Saturday, September 14, 2019
September Is Country Music Month ~ Oops, Let's Go Back
I was so excited to begin country music month, I realize I gave short shrift to the decade of the sixties. Granted, for part of the sixties I was too young to remember much, but the wonder of music is, one can hear songs from eons before and fall in love with them still.
When I embraced country around 1967, I knew I had a lot of catching up to do. It wasn't that I was oblivious to country music entirely; my mom and dad's tastes had seeped inside my brain. But I was a sixties kid ~ I liked The Beatles and other assorted British Invasion groups. I'd had a brief interlude in the mid-decade of residing at my uncle's restaurant/bar establishment, and what else was there beside the radio and the jukebox? My uncle Howard stocked his machine with the latest country hits of the day, because that was expected by couples who stopped in to sip beer and whiskey sours and chance onto the dance floor for a two-step. So I knew who Buck Owens was, and I was familiar with exactly one Bobby Bare song.
As I researched "old" country, however, I found some gems; so let's stroll through the decade, shall we?
1960. This is not just the best song of 1960, it's one of the best country songs (er, instrumentals) ever. No one records instrumentals anymore ~ they died when the decade ended. It's quite a feat to grab one of the top twenty-five "best country songs ever" slots with a song that has no words. Words equal emotion. How can an instrumental do that? Here's how:
'61 is tough, because there is more than one song that tops the year. There are, in fact, three; and two of them were written by Willie Nelson:
1962. '62 is tough. It wasn't the best year for country singles (sort of like 1981). One looks for songs that later became classics, and there really weren't many. I'm going to pick a couple that I either like for my own reasons or were later re-recorded and became even bigger hits:
Things started getting interesting in 1963. Suddenly Bakersfield was giving Nashville a run for its money, but never fear ~ producer Chet Atkins was on the case, especially with a song written by Mel Tillis:
June wrote a song for Johnny:
Then there was Buck:
Something happened in 1964 ~ a phenomenon. This new guy who was sorta weird, but sorta mesmerizing, suddenly appeared. He was all over every network TV show, and none of the hosts actually spoke to him, because they were too busy having a laugh at his expense. Turns out Roger Miller was no flash in the pan and no joke. He'd written a lot of classic country hits before he embarked on a solo career. But what did network people know? Who's laughing now, idiots?
Take your Lorettas; take your Norma Jeans. This new girl singer (with the songwriting assistance of Bill Anderson) started racking up a string of number ones in 1964, and didn't stop for another decade:
I'm not one of those "George Jones is the greatest country singer of all time" adherents, but this song was pretty cool:
Truly, Roger Miller and Buck Owens dominated 1965, but since I've already featured them, let's find a few other gems.
1966 was rather a transitional year. Buck and Roger and Johnny were still dominating, but a few new voices appeared, such as David Houston and some guy named Merle. A young kid who called himself Hank, Junior, first appeared on the charts. There are those who worship Hank, Jr.; one of those people is not me. The fanatics are unaware of his early recording history ~ not me. But I digress.
You know that Ray Price holds a special place in my heart, and he had three hits in the top 100 in '66. Here's one:
Then there was this new girl singer:
1967 is where I come in, which is a weird time to show up, considering that the charts were dominated by yucky Jimmy Webb songs and pseudo-folk protest tracks like Skip A Rope. The first country albums I bought were by Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, and Charley Pride. Even at age twelve I had good taste.
Here's a bonus:
By 1968 Merle was a superstar, Glen Campbell was still churning out pop hits, Tammy had the hit that would define her career. Johnny Cash had a network TV show.
I've been trying not to repeat artists, but this particular hit has special meaning to me ~ not because I was in prison or anything ~ but because this was a hit the year I actually "met" Merle Haggard:
Just because live performance videos of David Houston are infinitesimal doesn't mean he wasn't huge in the sixties, because he was ~ I was there. It bothers me that simply because an artist died years ago, we tend to erase them from history. I would feature one of Houston's hits, but I can't find them. This phenomenon also applies to Wynn Stewart, who, if you don't believe me, none other than Dwight Yoakam cites as one of his early influences. Here he is, with none other than Don Rich:
Something interesting happened in 1968 ~ a rock 'n roll icon decided he wanted to go country. And if you know anything about Jerry Lee Lewis, you know he does exactly what he wants. I love Jerry Lee:
This new duo showed up in 1968, featuring a girl singer with impossibly high blonde hair. I wonder whatever happened to her:
Lynn Anderson was more (much more) than Rose Garden, a song I came to truly hate after hearing it on the radio one bazillion times. Lynn is another somebody who should not be forgotten. Before her then-husband got his hooks into her and moved her to Columbia Records, she was truly country, and her Chart albums prove it. Here is a hit from '68:
No disrespect to Merle, but this is the best song that came out of 1968. On the rare instances when I hear it on Willie's Roadhouse, I am right there croaking along (he sings higher than I can). Johnny Bush:
1969 was Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. And Merle. You might not know that there were others, and there definitely were. Faron Young was my favorite country singer for years, until George Strait showed up. And speaking of sing-along country songs, well, here you go:
Maybe it was my pop roots peeking through, but I played the hell out of this '45, recorded by a former member of Paul Revere and the Raiders and written by Joe South (curse you, Joe, for Rose Garden).
Yea, the sixties ~ that decade became imprinted on my musical mind and never left. Maybe it was my age; maybe it was simply that country was so good; so pure. So new? The sixties were a renaissance. The nineteen eighties were an epiphany, but they couldn't have happened without the sixties.
And so the river flows...
Friday, July 20, 2018
As it was, ninety-nine cents was damn hard to come by. My mom refused to pay me for housework, of which I actually did none, but nevertheless. I had to depend on the generosity of my Uncle Arnold, who would flip me a nickel or dime once in a while when he was helping my dad repair machinery on the farm. It was hard to save these coins, however, because the creamery truck showed up once a week to deliver milk and butter, and those fudgsicles the deliveryman carried in the back were almost impossible to resist.
By age ten I begrudgingly agreed to "help out" around the house in exchange for a weekly salary of twenty-five cents. Thus I whipped some dust around with a rag and possibly dried dishes, although my memory is unreliable on this. (In my defense, I don't recall my older sisters helping out, either. They probably remember it differently, but I am correct on this. Mom never enforced chores; I think because if you want something done right, well, you know...)
Eventually I managed to save up a dollar and promptly traipsed off to Poppler's Music to choose one lone single. My decision was not easy. I really liked The Lovin' Spoonful and The Dave Clark Five, but I almost always came home with a Beatles single. Like this:
Soon I took to listening to far-away country stations, WHO in Des Moines (which came in crystal-clearly after midnight) and sometimes WSM in Nashville on a cloudless night and WBAP in Fort Worth. Ralph Emery and Mike Hoyer and Bill Mack understood country music -- real country music -- and I heard wondrous songs that were never once spun on my local station. But I had nowhere to buy them.
The internet was still a woozy science fiction fantasy, and computers? You mean those gargantuan whirring, beeping cyclops they showed on Lost In Space? I had a manual typewriter.
In the wee hours of Saturday nights, when I was able to tune in to WSM, right after the Opry, there was a program broadcast from Ernest Tubb's Record Shop. I figured, well hell, that store surely must have every country record known to man. I found the address in an issue of Country Music Roundup magazine, and found my way to the post office to purchase a money order*.
Friday, August 10, 2007
I’ve got many, many songs ripped to my computer. When I’m relaxing after a hard week, I scroll through the songs to find something to listen to that fits my mood. Often I marvel at the quality of music that I stumble upon by accident. And I think, what a shame that these artists are probably long forgotten. Some of them are no longer with us, but damn! They sure made some good music.
So, here’s a few of my recent finds (and some people that you’ve probably never heard of):
David Houston ~ Anyone who has listened to country music for as long as I have (hmmm…….40 years?) will remember David Houston. He is one of the artists who is no longer with us, but he had a great voice, and a great vocal range! The songs that I rated as 4 stars or more are “You Mean The World To Me”, “Baby Baby (I Know You’re A Lady)”, and “After Closing Time”, which he recorded with Barbara Mandrell.
Brenda Lee ~ Well, happily, Brenda Lee is still alive and kickin’. “Fool #1″ ~ she has a great smoky quality to her voice on this song. She sang the hell out of it. She was produced by Owen Bradley, which accounts for the great arrangements, but she is one helluva singer. Other recommendations include “Break It To Me Gently” (yes, she did it long before Juice Newton), “All Alone Am I”, and “Too Many Rivers”.
Connie Smith ~ Yup, Connie’s still around, and married to Marty Stuart, I might add. Was there anything she sang that wasn’t great? Connie was a major influence on me as a singer. The young whippersnappers probably won’t remember Connie Smith, but at one time, she was the biggest selling female country artist, and rightfully so. Bill Anderson discovered her and wrote a lot of her songs, and it’s really difficult to single out any of her recordings as the “best”. I’m partial to “Just One Time” (written by Don Gibson), and “Ain’t Had No Lovin’”, which was a great country torch song.
Lynn Anderson ~ well, she’s actually a distant relative of mine (according to my mom’s tales); a second or third cousin or something. BUT, before I knew that, I LOVED Lynn Anderson’s songs. Her Chart records are the best, before “Rose Garden” came along. Geez, didn’t we just grow to hate that song? Sadly, I’ve lost all my albums, but I had a bunch of Lynn’s. I think her version of “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues” (a Rodney Crowell song) is better than Emmylou’s. “Sing A Sad Song” is very, very sweet. Hard to top Merle’s version, but she comes close. And yes, she was on the Lawrence Welk Show, but hey ~ Lawrence was from North Dakota, just like me, so there.
Charlie Rich ~ Well, Charlie just happened to record one of the all-time best country songs ~ “Behind Closed Doors”. One of my favorite Charlie memories was watching him on the CMA awards show, setting fire to the slip of paper that announced John Denver as the “country” male vocalist of the year. I think he made his point. He was truly a country blues artist. Listen to “Sittin’ And Thinkin’”, which he happened to write. I’ve got the Essential Charlie Rich, which is a two-disk set, and it’s awfully difficult to narrow down the best songs.
Del Reeves ~ My husband thinks “Girl On The Billboard” is the funniest/cheesiest country song ever. He happened to discover that song on his own, and he put it on one of his compilation tapes. “A deedle-do-do-do”…. ha ha. But actually, Del recorded some very good songs. An obscure recording of his, “Landmark Tavern”, that he recorded with Penny DeHaven, is one of my faves. And none other than George Strait covered “Good Time Charlie’s”.
Faron Young ~ Well, don’t get me started. At one time, Faron was my ultimate favorite country singer. Well, let’s start with a Willie song, “Hello Walls’, and let’s just continue on. “Wine Me Up”, “Step Aside”, “Your Time’s Comin’” (a Kristofferson song), “If I Ever Fall In Love (With A Honky Tonk Girl)”, written by Tom T. Hall, “Alone With You”, which would be one of my choice songs to cover. There’s just too damn many to mention. Faron Young was the George Strait of his day.
Johnny Bush ~ Well, damn if “Undo The Right” isn’t one of THE best country songs of all time. I think Johnny Bush was unfairly labeled as a “Ray Price Wanna-Be”, but I think ole Ray loves Johnny’s recordings, too.
Mel Tillis ~ Okay, “Heart Over Mind” with those twin fiddles. He wrote it; he did the best recording of it. And you gotta admit, he was one of the best writers on Music Row. He launched Kenny Rogers’ career with “Ruby”. And he made Webb Pierce the number one artist of his day. This guy wrote some classic songs.
Eddie Rabbitt ~ Eddie Rabbitt is more than just “I Love A Rainy Night”, although I like that one! I bought his first album (and yes, they were albums back then) and my favorite of his is “Two Dollars In The Jukebox”, but of course, I’m a sucker for that honky tonk music. Sadly, Eddie is gone, too.
Marty Robbins ~ Well, okay, Marty deserves a topic of his own. And I’m going to write about him when I feel like I can do it justice. Marty left us in the ’80’s, and probably a lot of younger people don’t know anything about him. These people are FOOLS. I’m gonna save my words for another topic, but let’s just say, for now, “Don’t Worry About Me”.