After scoring a #1 pop hit with "Wooden Heart" in 1961, Joe Dowell had a hard time sustaining his recording career. His follow-up singles for Smash Records were minor hits at best, and a move to Monument Records ended after only one single. Although he had some success with writing and recording commercial jingles thereafter, he finally resorted to releasing his own records. His first self-released single, "Those Darn Inflation Blues," was uncharacteristic in every way: It was topical, humorous, countrified, a collaborative composition, and—apart from the chorus—a recitation.
Dowell must have had some faith in this tune, because it was the first commercial release on his own Journey Records label. (He previously used the Journey Records imprint on "Christmas in Ann Arbor," a 1972-73 single that was issued as a freebie for customers of Ann Arbor Federal Savings.) Joe would continue to use Journey into the 1980s as a channel for occasional singles and one album.
Dowell usually wrote by himself, but he wrote "Those Darn Inflation Blues" with a collaborator, James G. Schneider. The song is Schneider's only composition in the BMI database.
Two versions of the single were released, both of which have the same catalog number. One is a promo copy for radio that has "Those Darn Inflation Blues" on both sides. The other is a stock copy with a picture sleeve and has one of Dowell's religious originals, "Jesus in the Midst of My Day," on the flip side. (Joe later re-recorded this song for his religious album, Of Earth & Heaven.)
The photo on the picture sleeve was taken at the Walden S. Fabry studio in Peoria, Illinois. Fabry specialized in photographing country music stars, and many thousands of his photos are now archived in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The extent of Dowell's songwriting collaboration with Schneider is unknown, but one or both of them obviously put a lot of effort into crafting the lyrics, which complain about taxes and the rising cost of living and various other hardships in a very general and good-natured way that carefully avoids taking any political positions or voicing any opinions that listeners might disagree with.
The song's topic was timely, though, because the inflation rate was spiking at the time. And because of the oil crisis, drivers often had to wait in line to buy gas. The economic situation was so dire that even nonpolitical Joe Dowell felt compelled to sing about it.
The song recalls earlier political recitations in country music, like Jim Nesbitt's "Lookin' for More in '64" (1964) and Guy Drake's "Welfare Cadillac" (1970), but "Those Darn Inflation Blues" offers a more middle-of-the-road kind of commentary in comparison to those songs.
Dowell had never styled himself as a country artist before; he began as a teen idol, released a folk album, and then settled into a vaguely folksy adult-contemporary pop style for the remainder of his career.
Dowell also had never exhibited a sense of humor in his original music before. He'd had a moderate hit with the humorous novelty song "Little Red Rented Rowboat" in 1962, but that was a song that his label, Smash Records, foisted on him, and he seemed ambivalent about it in retrospect, even though it was his most successful single after "Wooden Heart." The song was mildly controversial because of its line about girls wearing bikinis "way down to here," and Joe was a deeply religious man who didn't want to be associated with anything that might be considered unsavory.
But "Those Darn Inflation Blues" is meant to be funny. It was produced by John Darnall, who produced a number of Christian records in the 1970s, and the single was picked up by Nationwide Sound Distributors (NDS) in Nashville. NSD was run by Joe Gibson from Chart Records, the label that had put out those political Jim Nesbitt records in the 1960s. NSD handled national sales and promotion for countless small independent labels, and their address appears in the trade ad for "Those Darn Inflation Blues" that is pictured at the top of this page.
The song was published through Pat Boone's Cooga Music Corporation. I wish I knew the story behind that.
Despite all of Joe's efforts, "Those Darn Inflation Blues" didn't give him the follow-up hit he earnestly hoped for (and continued to hope for when I met him in the 2000s). I could find no evidence that it received substantial airplay anywhere, and it didn't reach any sales charts, although it did appear in Record World's "Spins & Sales" list in the October 6, 1973, issue.
The following year, Joe went back to the drawing board and returned with more characteristic material, the original "Two Hearts," which he again released on his Journey label.
Listen to "Those Darn Inflation Blues" and its B-side, the original recording of "Jesus in the Midst of My Day," below: