SONGWRITER Hank Williams
APPEARS ON Gold, Original Singles Collection, The Ultimate Collection, 20 Of Hank Williams Greatest Hits, 24 Greatest Hits, 40 Greatest Hits
NOTE Any Williams anthology without "Ramblin' Man" is by definition incomplete and should be avoided.
Hank Williams sang so often of loneliness and isolation that in his hands they became the the Scylla and Charybdis of the human psyche. This was never more evident than in his performance of "Ramblin' Man," certainly one of the eeriest vocals ever recorded.
"Ramblin' Man" is a perfect example of how lyrics require the right interpretation to achieve greatness as a song. On the surface, it's a well-written account but also not uncommon account of a man who can't sit still, even for love. Williams chalks it up to fate ("When the Lord made me, he made a ramblin' man") to the point of divine intervention. He recognizes that "some folks might say that I'm no good," but their opinion is of small consequence compared with "the life I believe/He meant for me." There's a defensive quality to the lyrics, as if Williams wants to rationalize an inability to commit.
Now, listen to Williams' spooky interpretation of the lyrics. Williams becomes a reluctant rambler, drawn irresistibly by "that old freight" away from hearth and home to the "open road." His vocals echo the train whistle that beckons him to a life leading inevitably to a lonely grave. The defensiveness and rationalization fall away, revealing a man powerless before a fate that he may not want but cannot resist.
LYRICSI could settle down
and be doin' just fine
'til I hear that old freight
comin' down the line
Then I hurry straight
home and pack and if i didn't go
I'd be 'bout lose my stack
I love you baby, but you gotta understand
When the Lord made me, he made a ramblin' man
Some folks might say that I'm no good
that I wouldn't settle down if i could
but when that open road starts callin' me
there's somethin' o'er the hill that i got to see
Sometimes it's hard, but you gotta understand
when the lord made me, he made a ramblin' man
Let me travel this land
from the mountains to the sea
'cause that's the life I believe
He meant for me
And when I'm gone and at my grave you stand
Just say God's called home your ramblin' man