The 1971 album I Won’t Mention It Again successfully paired Ray Price – then already on the tail end of his commercial career – with the songs of Kris Kristofferson, who had released his first album just one year prior. While these guys both belong to the ‘old guard’ now, that definitely wasn’t the case when the album was released. In his notes on the back cover, writer Juan Canaday seems almost dismissive of Kristofferson’s writing as he celebrates Price:
Ray Price, in fact, was one of the people who originally pricked my interest in Country music. That intense yet dignified voice on all those great old songs: City Lights was one of the most played records I ever owned. There isn’t much anybody can teach Ray Price about Country music.
And here he was singing a Kristofferson song. Kristofferson, you see, is a personification of part of the “new Nashville.” Some of the newer cats aren’t so well liked around Music City, what with their long hair and their drugs and their irreverent songs and their indifference to the pecking order. When the new breed writes, they aren’t apt to pull any punches. So you see what I mean about the generation gap. When you listen to this record you’ll have a hard time hearing it, though.
Because Ray Price is in his best form, bringing all that dignity, emotion, professionalism, and charm to bear on the work of Nashville’s most controversial child. The songs sound as if they were written for Ray. They take on a richness maybe even the songwriters didn’t guess they had. They get the full Price treatment: strings, chorus and all riding high, wide and handsome on a Nashville band. As the man says, if a formula is working, don’t mess with it.
Ironically, it’s the Kristofferson recordings of many of these songs that hold up better nearly 40 years later, unmarked by the dated ‘full Ray Price treatment’ of which Canaday seemed so enamored. In fact, listening to this record now, I get the impression that Price simply decided to lay into a random sampling of Kristofferson songs in hopes of repeating the success he’d just had with “For the Good Times,” without paying much attention to the particular content of any one piece. Just ‘Ray them up’ and see what happens, you know? Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t (e.g. an uptown take on “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” more choral than forlorn).
There’s a lesson here, about keeping personal prejudices in check or the difficulty of making historical judgments about what’s happening in the present or… something. Mostly, though, I just thought this was funny.