3 Songs You Didn’t Know Lucinda Williams Wrote

Lucinda Williams’ career as a performer and songwriter has spanned more than four decades and includes 17 Grammy nominations. The most recent was for her 2020 album, Good Souls Better Angels. Despite suffering a stroke in late 2020, Williams keeps writing and releasing music. She did, however, have to reimagine her writing process since she’s no longer able to play the guitar. “My process has always been to come up with some lyrics, then get the guitar and come up with a melody and some kind of structure,” Williams explains. For many years, the songwriter worked on material on her own; these days she collaborates a lot more.

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In the late 1970s, Williams, a poet’s daughter, was mostly a solo performer. Although she’s now known as an accomplished songwriter, her first album only showcased her performance skills. In 1979, her debut, Ramblin’ on My Mind, was released by Folkways Records. It featured arrangements of traditional folk and country songs. Williams then wrote her own songs for her second album, Happy Woman Blues. It didn’t make a huge splash commercially, but was well-received by critics. Both albums were recorded in Mississippi, and Williams moved to Los Angeles shortly thereafter.

In an interview with the Recording Academy, Williams remembers the time when her style wouldn’t fit into the record labels’ preferred categories. When trying to get a record deal in the ‘80s, she was told there was “no market for Americana,” and that her music “fell in the cracks between country and rock.” (Like that was a bad thing!)

She finally found a home at Rough Trade, and released her third album, Lucinda Williams, in 1988. The record received her best reviews yet, and put Williams on the map as one of the premier artists in the Americana genre. When she re-released the album on her own label in 2014, it climbed to No. 39 on the Billboard 200.

Four years after its initial release, one of the songs on the album won Williams her first Grammy. She won not for performing it, but for writing it. At the 36th Grammy Awards, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Passionate Kisses” won in the category of Best Country Song.

Two other cuts from Williams’ self-titled album were covered by other artists. The timing was just right to put her on the map as a new, talented songwriter.

1. “Passionate Kisses,” Mary Chapin Carpenter (1992)

Mary Chapin Carpenter, who was already well-known as a country singer when she covered “Passionate Kisses,” made country music fans fall in love with the Williams song. This was a blessing for the songwriter; it brought her the attention she needed to take her career to the next level.

Once, Williams performed the song knowing Carpenter was in the audience. In an interview with A.V. Club, Williams recalls addressing Carpenter directly from the stage that night. “[The song] opened a big door for me because it led to me winning a Grammy for country song of the year, which neither I nor anyone else thought was a remote possibility.”

Williams wrote the song after having moved to Los Angeles from Mississippi. She was dating Clyde Woodward in 1984, and the relationship inspired “Passionate Kisses” as well as “The Night’s Too Long.” Williams has said that, “When I get to the line ‘It’s my right,’ all the women in the audience yell out and go nuts. I love it.”

Do I want too much?
Am I going overboard to want that touch?
I shouted out to the night
“Give me what I deserve ’cause it’s my right”
Shouldn’t I have this?
Shouldn’t I have this?
Shouldn’t I have all of this, and
Passionate kisses
Passionate kisses, whoa oh oh
Passionate kisses from you

2. “The Night’s Too Long,” Patty Loveless (1990) 

Just like “Passionate Kisses,” the folky “The Night’s Too Long” was turned into a country song. Patty Loveless included it on her fourth studio album. Loveless’ version charted for 19 weeks on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, eventually peaking at No. 20.

The song is about a young woman named Sylvia who’s tired of living in a small town. She moves to the big city—as Williams did herself—finds a job, and enjoys the nightlife. At the end of the song, Sylvia ends up finding just the man she was looking for.

[RELATED: Review: Lucinda Williams’ ‘Stories From a Rock n Roll Heart’]

She works in an office now and she guesses the pay’s all right
She can buy a few new things to wear and still go out at night
And as soon as she gets home from work she wants to be out with the crowd
Where she can dance and toss her hair back and laugh out loud
Well the music’s playin’ fast and they just met
He presses up against her and his shirt’s all soaked with sweat
And with her back against the bar she can listen to the band
And she’s holdin’ a Corona and it’s cold against her hand

3. “Crescent City,” Emmylou Harris (1993)

Emmylou Harris was already a revered figure in the country rock world in the 1970s. By the time she covered Williams’ song “Crescent City,” she was on her 17th album, Cowgirl’s Prayer. Compared to earlier releases, the album didn’t get much attention and didn’t sell well. “Crescent City,” though, was one of the album’s three singles, and the accompanying music video was often played on Country Music Television.

The main character of the song has a couple drinks and then goes down memory lane. The lyrics describe the nostalgia around living in a small town and spending time with one’s siblings.

Tu le ton temps
That’s what we say
We used to dance the night away
Me and my sister
Me and my brother
We used to walk
Down by the river

Photo Credit: Danny Clinch

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