Friday, April 11, 2003

50 years ago: Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” topped the country chart

Your Cheatin’ Heart

Hank Williams

Writer(s): Hank Williams (see lyrics here)


Released: January 1953


First Charted: February 21, 1953


Peak: 25 US, 3 CB, 16 CW (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 1.0 US


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 3.0 radio, 7.8 video, 17.75 streaming

Awards:

Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

In Hank Williams’ short career, he established himself as one of country music’s most legendary artists. The “barely literate farm boy became the eloquent scribe” AC who was even hailed as the “Stephen Foster of the twentieth century.” AC “Your Cheatin’ Heart” has become “synonymous with the myth of Hank Williams as a haunted, lonely figure who expressed pain with an authenticity that became the standard for country music.” WK All Music Guide described it as “an unofficial anthem of country music.” WK Country music historian Ronnie Pugh wrote that “the song – for all intents and purposes – defines country music.” WK

The song came about while he was driving with his fiancée Billie Jean to visit her family in Louisana to announce their engagement. SF He talked about his ex-wife, Audrey, and how she’d hurt him. He finally summed up all his frustrations, sighing, “her cheatin’ heart will pay!” He realized it would make a good song and asked Billie Jean to scribble down the words. They both knew it was a hit. AC He told his friend, Braxton Schuffert, “It’s the best heart song I ever wrote.” WK

Hank and his band went into the studio with producer Fred Rose to record the song in Nashville, Tennessee, on September 23, 1952. It ended up being his last recording session before his death. The song was released posthumously in 1953. His version topped the country charts while Joni James and Frankie Laine each reached the Billboard’s Most Played in Jukeboxes chart that year, hitting #2 and #18 respectively. Ray Charles took the song to #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #23 on the R&B chart in 1962.

He was only 29 when he died, but he “was used up, worn out, and despondent.” AC He was “a young man dying of old age.” AC He died of heart failure on January 1, 1953 in the back of a car while headed to a gig in Charleston, West Virginia. There is some suspicion over what led to his death, but he suffered from alcoholism and dependence on prescription drugs.


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First posted 10/27/2021; last updated 11/3/2021.

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