Beautiful Wreck

Album: 9th Ward Pickin Parlor (2006)
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Songfacts®:

  • Shawn Mullins spent much of his professional life on the road, playing bars and other venues of often questionable repute. He even played a little dive bar in Dahloenga, Georgia, that led to an Ashley McBryde song. This song was inspired by these adventures, where there was often a "beautiful wreck" in the crowd.

    "There's usually more than one, but there's always that lonely woman at the dark side of the bar," he told Songfacts.
  • This song started with a lyric Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips wrote in a session for The Thorns, which was a group Mullins formed with Pete Droge and Matthew Sweet in 2002. Mullins explained: "Glen had a friend that was in a mental hospital from what I recall, and wrote that first verse. We all got together and he brought that first verse in, and when we tackled the first chorus it wasn't the same chorus as what you know now as "Beautiful Wreck," it was another chorus that none of us liked. So we threw that song out and continued to work on other stuff, and years later, I think it was 2005, I found that lyric in a big box where I keep notebooks of lyrical ideas. I noticed it wasn't my handwriting and I remembered that it was Glen's. I read it, and that first verse hit me. I thought, 'Wow, we should have really pursued that idea of that second line, 'You make such a beautiful wreck.' That could have referred to a chorus and it could've been about something else altogether.'

    So I called Glen and asked if he would mind if I tried it again, on my own, and that's how that happened. I rented a cabin in north Georgia and tackled a lot of that 9th Ward Pickin Parlour record in a couple of weeks. I wrote the chorus of 'Beautiful Wreck' and made it about something else, which is all the bars and clubs I play in."
  • This was released as the first (and only) single from Mullins' album 9th Ward Pickin Parlor, named for the New Orleans studio where he recorded much of it before Hurricane Katrina destroyed it.

    By this time, Mullins was deep into a career that started with years of struggle playing the kind of places he sings about here. In 1998 he had a breakout hit with "Lullaby," but couldn't muster another substantial hit. After his group The Thorns split up, he signed with Vanguard Records, where he released 9th Ward Pickin Parlor.

    Mullins never came close to the heights of his "Lullaby" fame, but that song earned him a solid fan base and an upgrade to theaters. "Beautiful Wreck" remains one of his most popular songs and a staple of his setlists.
  • In the music video, the "beautiful wreck" is an intoxicating, combustible woman with a penchant for breaking stuff. It was directed by Jacob Hatley, who later did a feature film called Ain't in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm.

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