Roger Miller would have turned 83 years old today. Born January 2nd, 1936, in Fort Worth, Texas, and raised in Erick, Oklahoma, Miller would become one of the most celebrated songwriters in American history, an entertainer and composer distinguished for his contributions to country and pop music, as well as for his 1985 Tony-winning Broadway show Big River.
Much of Miller’s creative genius was rooted in his left-of-left-field humor, which sparked creative wordplay in the songwriter. But even on those rare occasions when he recorded material written by others, his delectable wit made those tunes his own. Miller had his work cut out for him with the rather obscure and fascinating “They Won’t Get Me,” his contribution to the soundtrack LP for the 1983 action-adventure film Superman III.
A tepid box-office hit after two blockbuster predecessors, the film was universally panned by critics in spite of (and in some cases because of) the presence of comedian Richard Pryor. As with many of the film-related albums of the time, the soundtrack to Superman III soundtrack mixed instrumentals (like the familiar, sweeping score by Oscar-winning conductor John Williams) with songs by popular artists. In this case, it was a trio of tunes with vocals from, respectively, power-pop artist Marshall Crenshaw, R&B singer Chaka Khan and Miller.
But rather than his own work, Miller performed a delightfully bizarre tune penned by lyricist Keith Forsey, who had previously played percussion on and/or written and produced songs for Donna Summer and Billy Idol, among others. Working with producer Giorgio Moroder, Forsey’s lyrics concern a man who can’t be tied down to just one woman for very long, preferring instead, he sings, to “spread myself around.” In spite of the mundane lyrics, which suffer from not having Miller’s magic touch to them, what redeems the tune is the Country Music Hall of Famer’s trademark honky-tonk-meets-scat-singing delivery, topped off with Moroder’s synthesized electronic instrumentation that, at the time, must have seemed somewhat cartoonish, especially when combined with country music staples such as steel guitar. But it’s not entirely impossible to draw a through line from this to Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour via, for instance, Daft Punk.
Miller’s creative influence was celebrated in supreme style in 2018 with one of the year’s most engaging LPs, King of the Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller, featuring Musgraves along with Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ringo Starr and Brad Paisley.