#1 (2 weeks) hit single by Glen Campbell in 1975
"Coward of the County " is a 1979 song performed by Kenny Rogers, and co-written by Roger Bowling and Billy Ed Wheeler. The song reached number one on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart, number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and number one on the UK pop chart. It was the most recent traditional country music song to hit number one in the UK, in February 1980.
A story-song, "Coward of the County" tells the story of a young man named Tommy. When Tommy is 10 years old, his father "dies in prison." Tommy and his uncle (portrayed by Rogers in the role of narrator) come to see him for the last time, and Tommy's father makes him promise not to fight when provoked if at all possible, and that to "turn the other cheek" is not automatically a sign of weakness. This earns Tommy a reputation as the "Coward of the County" (as the song's title states) as he never stands up for himself.
Tommy is in love with a girl named Becky, who loves him despite his unwillingness to fight. One day, while Tommy is out working, the three "Gatlin boys" — the villains of the piece — attack and presumably rape Becky. When Tommy returns home and finds Becky hurt, he is forced to choose between upholding his promise to his father or avenging the crime that is committed against the love of his life.
In the climax of the story, Tommy goes to the local bar where the Gatlin boys hang out. At first, it appears that Tommy will uphold his promise after being laughed at by the Gatlin boys as he turns towards the door (after "one of them got up and met him halfway 'cross the floor"). However, he has done so in order to lock it, and there is deathly silence in the bar at the realization of what this implies, before "20 years of crawlin'" ends in an explosive fight that leaves all three Gatlin boys unconscious or worse on the barroom floor. Tommy then addresses the spirit of his dead father, saying that while he did his best to avoid trouble, he hopes the dead man's ghost understands that "Sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man."