Predictably, 1975 in country music was not a year for the history books. Scanning the Top Forty for the week of April 19 reminds me why I mostly gave up on country all together. I don't even recognize most of the charting singles.
But was it worse than the country of today? That's what I'm here to find out.
Fortuitously, I'm not going to review the entire Top Forty; only the top ten. To do so, I have to teleport back to twenty-year-old me and review the singles as if I'm hearing them for the first time on the radio.
Three other simple rules apply:
- I am required to listen to the entire track before offering my critique.
- As I noted above, I am limiting myself to the Top Ten only. Believe me, even ten quickly become tedious.
- If I can't find a music video ("What's a music video?" I ask in 1975) I will use a video of the recorded song.
I'm ready if you are.
#10 ~ She's Actin' Single (I'm Drinkin' Doubles) ~ Gary Stewart
Immediately, I like the singer. He's got a southern country soul sound going on, and isn't afraid to use his vocal range. And he sounds nothing like any of the other artists currently on radio. The song itself is well-written. I like how the writer rhymes "doubles" with "troubles" and ties it all together in a tale about the man's pain, watching his woman betray him. And this Gary Stewart fella really sells it. This is an artist I'll be watching. He's got a future.
#9 ~ Have You Never Been Mellow ~ Olivia Newton-John
Am I looking at the country chart? I've enjoyed a couple of the singer's prior hits, but those were at least nominally country. This? It's not even good pop. Although Olivia is cute and could do well in, say, a movie musical. I don't review pop songs, so I'm only going to rate this as it relates to country.
#8 ~ (You Make Me Want To Be A) Mother ~ Tammy Wynette
This is quite formulaic, sort of like I Don't Wanna Play House ~ very similar melody and cadence, complete with the Billy Sherrill signature background oohs and ahhs ~ but unlike the former song, it's oh, so bad. Perhaps Tammy is going back to the well, trying to recapture past glory, but wow, this was a bad choice. I'm not even sure what the song is saying. She's been trying out men and has now found one she'd like to procreate with? That's kind of...icky. I hope I don't have bad dreams about this track.
#7 ~ The Best Way I Know How ~ Mel Tillis
I hope it's not Pig Robbins doing the noodly piano on this, because I really like Pig Robbins. Jerry Chestnut is a master songwriter, having penned songs like Another Place, Another Time, A Good Year For The Roses, and It's Four In The Morning. This, though? Did Mel fish this out of Jerry's garbage? Why didn't he just record one of his own phenomenal songs? I'm tempted to blame the horrible production, but let's face it ~ this song is beneath both Jerry Chestnut and Mel Tillis.
#6 ~ (Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song ~ B.J. Thomas
I've loved B.J. Thomas's voice since Eyes Of A New York Woman. It's like warm honey. And unlike other pop pretenders, when B.J. decided to go country, he went country. One cannot deny the catchiness of this single. I have a feeling this one might define 1975.
#5 ~ Still Thinkin' 'Bout You ~ Billy Crash Craddock
This isn't completely horrible. Just mostly. The first verse sounds like a song one could get into, but then the background soul singers come in, and suddenly the listener realizes the song has no chorus ~ it's semi-written. I don't even want to know who wrote it, because it'll probably be a songwriter I like and I'll be crestfallen. And don't try to sucker us in with the fiddles. It's too little, too late. I'm only going to bump this up a notch because it starts out okay.
#4 ~ Roll On Big Mama ~ Joe Stampley
The song is okay if you like this sort of thing. This seems to be about a guy singing to his truck, which he's named "Big Mama". I don't know many truck drivers, but I don't see them singing paeans to their trucks. I could be wrong. The singer is a barely competent bar band vocalist, but apparently a lot of people like him. Maybe he has a winning personality.
I'm a big fan of Ray Price's earlier work; not so much his "For The Good Times" phase, but there is no denying his way with a line. He remade himself into a stylist after his honky tonk days, though I suspect this isn't really where his heart lies. This track lands in the sweet spot of Perry Como-like pop-country. It's not to my taste, but Price delivers it well. The song itself is cliche; like patting the "little woman" on the head, and in 1975 it may resonate with my mom (I doubt it), but not with me. I have to work, not stay home and bake cookies, so obviously I must have some skills other than sobbing over love songs. Dated message aside, the sound of this isn't grating, and the singer is a legend.
#2 ~ Blanket On The Ground ~ Billie Jo Spears
Spears seems like a nice person. Her voice kind of reminds me of Melba Montgomery, and both got signed to major record deals despite mediocre talent. Spears' first hit, Mister Walker, It's All Over, was kind of a cousin to Harper Valley PTA, and in fact, she recorded Harper before Jeannie C. Riley did. Mister Walker was a bit more interesting than this one, but was delivered by a singer who didn't have the attitude to sell it. And that's the trouble with this song. The singer's personality doesn't match the song's message. But who am I to say? This single is a hit, after all. The song itself, while maybe trying to be edgy, is actually milquetoast. I wouldn't change the station if it came on the radio, but my mind would definitely wander.
#1 ~ Always Wanting You ~ Merle Haggard
Just when I was wondering whatever happened to Merle Haggard, here comes this.
From the outset, the flamenco-like guitar and the low notes on the Telecaster immediately raise this track to another level. Then Merle's ambrosia voice along with, I'm assuming, Bonnie Owens' harmony, enters the room and is immediately intimate and warming. Haggard is truly a master songwriter. Amateur writers would do well to dissect his songs and try to discern how it's done. (Good luck there.)
It seems that Haggard has grown more introspective since his "fugitive" days (which were awesome, by the way) and this song fits his gracefully growing older persona.
And there you have it ~ three timeless tracks and seven forgettable ones. Par for the country course. Actually, above par. How many weeks in history have three A's in the top ten?