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Music / Tom T. Hall

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Thomas "Tom T." Hall (May 25, 1936 — August 20, 2021) was a Country Music singer and songwriter, widely considered to be one of the best of all time. His songs, which mix thoughtful lyrics that often center around narratives of everyday life and simple melodies, earned him the nickname “The Storyteller”.

After a stint in the US Army, studying journalism in college, and working as a disk jockey, Hall moved to Nashville in 1964 and established himself as inventive young songwriter. Encouraged to try his hand at performing, he launched his recording career in 1967 with the moderate country hit “I Washed My Face in The Morning Dew”. A year later his song “Harper Valley PTA” was recorded by Jeannie C. Riley and hit #1 on the country and pop charts. This helped kick Hall's career into high gear, and he became one of the most popular country artists of The '70s, with six #1 hits on the country charts. One of them, “I Love”, was also a crossover pop hit. As his music career slowed down in The '80s he turned his focus to writing fiction (publishing novels and short story collections) and performing Bluegrass music. His profile received a much-needed boost in 1997 when Alan Jackson topped the country chart with a Cover Version of Hall's song “Little Bitty”.


By the way, the “T” doesn't stand for anything. He added it when he started recording because there were already several country singers with names similar to “Tom Hall”.

After years of declining health, Hall died on August 20, 2021, at the age of 85, from what officials later ruled to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Tropes present:

  • Appalachia: His home region (born and raised in the town of Olive Hill in eastern Kentucky) and the setting for a number of his songs.
  • Ballad of X: "Ballad of Forty Dollars" was his first big hit, but even though he favored storytelling songs he pretty much avoided this trope after that.
  • Butt-Monkey: The narrator of "I Hope It Rains At My Funeral" cannot catch a break from anyone: his father, his lovers, the law...
    Ain't no sense in wantin' my life to live over
    I'd find different ways to make those mistakes again
  • Concept Album:
    • Songs from Fox Hollow and Saturday Morning Songs (songs for children), The Magnificent Music Machine (his 1976 Bluegrass album, though later he'd switch almost entirely to Bluegrass).
    • He also contributed a bunch of songs to Jeannie C. Riley's Harper Valley PTA album, which was essentially an entire album about the characters in the title song.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: "Salute To a Switchblade" is about a soldier in Germany who encounters one after unknowingly hitting on a married woman at a bar.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Often takes on this persona in his first-person narrative songs. Also has a reputation for it in real life.
  • Disappeared Dad: "Ravishing Ruby". The lead character is abandoned by her father at a truck stop at age 14.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: invokedMentioned in "The Year That Clayton Delaney Died"
    Clayton used to tell me "son you better put that old guitar away
    There ain't no money in it, it'll lead you to an early grave"
  • The Film of the Song: "Harper Valley PTA", which even later became a TV series.
  • The Gambler: "Deal", which compares life to a Poker game
  • Heavy Meta: "Country Is", which is more about the notion of "country" rather than just specifically Country Music.
  • Hero-Worshipper: The narrator of "The Year That Clayton Delaney Died" was this to the title character.
  • I Can See My House from Here: Played for Drama in "I Flew Over Our House Last Night", where the narrator is flying away from home after a breakup.
  • I Can't Dance: Unsurprisingly, "I Can't Dance" is all about this.
  • In Medias Res: "Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine" is a rare music example, starting off with a quote of an exchange between the narrator and the old man, before the narrator steps back to explain how he met the man.
  • Insistent Terminology: "Homecoming"
    No, we don't ever call 'em "beer joints"
    "Nightclubs" are the places that I work
  • Intellectual Animal: The lead character of "The Monkey That Became President", who could "lace a phrase with irony and blend it all with fact."
  • It Always Rains at Funerals: "I Hope It Rains At My Funeral", where the narrator takes satisfaction in knowing he'd be the only one there who'd stay dry if this happens.
  • Long Title: A good chunk of his catalogue, with "The Great East Broadway Onion Championship of 1978" being the longest.
  • Ode to Intoxication: Many, but "I Like Beer" in particular.
  • Old Man Conversation Song: "Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine" is arguably the Trope Codifier. "Faster Horses (The Cowboy and The Poet)" is a more comical take on the same idea.
  • The One That Got Away: The title character in "Pamela Brown", though, unexpectedly, he's happy she turned him down, since it saved him from an Awful Wedded Life and allowed him to live an independent, carefree life.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: "Strawberry Farms" is a meditation on death and loss as sung by a young orphan.
  • Passed in Their Sleep: The opening lines of "Ballad of Forty Dollars"
    The man who preached the funeral
    Said it really was a simple way to die.
    He laid down to rest one afternoon
    And never opened up his eyes.
  • Preacher's Kid: His father was a Baptist minister.
  • Really Gets Around: Played for Drama in "She Gave Her Heart to Jethro", about a beautiful woman married to a man who's too mentally ill to suit her physical needs.
    She gave her heart to Jethro
    And her body to the whole damn world
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: "Harper Valley PTA" is famously built around one of these, aimed at an entire town full of hypocritical characters.
  • Refrain from Assuming: The song is just called "I Love", not "I Love Little Baby Ducks" or "I Love You Too".
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: "Turn It On, Turn It On, Turn It On", where a World War II draft rejectee goes after everyone who made fun of him.
  • Shout-Out: Along with some close friends of his, he also mentions Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Dolly Parton in "Spokane Motel Blues".
  • Slice of Life: A master of this trope.
  • The Storyteller: Took on this persona to the extent that it became his nickname.
  • This Is a Song:
    • "I Like Beer"
      In some of my songs I have casually mentioned
      The fact that I like to drink beer
      This little song is more to the point
      Roll out the barrel and lend me your ears
    • "Spokane Motel Blues" is about being stuck in a motel in Spokane, Washington and writing a song (presumably "Spokane Motel Blues" itself).
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: He loves to change keys as a way to emphasize a Plot Twist in a song.
  • 12-Bar Blues: "Shoeshine Man" is a rare Nashville example.
  • The Vietnam War: Early in his songwriting career he wrote a few pro-Vietnam songs like "Hello Vietnam" (a #1 country hit for Johnny Wright) and "What We're Fighting For" (a hit for Dave Dudley), which he later admitted were Old Shames for him. A few years after he wrote and recorded "Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken)", a poignant song about a Vietnam vet who lost his legs in the war coming home.
  • Widow's Weeds: The veiled widow in "Ballad of Forty Dollars".
    That sure is a pretty dress
    You know, some women do look good in black