In 1983, John Conlee notched his third Number One hit with the song “Common Man.” Written and originally recorded by Sammy Johns, it is part of country music’s long tradition of (and fixation upon) expressing pride for one’s inherited class. The character in Conlee’s song tells his love interest that he would rather drink Budweiser than wine, drive a Chevy instead of a Benz and eat at McDonald’s instead of the fancy restaurant that provides the setting.
It’s a thematic idea that extends forward through Gretchen Wilson’s smash “Redneck Woman” to — even more recently — Lee Brice’s “Drinking Class.” As further proof that it’s an evergreen topic, Conlee gathered with bluegrass band Lorraine Jordan and Carolina Road more than 30 years later to reprise the hit for the June 2015 album Country Grass.
In the video above, Conlee’s voice appears to have retained the soul and brawn that helped him claim six Number One hits in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Where the original from the album Busted (listen below) had a more bouncy rhythm and sunny pop sheen that was the standard at the time, this new version strips the song back to its elements and glides on a double-time rhythm from the players. Carolina Road dobro player Brad Hudson jumps in for a verse, and the group adds pristine multi-part vocal harmonies.
The Country Grass collection features several tracks re-worked in the manner of “Common Man” with their original singers. Crystal Gayle sings “Ready for the Times to Get Better,” T.G. Sheppard sings “Do You Wanna Go to Heaven” and the late Lynn Anderson can be heard on her classic “Rose Garden.”