the expense, perhaps, was the dam break of prima donnas that might result by casting country stars. "Everybody's going, Oh, my songs will cost you this and this and I want so and so! I just didn't want to deal with any of that. I didn't want the agents walking around telling me what to do, mainly what the f**king songs would be."
"We had to get songs, but I didn't want them competing. I wanted them to be the same cross-section that those songs in Nashville are - that means I didn't want them all to be good songs. Henry's [Gibson] were a little obvious, but they're not all that different than some of those by Hank Snow. Barbara Jean songs were a little smarter. Dues is not a real good country-western song, but it was Ronee's favourite, she wanted to do it. My point is that making those choices is an arbitrary thign to do under the best of circumstances, and who is that person who says, 'Oh, we're going to use this'? The Nashville companies, the songwriters, want to use the ones they think are going to sell the most copies. So, I just flet I didn't want them professionally written."
In other words, this wasn't going be one of those movies with a "music inspired by" soundtrack. Out of the actors' contributions, one bona-fide charting single emerged, Keith Carradine's I'm Easy. Besides the above-mentioned Dues, which I think is the loveliest song in the film, I've also included the tune that opens the movie (after a mock TV record ad that serves as the credits), Gibson's 200 Years. I wonder if any humour-challenged uber-patriots of recent years have ever considered unearthing this song and selling it as a straight-faced patriotic anthem? It beats I'm Proud To Be An American...
This is an album I'd love to see an expanded reissue of, as there's plenty of music that was left off the soundtrack. I suspect some songs were left off to protect the ears of listeners - Gwen Welles' gloriously awful warbling as wannabe star Sueleen Gay, which gave new meaning to the term "tin ear".
Oh These Troubled Times didn't make the vinyl cut in '75, but was resurrected on Carolyn Mark's tribute album a quarter of a century later. It was inspired by frequent viewings of the film, which led to a live performance. According to her liner notes, "it became apparent as the tables filled that we were not alone in our obsession with the film. An older couple sat at the front table and mouthed along with every snippet of dialogue and nudged each other knowingly when we nailed it." Here, Mark and fellow Corn Sister Neko Case fill in as the Smokey Mountain Laurels (who were one of few real acts featured in the film), while Case's fellow New Pornographer Carl Newman slips into Karen Black's shoes for Memphis. If you like the movie, this tribute's a fun listen. - JB