40 years ago this week, one could make the case Hank Williams Jr. finally and forever extricated himself from the elongated shadow his father’s legacy cast, and became his own man, his own performer, and one that would impact country music on a major scale, leading to his eventual induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was the release of his landmark album The Pressure Is On, which has not only withstood the test of time and continues to influence country music to this day, it remains relevant as ever to its constituents, and even curiously prescient.
The Pressure Is On really captures peak Hank Jr., starting with the first track, the iconic “A Country Boy Can Survive,” which has arguably matured into his signature song. Today some may consider the track too polarizing, or the precursor to Bro-Country. Both are fair arguments, but even though the song today may seem like one big cliche, there really wasn’t a song like it when it was initially released. “A Country Boy Can Survive” was groundbreaking and iconic.
Similar to today, in 1981 cities were being overrun with crime, shortages in gas and other commodities were disrupting everyday life, and inflation was out of control. America felt like it was heading into some sort of dystopia and the best days were behind her, and many were fleeing to the country for simplicity. Hank Jr. spoke to the sentiments many felt in a wholly original way. Here 40 years later, it’s a reminder that as much as things change, they also stay the same.
A similar prognosis could be taken of the second song on the record, the pretty silly but still strangely relevant social commentary of “The Coalitions to Ban Coalitions.” Again, where today it’s things like Dr. Seuss books in the crosshairs, back then it was Looney Tunes cartoons. Hank Jr. found a receptive audience with his ode to personal freedom that concluded, “Why can’t everybody else leave everybody else alone?” It captures Jr. being a bit more cognizant and universal with his views than where he would end up in the coming years, while not losing his sense of humor thanks to an appearance of a Daffy Duck impersonation.
Along with “A Country Boy Can Survive,” the other big hit from The Pressure Is On was “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)”—another song that has gone on to define the Hank Jr. legacy. Much preferable to the boisterous and benign iterations this song would take in subsequent years when it inspired “All My Rowdy Friends Arew Coming Over Tonight” until Jr.’s was singing it as the theme to Monday Night Football like some sort of media mascot, the original song was a lamentation, and a reflection of a rowdy character that time had passed by. Strangely, as Hank Jr. got older, he became less reflective. It was during the era of The Pressure Is On that Hank Jr. was arguably at his most self-aware and wise.
Though at the time Hank Jr. was continuing to forge his unique sound that was centered more around Southern rock than country, The Pressure Is On was a very country and traditional record, inviting Boxcar Willie in to guest on “Ramblin’ in My Shoes,” and George Jones on the rendition of Hank Sr.’s “I Don’t Care (If Tomorrow Ever Comes),” while his cover of Jimmy Driftwood’s “Tennessee Stud” is pretty spot on as well.
The album also includes two of arguably Hank Jr.’s best hidden gems. “Everytime I Hear That Song” is an incredible traditional country tearjerker written by Jr. himself that captures some of the best character and emotion in Hank Jr’s voice, which comes out on slower songs in a lower register. And though it’s decidedly more blues than country, and the double entendres tire a bit by the end, “Weatherman” might be one of Hank Jr.’s best album cuts of his career.
And it all concludes with Hank Williams Jr. giving his dad’s most famous steel guitar and right hand man Don Helms the platform to perform a song Don wrote called “Ballad of Hank Williams.” Both informative and hilarious, it’s a great way to end the set. The Pressure Is On touches just about every erogenous zone in the country music palette. You laugh, you cry, you pump your fist, and you feel something deep. And along with Don Helms, George Jones, and Boxcar Willie all appearing, the studio players included “Cowboy” Eddie Long and Hargus “Pig” Robbins among other notables.
The Hank Jr. discography from the late 70’s into the early 80’s is best to consider as its own era in his career. Signed to a joint deal between Curb Record and Elecktra, Hank Jr. released nine records under the arrangement, with each album strangely being labeled later “Original Classic Hits Volume ‘X'”—with “X” coinciding with the sequential order of the album, like they were all Greatest Hits albums or something. The Pressue Is On was #7.
Each of these 10-song albums is good for two or three really solid Hank Jr. tracks, many of which were written by Hank Jr. himself. They also include one or two tracks that aged about as well as your enchilada leftovers forgotten in a hot car for a week. Then the balance is often filled with just “meh” material. Most of the albums also include a Hank Williams classic cover, and a song that tributes or references Jr.’s famous father in one way or another.
It really is kind of a cookie cutter era in Hank Jr.’s career in regards to the consistency in approach to these albums, and really the strength of this period is derived from all the albums being considered together as opposed to individually.
But if you had to single out one of the nine albums as the standout of the era when Hank Jr. became Hank Jr., you could go with 1979’s Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound, which also went Platinum, and would be a fair pick. But really, The Pressure Is On is the more well-rounded and consistent record with songs that would go on to define Hank Jr. for a generation. And strangely, here 40 years later, some if not many of its songs and themes resonate in the hearts and minds of true country fans just as much as they did when it was first released.
Two Guns Up (9/10)