WRECK ON THE HIGHWAY
“Wreck on the Highway” was written by Dorsey M Dixon, of the Dixon Brothers, and was recorded by them in the late 1930s on the Bluebird label. Roy Acuff made this song a big hit in 1940. He was the first true singing star of the Opry, and an impressive showman with 60-some year’s experience. His Smokey Mountain Boys were a virtual circus of hillbilly music, combining cornball with authenticity old-time music. Throughout the changes in commercial country music, Acuff’s act remained primarily acoustic and focused on traditional ballads he learned in Union County, Tennessee. Originally a fiddler, Acuff developed a heartfelt, emotional singing style that became the stereotype of old-time country.
Who did you say it was brother?Who was it fell by the way?When whiskey and blood run together Did you hear anyone pray?CHORUS I didn’t hear nobody pray, dear brother I didn’t hear nobody pray I heard the crash on the highway But, I didn’t hear nobody pray.When I heard the crash on the highway I knew what it was from the start I went to the scene of destruction And a picture was stamped on my heart.There was whiskey and blood all together Mixed with glass where they lay Death played her hand in destruction But I didn’t hear nobody pray.I wish I could change this sad story That I am now telling you But there is no way I can change it For somebody’s life is now through.Their soul has been called by the Master They died in a crash on the way And I heard the groans of the dying But, I didn’t hear nobody pray.
Bruce Springsteen re-arranged this song on the River album in 1980
“”Wreck on the Highway” is a song written and performed by Bruce Springsteen. It was originally released as the final track on his fifth album, The River. The version released on The River was recorded at The Power Station in New York in March–April 1980. As well as being the last track on The River, it was the last song recorded for the album.
A melancholic song with a false ending, “Wreck on the Highway” features prominent organ and acoustic guitar parts. The song is structured as a folk ballad with four verses of five lines each. The rhyming pattern of the verse endings is generally A-B-C-C-B, but this is not followed absolutely stricty. The lyrics describe a man who witnesses a hit-and-run auto accident on a rainy, isolated highway, and is subsequently haunted by the vision and unable to sleep. After the first three verses focus on the specific incident, the last verse broadens the theme to encompass more universal themes of life and death. The singer thinks about the life that was lost, and the people who may have loved him, and he knows he will be haunted by the incident for the rest of his life. Springsteen has explained the theme by stating that after seeing the accident the singer “realizes that you have a limited number of opportunities to love someone, to do your work, to be part of something, to parent your children, to do something good.” It is directly inspired by Roy Acuff’s country song of the same name and similar theme from the 1940s, which is a cover version of the 1938 recorded song, “I Didn’t Hear Nobody Pray”, by the Dixon Brothers. While Springsteen’s song has elements of a country arrangement, its music is more haunted and less sentimental.
Along with the title track, “Independence Day” and “Point Blank”, it is one of the verse-chorus songs on The River that was essentially a short story or character sketch. “Wreck on the Highway” and a few other songs on The River, such as the title track and “Stolen Car”, mark a new direction in Bruce Springsteen’s songwriting: these ballads imbued with a sense of hopelessness anticipate his next album, Nebraska, as well as a turn towards pessimism in his overall artistic and personal world-view. Springsteen himself has noted that “Wreck on the Highway” is one of the songs reflecting a shift in his songwriting style, linking The River to Nebraska.
Author Patrick Humphries describes the song as distilling “the essence of what makes Bruce Springsteen great: a looping, loping and involving melody, heartfelt vocal and acutely visual lyrics.” June Skinner Sawyers describes it as “a perfect song, a masterpiece in miniature, and a haunting meditation on mortality and what it means to be alive.” Music critic Clinton Heylin described the version that was released on the album as a “near-cataleptic coda to ‘Drive All Night,'” the previous song on the album, although Heylin felt that an earlier version of the song, with a faster, “countrabilly” arrangement, was more interesting. Heylin also described the song as Springsteen’s “semi-ironic farewell to albums about cars and girls.” Music critic Dave Marsh describes the song as an appropriate closer for The River as it “pares down the situation from ‘Drive All Night'” of the singer and his lover trying to ignore the distractions around them down “to one man facing the world again.” To Marsh, the singer in “Wreck on the Highway” may well have been the hero from other songs on The River such as “Ramrod,” “Cadillac Ranch,” “The River” or “Stolen Car,” or even the heroes from earlier Springsteen albums such as Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town, but regardless Marsh feels that “he sees and speaks and sings for all of them.”
A slow-tempo song, “Wreck on the Highway” has not been particularly common in concert, with about 100 performances in Bruce Springsteen concerts through 2008. Nearly all of those performances occurred during the 1980–1981 River Tour. The song was revived occasionally for electric piano performances on the 2005 solo Devils & Dust Tour.
In the UK, it was released as the B-side of the single “Cadillac Ranch”.
Bruce Springsteen revamped the song … sort of , perhaps more of an inspiration for his version.