Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town

Album: Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town (1969)
Charted: 2 6

Songfacts®:

  • Country star Mel Tillis wrote this song, which tells the story of a wounded soldier who has returned home to a woman who shows him little sympathy, leaving him to go out at night and enjoy the company of other men. All he can do is beg her to stay home and keep him company, but his pleas fall on deaf ears.

    Tillis based the song on a couple who lived near his family in Florida. In real life, the man was wounded in Germany in World War II and sent to recuperate in England. There, he married a nurse who took care of him at the hospital. The two of them moved to Florida shortly afterward, but he made periodic return trips to the hospital as problems with his wounds kept flaring up. His wife saw another man as the veteran lay in the hospital.
  • Tillis was the first to release this song, including it on his 1967 album Life's That Way. Waylon Jennings, Johnny Darrell, The Statler Brothers and Bobby Goldsboro all recorded the song later that year, with Darrell's version going to #9 on the Country chart. Kenny Rogers recorded the definitive version with his band The First Edition in 1969, taking it to #2 in the UK and to #6 on both the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts.
  • Tillis changed the war in the song to the Korean War, and left out the life ending: the man killed her in a murder-suicide. In the song, the man says he would killer if he could move to get his gun.
  • A lot of controversy surrounded this song when it became a hit for Kenny Rogers in 1969, as the Vietnam War was raging and the song was often assumed to be about a man who came home crippled from that war. Rogers would perform the song in a jovial manner, and the crowd would often clap and sing along, so to some it was seen as disrespectful to veterans. In a 1970 interview with Beat Instrumental, Rogers defended the song, saying: "Look, we don't see ourselves as politicians, even if a lot of pop groups think they are in the running for a Presidential nomination. We are there, primarily, to entertain. Now if we can entertain by providing thought-provoking songs, then that's all to the good. But the guys who said 'Ruby' was about Vietnam were way off target – it was about Korea. But whatever the message, and however you interpret it, fact is that we wouldn't have looked at it if it hadn't been a GOOD song. Just wanna make good records, that's all."

Comments: 32

  • C.g. Dee from Big D, Texas, UsaLord, I love Songfacts. Just a few points. I first heard it as a 12 year old. Love it more every day at 63. Listened to Mel Tillis do it on Porter Wagner, 67 or so. A very smooth voice with a touch of Hank Williams Sr in it, youtube. Plus Bobby Womack was inspired by it, and recorded a song called Ruby Dean. Passionate R and B. Plus I suppose I did not realize till recently how much talent and amazing sound came through The First Edition and Kenny's own journey from jazz to folk to rock to country, etc. Astounding. RIP you master of showbiz.
  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenI like Rogers's remark about "pop groups." So many artists seem to think that being musicians also makes them experts at everything else.
  • Larry from CanadaMark Steyn has a great column on the song here;

    https://www.steynonline.com/8386/ruby-dont-take-your-love-to-town

    According to Mel Tillis, the wounded vet divorced "Ruby" and married a 3rd time. It was with this wife, not "Ruby', that the murder/suicide took place.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaChomper, before the First Edition Kenny sang with the New Christy Minstrals.
  • Eddie from NcI must correct my original post. I had two albums mixed up. "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" was on Flatt & Scruggs Boy Named Sue from 1973. Sorry.
  • Eddie from NcFirst time posting on this site, though I have viewed it many times. This song has always been a favorite of mine. Actually attempting to talk the bluegrass band I play in into doing it. I have read on a few sites, including this one, that it was ORIGINALLY recorded in 1967 by Johnny Darrell. I found out recently that Flatt and Scruggs recorded it on an album called Hard Travelin', which was recorded in 1963. Certain that is was not a hit for them, but that is definitely earlier than Johnny Darrell recorded it. Anyone else know anything about the Flatt and Scruggs version. Have become a fan of theirs in recent years because of the bluegrass interest.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaAs someone who's brother was a vet, this song gets to me.
  • Thomas Paine from New Rochelle, NyThe title of this web site is "Songfacts.com". Sadly, a number of comenters seem to have bought into the myth that Vietnam veterans were widely mistreated upon their return from duty. I'm not saying it never happened, but it certainly wasn't typical. Rather this distorted view of history was created and perpetuated with a particular ideological goal in mind; which was to vilify and demonize the political left-wing and the anti-war movement. The same tactics have been used (again, successfully) to demonize the labor movement and other supposed "undesirables". So let's just stick to the "facts", OK?

    The lyrics of this song document the tragic confluence of a number of psychological and sociological phenomena: 1) the unavoidable physical and emotional devastation caused by war, 2) the notion that a woman becomes the property of a man upon marriage (still widely subscribed to in many parts of the world), and 3) the belief that problems can be successfully resolved through the use of firearms... a tragedy on all counts.

    I guess it wouldn't make for such compelling drama if "Ruby" had successfully suppressed her sexual yearnings, and focused on caring for her wounded warrior; but I suspect there were many more of the "good" Rubies than wicked ones; and whether the wicked Ruby deserved to die for her transgressions... well... that would be a matter of opinion. Laws in the USA would say no, but this is not the case in all parts of the world.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 1st 1969, "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #98; and on July 27th it peaked at #6 (for 2 weeks) and spent 13 weeks on the Top 100...
    Two years earlier in 1967 Johnny Darrell's version of the song reached #9 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles...
    And both version peaked at #2 on the United Kingdom's Singles chart...
    This was the first record where the name on the label was 'Kenny Rogers & the First Edition"; the group's first two charted records, "Just Dropped It" and "But You Know I Love You", they were known simply as 'The First Edition'.
  • Pamela from Whittier, NcReply song Billy, I've Got To Go To Town- sang by Geraldine Stevens aka Dodie Stevens
    http://youtu.be/4wKNMn904t4
  • Ed from North Carolina, NcSorry, Charles (Charlotte); Mickey Newbury wrote "Just Dropped In"; I was playing in the house band at the Newport Resort Hotel in Miami in 1972 when Kenny & The First Edition played there, btw. On that song, someone in the group (most of them sang harmony) kept singing a sour note on the beginning line of that song. LOL But they were a fine group and the place was packed the whole week that they were there. Next time that I saw Kenny Rogers was at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas in 1973, when he came out after his solo performance, think (just Kenny) to talk with the 17-pedal steel guitarist leader of our group about the Fender Precision bass that Kenny played. Was very friendly, as opposed to what some folks have said about him at different times.
    THEN, I saw Kenny in 1977 in Sarasota, definitely doing a solo gig then, at the Van Wezel auditorium. By that time, he had 3 Nashville musician friends of mine in part of his backup band...Gene Golden (Hammond B-3, etc.); Bobby Daniels (drums) and Steve Glassmeyer (keys and flute). Btw, Bobby Daniels spent a lot of time in prison later for murder (cheating girlfriend).
    One last bit of trivia. In Kenny's book "Making It With Music" (helpful advice in it, too for anyone considering music as a career), Kenny mentioned that on "Something's Burning, the Mac Davis song, the heartbeat at the beginning, was recorded at some hospital, but they had to REVERSE it so that the rhythm was correct to match the bass drum beat.
  • Matthew from Toronto, OnWhether it was about Vietnam or not, it was an insightful condemnation of the pain and humiliation the returning wounded have to withstand. The singer of the song is not a very nice man, and his girlfriend Ruby isn't a very nice lady either, but you immediately understand why each is behaving the way they are. This is a situation forced upon them by outside influences, but they have been given no support by society in dealing with the fallout. A tragedy waiting to happen.
  • Dalan from Notacityyet, MtA timeless song unfortunately. Although it was meant through a rewrite to be about the Korean Conflict/War it did become popular during the Vietnam Conflict/War. Could be about Kuwait, Iraq, or Afghanistan in modern times, imho.

    My heart forever goes out to the people that have served in armed conflicts overseas, and their friends and families. It is very sad to me that people have turned their backs to these brave warriors, even after they came home.

    Ruby, "For God sake turn around."
  • Reese from Lexington, KyThe answer song is called Billy, I've got to go to Town.
  • Joe from Cosipicua, Maltasally i know what ou re saying. i too am looking for the response song. i heard it on teh radio a few years ago and it goes something liek what you re saying.
  • Chomper from Franjkin County, PaTwo other popular songs by Kenny that he sang with the First Edition are as followed : "Tell It All" , and "Write It Down (Don't Forget My Name). I know , because I have 2 of his cassettes of The First Edition .
  • Chomper from Franjkin County, PaKenny Rogers was a member of the rock band The First Edition , a popular singing group during the 60s and 70s . They sang : Ruby ( Don't Take Your Love To Town ) , Somethin's Burning , A New Design , Strangers In My Place , Elvira , Just Dropped In ( To See What Condition My Condition Was In ) , Calico Silver , and Goodtime Liberator. ..He also sings "Felton Carman's Rubalator" ( about a machine the Felton invented ).
  • Jay from Toronto, OnLeonard Nimoy did an awesomely bizarre version of this song too.
  • Kelsey from Stillwater, OkThe Killers do an awesome cover to this on their "Sawdust" album.
  • Steve from Brisbane, AustraliaAustralian band "Mental As Anything" do the greatest cover of this song ever live.
  • Betsy from Burnsville, MnActually, Mel Tillis wrote the song about the Korean War, not the Vietnam War. It was just coincidence that the U.S. happened to be embroiled in another "crazy Asian war" when Kenny Rogers' version became a hit.
  • Chris from Nashville, Tn"Just Dropped In(To See What Condition My Condition Is In)" was written by Mickey Newbury. I should know...he's my dad ;)
  • Sally from Pittsburgh, PaI am trying to locate the "response" song to this. The woman in the "story" said something like that she wasn't going out with another guy but doing something legitimate, maybe a second job or something.....does anyone know what I am talking about?????
  • Jerry from Brooklyn, NyIn an era when most Vietnam vets were treated rather shabbily -- often portrayed in TV and films as soulless murders and psychotics, this song was remarkable, in that it showed the human toll that Vietnam, or any war, takes on its victims. The disabled veteran-narrator was devested by his wife's infidelity and his wish to kill her is less a consequence of his military service than it is an indictment of an America that did nothing to help men like him and their families cope with the tragedy of war.
  • Mike from Hueytown , AlWaylon Jenning's version is better
  • John from Edinburg, VaKenny's version is a cover. This was a country hit in Spring of 1967 and was originally sung by Johnny Darrell--Patrick in Bethesda--good memory.
  • Lynn from Corpus Christi, TxIs there another person who sang this song maybe in 1972. Thanks I love country music.
  • Nathan from Defiance, Ohgreat song, one Kenny's best
  • Scott from Childersburg, AlCake covered this on a recent album. They did pretty good on it.
  • Patrick from Bethesda, Md11/14/04: I remember listening to this recording when I was in Naval OCS in 1967. I think the 1969 date lsited above is not correct.
  • Steve from Nashville, TnMel Tillis did not write "Just Dropped In". It was written by the late Mickey Newbury.
  • Charles from Charlotte, NcThis was recorded in 1969 with Kenny's group The First Edition. Other hits by the group were "Just Dropped In" (also written by Tillis) and "Somethings Burning". The group had a syndicated variety show in 1971.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Alice CooperFact or Fiction

How well do you know this shock-rock harbinger who's been publicly executed hundreds of times?

"Private Eyes" - The Story Behind the SongSong Writing

How a goofy detective movie, a disenchanted director and an unlikely songwriter led to one of the biggest hits in pop history.

Francis Rossi of Status QuoSongwriter Interviews

Doubt led to drive for Francis, who still isn't sure why one of Status Quo's biggest hits is so beloved.

Adam Young of Owl CitySongwriter Interviews

Is Owl City on a quest for another hit like "Fireflies?" Adam answers that question and explains the influences behind many others.

Bob DaisleySongwriter Interviews

Bob was the bass player and lyricist for the first two Ozzy Osbourne albums. Here's how he wrote songs like "Crazy Train" and "Mr. Crowley" with Ozzy and Randy Rhoads.

Brandi CarlileSongwriter Interviews

As a 5-year-old, Brandi was writing lyrics to instrumental versions lullabies. She still puts her heart into her songs, including the one Elton John sings on.