Angel From Montgomery

December 27, 2007 By: erik Category: Music, Reviews, Videos 3,577 views

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One of my favorite songs has got to be John Prine’s Angel from Montgomery. I’ve mentioned it once before here when there was, well, a fly in the kitchen. It never ceases to amaze me how songwriters and novelists can write about someone else in the first person, to become someone else and really feel their emotions. This song also touches a special chord with me because I work from home and have spent some time with my wife being the sole breadwinner of the household. Even though I am obviously a lot happier with my life than the protagonist of the song, I feel a kinship with her that’s hard to explain. I have experienced the lethargy and loneliness of the last verse.

So when I went to play with my new microphone that I got for Christmas, I chose Angel from Montgomery as a song to record. It’s clear that this microphone, a Blue Snowball, is the most professional piece of recording equipment I’ve ever owned. The sound quality is excellent. A little too excellent for the quality of my voice, really.

Once I got the guitar and vocals into GarageBand, a wide range of editing possibilities opened up to me. I got to playing around with reverb and echo and distortion and overdrive. And then I found that there’s an effect to convert a male voice into a female voice and vice versa. I’ve never really seen this feature that didn’t make the person sound like one of the chipmunks, but I was very impressed. So I have a female backup singer that helps out with some of the chorus and verse lines. I threw some prepackaged drums on it and put down a pretty lame attempt at a bass riff and I was done!

But then I realized that, in order to host my song file on my website, it needed to be in video form, either on YouTube or Revver. I considered just a single frame of video and the song as the soundtrack, but I figured I’d better make a video where it looked like I was playing the guitar. So I got out my headphones and played along to the song I’d recorded. Keep in mind that the guitar being played in the video is not that heard in the song! Since I was in my pajamas (after all, I ain’t done nothin’ since I woke up today!), I did my best to only show the guitar and strumming.

It was a little trickier than I’d hoped to get the video and music synced up in iMovie, but once it was synced, it looked really good. But the video was kind of boring-looking, so I decided to play with all those video effects that I never get to use in iMovie. There are some pretty amazing effects available. So I split the video into verses and choruses and did a different effect for each one, just to make it somewhat interesting to watch.

So anyway, here it is… The more I listen to it, the less I like it in general. The whole thing is over-processed, but it was so fun to play with in GarageBand, I got a little carried away. If you have any musical creativity in you at all, GarageBand is a toy you can play with for hours!


I am an old woman named after my mother
My old man is another child that’s grown old
If dreams were lightning, thunder was desire
This old house would have burnt down a long time ago

Make me an angel that flies from Montgom’ry
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go

When I was a young girl well, I had me a cowboy
He weren’t much to look at, just free rambling man
But that was a long time and no matter how I try
The years seem to flow by like a broken down dam.

There’s flies in the kitchen I can hear ’em there buzzing
And I ain’t done nothing since I woke up today.
How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
And come home in the evening and have nothing to say.

Just so you know how the song is supposed to sound, here’s the original author, John Prine, singing it and explaining a little about who it’s about.

Due to it’s awesomeness, this song has been covered by hundreds of artists. For instance, you’ve got the red-headed country and blues goddess, Bonnie Raitt:

And this Susan Tedeschi woman that I used to own a CD of and I’d forgotten how much I love her voice and style. She adds some extra lyrics on the end, which is risky when dealing with such a classic, but I think she pulls it off.

Thanks for listening, and I hope I’ve either made you aware of this great song or added to your appreciation of it a little bit.

  • Prine is an amazing singer/songwriter. I’ve reflected on his music in 13 posts on my blog (just today doing a “retrospective”). I’ve seen him in concert 6 times. He’s coming to Carnegie Hall (just a 1 hour train ride away) this coming Jan. 5, but I just can’t make it. Anyway, thanks for drawing attention to our generation’s top folk theologian.

  • I adore this song, and John Prine, as well. Thanks for this.

  • I have been trying to find out why only John Prine’s original version says “if dreams were lightning, thunder was desire”….and all the covers go “if dreams were thunder, lightning was desire.”

    I think Bonnie Raitt made the original error, but figure that because it was so much more popular than the original it stuck.

    It does change the meaning slightly. In Prine’s version, since thunder is the after-effect of lightning, Dreams give way to desire. In the Raitt version desire gives way to dreams.

    Anyway, these are the thoughts that I chose to dump on the internet this evening. I haven;t seen it addressed.

  • Excellent comment, Scootmandubious! I, too, had noticed that difference. I prefer the original version, but for a slightly different reason.

    We naturally associate the nouns lightning and thunder with the adjectives bright and loud respectively. Desire could be either bright or loud, but it doesn’t make sense to me for dreams to be loud. The only adjective that fits with dreams, in my mind, is bright.

    And because of the order they are usually experienced, as you mentioned, it just makes better poetry if they appear in that order in the sentence.

    Thanks again for your thought dump.

  • Martin

    The youtube video of John Prine has been removed due to terms of use violation. I wanted to show my girlfriend the video of the young Prine telling the story of the song, but couldn’t find it on youtube anymore. Spend quite a while looking for it. I was therefore thrilled when I saw the link here on your site with the right picture and all, but trying to play it, it just shows that it has been removed. Does anyone have this video locally?

    Think its a shame that the lyrics were changed – I noticed it right away when I saw the movie “Into the Wild” were they play it at this concert. The original lyrics make more sense to me.

    Thanks for a good post Erik.


  • Brian

    Hi Erik,
    Better late to the party than to not show up at all…

    I’ve always loved this tune. The unfinished edges make it all the more haunting.

    BTW, Tedeschi was just doing a medley of “Angel..” by Prine and “Sugaree” by Grateful Dead.

    “When they come to take you down When they bring that wagon ’round
    When they come to call on you and drag your poor body down

    Just one thing I ask of you, just one thing for me
    Please forget you knew my name, my darling Sugaree
    Shake it, shake it sugaree, just don’t tell them that you know me
    Shake it, shake it sugaree, just don’t tell them that you know me.”