Over the course of his more than four-decade career, the supremely literate and passionate singer-songwriter-guitarist John Prine has amassed a large and extremely devoted following in every corner of the USA and in many countries around the world. Many of those fans will no doubt be delighted by the publication of a book called John Prine Beyond Words (put out by his Nashville-based label Oh Boy Records), which over the course of around 180 large-format pages offers more than 100 photographs from Prine’s personal collection, covering his early life and the entire scope of his career; reproductions of handwritten (or typed) lyrics for many of his best-known songs; occasional remarks from Prine about the writing and recording of various tunes; cool “scrapbook” items such as newspaper and magazine reviews (along with his surprise appearance in a “Dear Abby” column); plus the complete lyrics and (mostly simple) chords for 65 of his songs, from such memorable early numbers as “Angel from Montgomery,” “Sam Stone,” “Paradise,” “Hello in There,” “Bruised Orange,” and “Sweet Revenge” to more recent tunes like “Crazy as a Loon” and “Glory of True Love.” Needless to say, there are songs that show his sometimes absurd, sometimes acerbic sense of humor, such as “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” and “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore.”
With such a vast and varied catalog to choose from (at least two dozen albums), there are bound to be frustrating omissions (like more from my favorite, Common Sense!), but it’s impossible not to be impressed and profoundly moved by the scope and the depth of what is here. Prine has always been, and remains to this day, a true American original.
Below, during his January 2000 appearance on the Sessions at West 54th Street TV program, Prine sings “Hello in There,” a haunting number from his self-titled 1971 debut album. The lyrics and chord changes appear in the John Prine Beyond Words book.
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.