13 June, 2010

"Single Girl, Married Girl" - The Carter Family

Set Three: Songs; Disc One; Track Eleven: "Single Girl, Married Girl" performed by The Carter Family. "Vocal solo (by Sara Carter) with autoharp, guitar." Recorded in Bristol, Tennessee on August 2, 1927. Original issue Victor 20937A.

"Single Girl, Married Girl" is the fourth recording by the Carter Family to appear on the Anthology. For biographical information on the Carter Family, see the entry for "John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man."

This record was recorded at the historic Bristol Sessions and was among the first records by the Carter Family to be released. Its immediate success launched the group on an historic career as country music's "first family."

The song, like so many others on this set, is about love and (in this case) marriage.

Single girl, single girl,
She's going dressed fine.
Oh, she's going dressed fine.

Married girl, married girl,
She wears just any kind.
Oh, she wears just any kind.

Single girl, single girl,
She goes to the store and buys.
Oh, she goes to the store and buys.

Married girl, married girl,
She rocks the cradle and cries.
Oh, she rocks the cradle and cries.

Single girl, single girl,
She's going where she please.
Oh, she's going where she please.

Married girl, married girl,
A baby on her knees.
Oh, a baby on her knees.

"Single Girl, Married Girl" is about as elemental as it gets. The song contrasts the lives of a typical single girl and a married girl. The song is very pessimistic about marriage. The single girl gets to dress up, spend her money, and go wherever she likes. The married girl dresses plainly, cries as she rocks the cradle, and sits with a baby on her knee. The song has nothing positive to say about the institution of marriage. It also focuses almost exclusively on the negative impact marriage has on the lives of women. It would be interesting to know where and how this song originated. Was it, in fact, written by a woman? Did women sing it as a way of warning younger women about marrying too young? Or was it seen as a humorous song? A parody of a woman's lament?

Reportedly, Ralph Peer had to coax Maybelle and Sara Carter into recording this song, as A.P. "didn't like it."

It's quite easy to see why this song took off the way it did. The instrumental backing (featuring Maybelle Carter's energetic picking and Sara's autoharp) is upbeat and immediately engaging. Sara Carter's laconic voice sounds simultaneously youthful and world-weary. You can tell that she knows whereof she speaks (even though it was Maybelle who was heavy with child during this recording session).

A.P. Carter, perhaps wisely, stays out of this one completely.

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Here's Petra Haden (daughter of bassist Charlie Haden and a member of the Haden Triplets)performing a delightful version of "Single Girl, Marred Girl" from the Harry Smith Project.

Download and listen to The Carter Family - "Single Girl, Married Girl"

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