Happy Birthday John Prine: Performing Self-Titled Debut Album Live

Watch and listen to live performances of all 13 songs from the late singer-songwriter's 1971 LP.

By Nate Todd Oct 10, 2021 7:35 am PDT

John Prine was born on this date in 1946 in Maywood, Illinois near Chicago. The beloved singer-songwriter sadly died on April 7, 2020 due to complications from COVID-19. No one could distill into song both the good and the band that exists in this country with wit, humor and authenticity like Prine. All of those traits and more were evident from the beginning when John Prine released his self-titled debut album 50 years ago.

All 13 tracks on John Prine are incredible. John began composing many of the songs while working as a mailman after serving in the army and would later perform them at open mic nights around Chicago.

While covers of standouts like “Angel From Montgomery,” “Hello In There,” “Sam Stone” and “Paradise” have cozied up coffee shops and echoed through arenas alike through the years, Prine himself remarkably kept all 13 tunes in his live repertoire as well. For this special edition of Sunday Cinema, JamBase takes a look at John Prine performing John Prine throughout his five-decade career.

Illegal Smile

While “Illegal Smile” has become an “anthem for dope smokers,” as John put it, the amazing opener on John Prine isn’t about the prohibition of pot per se but goes much deeper as a commentary on the prohibition of thought. John introduces the tune on the Underground News Broadcast in 1972 as “A song about smiling…illegally.”


00:01:03
UndergroundNewsDotTV
John Prine (See 39 videos)

Spanish Pipedream

The early 1970s saw many disillusioned folks rejecting “normal” society and decamping to a more communal, nature-based lifestyle. John perfectly captures that sentiment in his song “Spanish Pipedream.” See Prine perform the song on Soundstage in 1980.


00:00:10
ItsWaldo (Walter Brinkman)
John Prine (See 39 videos)

Hello in There

The perfect partner for “Spanish Pipedream,” a song aimed more at young people, the gorgeous “Hello In There” is a poignant ode to the elderly.

“I’ve always had an affinity for old people,” John said. “I used to help a buddy with his newspaper route, and I delivered to a Baptist old peoples home where we’d have to go room-to-room. And some of the patients would kind of pretend that you were a grandchild or nephew that had come to visit, instead of the guy delivering papers. That always stuck in my head. It was all that stuff together, along with that pretty melody. I don’t think I’ve done a show without singing “Hello in There.” Nothing in it wears on me.”

Prine deliverers “Hello In There” above during his Sessions At West 54th performance in 2000.


00:00:00
John Prine (See 15 videos)
John Prine (See 39 videos)

Sam Stone

The reason many people were disillusioned in the 1970s was America’s involvement in Vietnam. Not only was the war terrible, as all wars are, but for many veterans the landscape at home was just as boobytrapped as the jungles of Vietnam. The first two lines in the chorus say it all: “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes/Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose.”


00:00:00
John Prine (See 15 videos)
John Prine (See 39 videos)

Paradise

Prine wrote the beloved autobiographical tune “Paradise” for his father, who hailed from the song’s Muhlenberg County in Kentucky where he would take John when he was a boy to visit family in the real-life hamlet of Paradise.

“It was a real Disney-looking town,” John remembered. “It sat on the river, had two general stores, and there was one black man in town, Bubby Short. He looked like Uncle Remus and hung out with my Granddaddy Ham, my mom’s dad, all day fishing for catfish. Then the bulldozers came in and wiped it all off the map.”

Those bulldozers were sent by the Tennessee Valley Authority electric company as Paradise was deemed unfit to live in due the nearby Paradise Fossil Plant. John attributes the town’s destruction to the Peabody Coal Mining Company who did indeed strip-mine the area. Prine performs the song above fittingly at Farm Aid in 1986.


00:00:00
Farm Aid (See 1,872 videos)
John Prine (See 39 videos)

Pretty Good

The first side closer on John Prine, “Pretty Good” is seemingly a song about perspective. What is fantastical to some is mundane to others. John performs the song above in 1973 at the MIDEM Gala in France.


00:00:00
mrp’s archives
John Prine (See 39 videos)

Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore

“Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore” is another anti-war song delivered with John’s trademark wit (“While digesting readers digest”). The tune is also another one that is just as relevant in the 21st century as it was in the Vietnam War era, speaking to those who justify violence and aggression under the guise of patriotism. While Prine didn’t perform the song for some time in the ’80s and ’90s, he revived it in the 2000s as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raged. Check out John performing “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore” from Washington D.C. in 2005.


00:00:00
Citizen Abels
John Prine (See 39 videos)

Far from Me

Prine has often cited “Far From Me” as his favorite among his compositions. The stellar line “a broken bottle looks just like a diamond ring” “is in reference to my childhood,” Prine said. “We were raised close to a junkyard and one of my favorite pastimes was playing in the junkyard breaking bottles. The kids always commented that the fragments of glass looked just like a field of diamonds. The majority of my songs are written from life experiences and a lot of times there is not any symbolism but just words that take me to another place and time.” The performance above is another from Prine’s Sessions At West 54th appearance.


00:00:00
John Prine (See 15 videos)
John Prine (See 39 videos)

Angel from Montgomery

One of Prine’s most oft-covered songs perhaps most notably by Bonnie Raitt who performs the song with John at Farm Aid ‘86 above, “Angel From Montgomery” is said to have come about when a friend urged him to pen “another song about old people” referring to the aforementioned “Hello In There.” But the song took a different slant as “about a middle-aged woman who feels older than she is,” Prine said.

“I had this really vivid picture of this woman standing over the dishwater with soap in her hands…She wanted to get out of her house and her marriage and everything. She just wanted an angel to come to take her away from all this.”


00:00:00
Farm Aid (See 1,872 videos)
Bonnie Raitt (See 40 videos) and John Prine (See 39 videos)

Quiet Man

“Quiet Man” is a song full of both vivid imagery and sage words. While the album version is more folksy, John cleverly turns the song about a “quiet man” into something of a rocker during a March 31, 2017 concert at Hershey Theatre.


00:00:00
S Lancaster
John Prine (See 39 videos)

Donald and Lydia (Audio Only)

This live audio of “Donald and Lydia” comes from a Prine concert at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis in February 1973. While John said he pulled the names from a baby name book, he brings them to life with this character-driven song about loneliness and isolation.

Six O’Clock News

John Prine wrote in the sleeve of his 1988 album John Prine Live that he drew inspiration for “Six O’Clock News” from a neighborhood kid “who was always in trouble and chose me as a friend. His brothers pushed him around a lot, and his mother generally ignored him. Years later as a teenager, still in trouble, he ended up in Juvenile Court and the prosecutor decided to tell my friend that his father was his father, but his mother was his oldest sister. No wonder he was always in trouble.”

Another from Sessions at West 54th.


00:00:00
John Prine (See 15 videos)
John Prine (See 39 videos)

Flashback Blues (Audio Only)

The above live audio of John Prine closer “Flashback Blues” comes from sometime in 1970 before the album’s release. The song speaks of both the catharsis and dangers of nostalgia, an aptly ambiguous conclusion to Prine’s timeless masterpiece.

JamBase Collections