While looking over the track listing of the “Songs of Tucumcari” complication compilation CD, a thought struck me: When has such a small town as Tucumcari, N.M. (population 5,900) inspired so many songs?
Maybe it’s because the city’s association with Route 66. Maybe it’s from being the first significant town that westbound travelers encounter when they’re driving into the spectacular skies and scenery of New Mexico. Maybe it’s the city’s unusual name.
Whatever the reason, I’m glad that Bob Beaulieu, executive director of the Tucumcari-Quay County Chamber of Commerce, decided to compile 14 songs that mention Tucumcari in the title. (The chamber is selling the CD for $15, plus shipping charges, here.) The songs run the gamut from big band, weird folk, Tex-Mex, honky-tonk country and classic pop. Many of these tunes are obscure, and a fair number prove to be delights.
Dorothy Shay’s “Two Gun Harry from Tucumcari,” based on a real pistol-toting restaurant owner in town, wound up being the big find on the CD for me. The spirited big-band number shows why it was a hit in 1948.
Also worthwhile are Dale Watson’s honky-tonkin’ “Tucumcari Here I Come,” Jimmie Rodgers’ pop single “Tucumcari,” the lovely “Tucumcari Tonight” by the Colin Sphincter Band, Andy Mason’s humorous vegetarian tale “There’s Nothin’ to Eat in Tucumcari,” Michael Hearne’s western-swinging “Two Miles Out of Tucumcari,” and The Road Crew’s bright country song “Tucumcari Tonite.”
The CD contains two musical references to the dramatic but preposterous American Indian legend of Tucumcari Mountain. Jimmie Driftwood’s “Tucumcari” and Cheryl Barns and the Teen Tones’ “Tucumcari Legend” both take the tale seriously, and are as spooky as you’d expect.
The only dud I found was “This Train Will Stop in Tucumcari” by David Rubin, which is marred by wobbly singing and erratic drumming. Having just one questionable song out of 14 is a good batting average for any album, especially one that sticks to a very specific theme.
One notable omission was Little Feat’s “Willin’,” which mentions Tucumcari in the chorus. The song also was covered by Linda Ronstadt. Beaulieu said he decided to narrow the CD to songs that focused on the town. Also, he feared the licensing fees for “Willin'” would have been too steep.
Recommended for the Shay tune alone.
Full song listing:
- “Tucumcari Tonight,” The Colin Sphinctor Band
- “Tucumcari Here I Come,” Dale Watson
- “Two Gun Harry from Tucumcari,” Dorothy Shay
- “Tucumcari Legend,” Cheryl Barns & The Teen Tones
- “Tucumcari Tonite,” The Road Crew
- “Tucumcari,” Jimmie Rodgers
- “Tucumcari Woman,” Dan Roberts
- “There’s Nothin’ to Eat in Tucumcari,” Andy Mason
- “Ride in Tucumcari,” The Tarantulas
- “This Train Will Stop at Tucumcari,” David Rubin
- “Tucumcari,” Jimmie Driftwood
- “West of Tucumcari,” Proverbial Cool Aid
- “Tucumcari,” Randy Kaplan with Brian Schey
- “Two Miles Out of Tucumcari,” Michael Hearne
(CD courtesy of the Tucumcari-Quay County Chamber of Commerce)