Wednesday, March 7, 2012
More Bad Years In Country Music
I don't really buy music anymore, so I was just keeping my husband company, while he sifted through the shelves of used CD's. (He insisted I buy something, so we could get the "buy four" special deal, whatever that was. So, I bought the soundtrack from "Footloose" - $4.50!)
Calling this place a "record store" is to use the term loosely. They do (still) have CD's and albums (for the pretentious music lover), but the store is mostly filled with tchotchkes of all manner; novelty key chains, little metal tins of "things", I guess; mood rings, t-shirts, posters. The CD aisles keep getting pushed aside for the real money-making items.
As I was apathetically flipping through the selection of CD's, I saw one titled, "Top Country Hits of 1971", and I thought, were there some? But thinking about it later, I realized that 1971 wasn't the worst seventies year for country music. A lot of them were the worst. You can't really pick just one.
But for fun, tonight I decided to pick on 1974.
What I remember about 1974 is driving around to various mobile home sales lots, to pick out just the right mobile home. No, we didn't call them trailers, although they weren't exactly "mobile", either. People like to use the pejorative, "trailer trash", to describe someone who's crude, disreputable, tawdry. Oh, I could find many more adjectives. But I don't remember being "trash"; I just remember being "poor". The interest rate in 1974 was 17%. Who could afford to buy a real house? Not me. And actually, as I was browsing, I found a lot of mobile homes that I thought were cute. I liked them. Sure, I didn't realize the issue of little-to-no insulation, which became a problem during the North Dakota winters, but overall, they mimicked a "real house" ~ they had real appliances and everything! I didn't have to use a wood cook stove or a washboard to do my laundry, believe it or not. People can be such snobs.
Anyway, I was driving around, looking, then coming back and looking again, and of course, the AM radio was keeping me company in my 1970 blue Chevy Impala. So, I heard a lot of country music. But, of course, one did not need to drive around to hear music. Music was a big thing back then. We only had about 15 TV channels provided by our cable "service", and you know, most of those were public access or other stuff that you just whipped right past, in order to get to the NBC channel to watch Phil Donahue. So, we listened to music a lot, even at home.
When I browse the country music charts for 1974, I find a lot of either losers or completely forgotten tunes. A lot of the songs were either boring or "icky", but we put up with them; tolerated them, because really what options did we have?
In featuring the hits of 1974 tonight, I'm going to randomly mix the good with the bad, and I'm not going to comment (too much), because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Something that I just hate, hate! is probably someone else's all-time favorite song. But if you're unfamiliar with the year, you can certainly make up your own mind. And, or course, the usual caveat is, I will feature what I can find. There's not a lot of what you'd call "historical" music available on YouTube, because, you know, technology was so bad back then. We barely had electricity most of the time.
TOM T. HALL (dueting with Dolly Parton here - which he didn't actually do on the record; fyi.)
Speaking of DOLLY PARTON:
Let me just say that I know a lot of people love this song. I do not. I think it's one of Dolly's lesser efforts, but if you listen to a bunch of Janie-come-latelys in the music biz, you would think this is one of the best songs EVER. While it's always a temptation to write a song completely in minor chords, it rarely turns out well. Because it's just too depressing. And I don't like the sing-songy, "Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jo-LEEEN"; it just grates on my nerves. I said I wasn't going to comment "much". Sorry.
I always loved JOHNNY RODRIGUEZ. Here is his version of a song written by Lefty Frizzell. You may be more familiar with the Merle Haggard version.
The song that probably most defines 1974 for me, was recorded by CAL SMITH. This was a number one song, and possibly the number one song of the year. Lord knows, it was played often enough to become the number one song.
I'll just be honest here, and admit that I HATE recitation songs. Hate them. They're always maudlin and sickly sweet. Are they supposed to make you cry? Of course they are! But I don't really find them "sad", per se. Well, yes, they're "sad", but not in a good way.
And I liked Melba Montgomery. By the way, before Tammy came along, ol' George recorded a lot of duets with Melba. And I like the name "Melba". You don't hear that name anymore. Unless you're having some toast.
So, MELBA MONTGOMERY (not the original performance, obviously):
In 1974, RONNIE MILSAP was a new performer on the scene. Sometimes somebody comes along who has staying power. Here's the proof (and have you ever heard Cap'n Crunch referenced in a song before? Silly question.)
You know, Whitney Houston didn't originate this next song. While everybody else was oohing and ahhing over this "new" hit song by Whitney, country fans were like, well, that's a different take on an oldie!
Here's DOLLY again:
While not an original MICKEY GILLEY song, it was still a good one. Again, this is not a 1974 performance, obviously. My dad always liked this song, and that's good enough for me. Unfortunately, this performance is a "medley", so you don't actually get the full benefit of what the song was like in its entirety, but doesn't he sound more and more like his cuz all the time (and I don't mean Jimmy Swaggart)? Mickey had a good run in the Urban Cowboy days, but more power to him, I say. At least he wasn't Johnny Lee.
BOBBY BARE has never gotten his due. We're really quick to move on to the next big thing, and we forget people. Bobby Bare belongs in the Country Music Hall of Fame, but I'm not holding my breath anymore. I fought that fight, and nobody listened to me, but I keep listening to Bobby anyway. This is a novelty song, really, but it was a big hit in 1974, and I did have the single. Of course, I bought a lot of singles back then....at Woolworth's.
I don't know what to say about DONNA FARGO, really. Let me say that she is, I understand, a really nice person. I'm sure it's my personal problem that I just can't forgive her for The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA. I wrote about that song in a post a long time ago, and, let's face it, the lyrics of that song were some of the stupidest, most asinine lyrics ever written ever.
But Donna had other hits, too. Here's one (but she really should have lost the coveralls):
BILLY "CRASH" CRADDOCK was the precursor to Billy Ray Cyrus, I guess. That faux-sexiness, that wasn't really sexy at all, unbeknownst to the Billy Rays. He did try hard, though, and he had dazzlingly white teeth. Here is "Rub It In":
I know people are going to flog me, but I think this next song is FAR BETTER than He Stopped Loving Her Today. I know it's heretical to say this, but the truth is the truth. It's a better song. Better written; more soulful. Says the EXACT SAME THING, essentially, as that other song. Norro Wilson wrote this. He wrote a great one, and this is a great performance, by GEORGE JONES:
WAYLON JENNINGS was represented (well) in 1974. Here is Ramblin' Man:
Did I say before that I hated the song, Jolene? I was maybe too harsh. If my choices were to listen to Jolene, or to listen to this next song all day long, I'd go with Jolene. You know that sensation of fingernails on a chalkboard? Well, here's DOLLY again (and why does she keep wearing that purple jumpsuit every time? Doesn't she have any other outfits?):
I used to be so biased against JOHN DENVER, back then, in the seventies. I don't even remember why. There was something; something going on, but I forget what it was. Because, actually, in hindsight, this next song is more country than most of the so-called "country" songs that I have featured in this post. I don't get it. But I'm not going to lose sleep trying to remember, because I was obviously wrong. And this song proves how wrong I was.
Another song I blithely dismissed, back then, in 1974, was this next song, recorded by BILLY SWAN. Because, every time I hear it now, which isn't too often, but occasionally it gets played on oldies radio, lo these 38 years later (seriously?), I like it, and I completely enjoy hearing it. I'm beginning to think I was just stupid 38 years ago. Or I had bad taste, or no taste. But I still hate Love Is Like a Butterfly. That hasn't changed.
Here is "I Can Help":
So, I scrolled through the list of number one songs from 1974, and then I moved on to what Wikipedia labels "other singles released", and I realized that some of the best songs apparently never hit that number one spot. Well, there's no accounting for taste, as evidenced by the fact that I hated John Denver, inexplicably.
Here's one of those "other songs".....CONNIE SMITH:
In case you forgot, and you probably did, MEL TILLIS had a slew of hit records in 1974. Here's one of them:
Speaking of novelties (which I think I did at some point, earlier), here's one. Do you remember JIM STAFFORD? Maybe you had to be there. Jim Stafford was kind of an odd duck, but an entertaining one! I remember working at my first ever real job, at the State Capitol, and they'd play this song on KFYR (AM) a whole lot. My Girl Bill:
Can't believe that one is considered one of the "others", because I sure heard it a lot in 1974.
I'll leave you with this, because I'm tired, and there were a lot of songs that charted in 1974; too many for one post, and maybe 1974 wasn't as awful as my selective memory told me that it was. I will say that, surprisingly, the "others" were some of the best ones. I don't get that. But hindsight is 20/20.
Here is GEORGE & TAMMY: