Showing posts with label sixties. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sixties. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

My Latest Spotify Playlists


Who says I'm a time waster? Okay, me, probably. Regardless, I've been busy creating new Spotify playlists, for those days when there's nothing on TV and I need something playing in the background.

I believe the sixties were the best years for rock (or pop - your choice) music, and thus I formulated a playlist for the entire sixties. This posed some problems, because trust me, 1960 was eons different from 1969. Melding the entire decade together was kind of clunky.

And though my memory is still pretty good, even I couldn't even begin to remember every hit song from every year. So I consulted Billboard's top one hundred hits from each of the ten years and then started selecting.

I ended up with a playlist of 373 songs (yes). I'm not in love with all of them, but my criteria was that I had to at least kind of like the song. The ones I hated were not included.

Side note: 1964 and 1965 were the best years of the bunch.

Here it is:

I've also created a playlist for the eighties. This one only has 124 songs, which I admit is much more manageable. And this one was not based upon any record charts.

One downside to Spotify's playlists is that it doesn't allow one to reorder songs, other than by title or artist. I would like the ability to rearrange songs to my liking. But I can live with that.

I may have exhausted my playlist options, but I doubt it. Now I move on to other distractions (for now).

Friday, July 3, 2020

Why I Am A Country Fan

Like all children of the sixties, I lapped up all the music on top forty radio. I was in love with The Beatles and oh so many other pop acts ~ The Beach Boys, The Righteous Brothers, The Dave Clark Five, to name but a few. Had my parents not uprooted me when I was eleven, I may have continued on my merry pop ways, although music was changing by 1966-1967; becoming less fun and more angry. 

As the new kid in a new town and an excruciatingly shy kid to boot, transitioning to my new life was agonizing. I had no friends and I didn't even know who the best friends to cultivate were. I rode the city bus every school day from home to a worn hotel, then hoofed it the remaining three blocks to my turn-of-the-century schoolhouse. Everything in my new town smelled old. We'd moved in the middle of December, so my panorama was dirty snowbanks.and grey gloom.

Back home I was a cool kid. I was a leader; I could be counted on to play a major role in any and every school pageant . I'd had the same school friends since first or second grade. Here I was nobody. I kept my head down and dreaded walking through my sixth grade classroom door, sure everyone was staring at me. I could only remember three or four classmates' names, though it rarely mattered. At recess. I hugged the brick wall until the bell rang. I tried to scheme a way to move back home, but all my plans had kinks. We'd sold our house. Who would I live with? Would my best friend Cathy's mom let me move in? Would my parents allow it? Of course not. I hated my parents for putting me through this. And they were so nonchalant about it all.

I inhabited a teeny-tiny bedroom that I shared with my little brother and sister ~ they cocooned in the bottom bunk while I claimed the top. The narrow torture chamber had recessed shelves behind a walnut door, and I kept my battery-powered turntable on one of them, along with my paltry collection of 45's. When the little kids were out and about, I played records or listened to AM radio while scribbling my homework. Perhaps the worst part of my new existence was the suffocation. On the farm, I'd inhabited a capacious pink bedroom on the second floor. The breeze wafting through the chiffon curtains was exhilarating. My world was vast. Here five people hunkered, piled atop each other in near-windowless rooms.

It may have been January or February when I exchanged a smirk in Miss Haas' classroom with a girl whose name I didn't know. One of the boys had uttered a ridiculous response to a question. That smirk commenced a six-year best friendship. It's funny how friendships happen. I think you just know. Her name was Alice and she turned out to be a kind, down-to-earth person with a wicked sense of humor.

Suddenly my torturous existence transformed into a new-friend lifeline.

Inevitably our talks turned to music. "I like country music", she said. "I'm in a band with my brother and my uncle."

I wracked my brain for country music references. Country wasn't alien to me ~ it was my parents' music of choice and I'd spent most of fourth grade living one closed door away from a country bar with a country jukebox. I knew who Buck Owens and Ray Price were, and Roger Miller. I'd heard a twangy girl named Loretta on the Wurlitzer. I also knew Bobby Bare.

Turns out a true country fan was required to have a much more in-depth acquaintance with hillbilly. I was ready to take the leap. "Snoopy Versus The Red Baron" wasn't cutting it for me anyway. Frankly, some of the artists my new friend introduced me to were too cheesy, even for me. At twelve I could appreciate George Jones' music, but not venerate him. In Alice's defense, she had to rely on her parents' albums, which were from a bygone era ~ Carl Butler and Pearl, Grandpa Jones, Porter Wagoner. I gleaned as much knowledge as i could from those LP's, and Alice and I discovered a new girl singer together ~ Porter's new duet partner; a tiny bee-hived blonde named Dolly Parton.

I went home and tuned my FM dial to the country station. Alas, it only played deep tracks by Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell. In 1967 I hated them both. This was not the country music I was supposed to be learning!

In short order, Alice and I heard some new singers on AM radio ~ Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride...and Merle Haggard. Once I heard Merle, I was a goner. Suddenly everything fit. All the corny tracks I'd sat through, cross-legged in front of Alice's parents' hi-fi made sense. I was no old-time music girl. I was a soon-to-be teen and my music needed to match my surging hormones.

It took no time at all for me to purchase that twenty-five-dollar red acoustic guitar hanging in Dahmer Music's window. I wanted ~ needed ~ to play along with Merle Haggard songs.

Alice came over every Saturday for a few weeks to teach me how to chord. I learned how to change broken strings and how to tune. Eventually I stopped dropping my pick inside the soundhole and having to turn my guitar upside down and shake it out.  I immediately learned about burning fingers. My thirst for guitar-playing knowledge stretched as far as learning the chords I needed in order to strum along with my favorite hits of the day -- primarily A, E, D, G, C, B flat, and the sevenths.I stumbled into some minor chords -- but country songs didn't use minors.

The first country LP's I bought were:

Yes, I knew Waylon Jennings before he was Waylon Jennings.

Once I adopted country music, I embraced it with my whole heart. The truth is, it wasn't just peer, or best friend, pressure. I am able to go along...for a while...if going along assuages someone else's feelings; but eventually I'm going to alight on what I like and stay there.No, there was something about country that felt comfortable; something that was lacking in sixties pop hits. Soul; truth. A weeping steel guitar riff pierced my gut; twin fiddles made me cry with joy. The thumping bass guitar was a pulsing heartbeat. Even in sadness, country had so much joy...the joy of pouring out one's guts.

I met country at an opportune time. The mid-to-late sixties was rife with promise. Merle, Waylon, Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson, Faron Young, Connie Smith, David Houston, even Buck Owens and Ray Price. Had country and I been introduced a mere ten years later, I would have laughed disdainfully and quickly abandoned it. As it was, I became a country snob. I knew what was good and what was pap, and I took great offense at the pap. I resented interlopers. Fifties country artists weren't my cup of tea, but I shared their appall when someone like John Denver came along and started winning country awards. This pipsqueak folk singer? I was so adamant in my principles I refused to acknowledge I actually liked "Let Me Be There" by Olivia Newton-John. Sure, there were country elements to the tune, but a pop singer? Sorry.

My all-time favorite moment from the CMA Awards:

Like many things I've obsessed over in my life, in my teens I became rabid. I stayed up late just to tune into clear channel, real country stations like WHO in Des Moines, with overnight DJ Mike Hoyer, who actually, around 2 a.m., played complete new albums. It was a rare night when WSM in Nashville pierced the static, but sometimes I actually had the opportunity to listen to Ralph Emery, who'd have artists like Marty Robbins perform live in the studio. More often I got to listen to Bill Mack on WBAP in Fort Worth, whose preferences were stone country, a revelation for me.The seminal country disc jockeys were Mike Hoyer, Ralph Emery, and Bill Mack ~ when DJ's actually mattered.

Though Alice and I were essentially conjoined twins, I had my own musical preferences and she had hers. We agreed most of the time. Rarely did one of us fall in love with a song when the other didn't like it. True country has a genetic code that those who share it feel in their bones.

I don't think she was ever crazy for Faron Young, but I was. Some voices resonate, and his did with me. I usually cringe when I watch his live performances ~ Faron was a recording artist foremost; his live shtick was too hammy for me. This one is pretty good, though:

For years and years when someone asked me who my favorite country singer was, the answer was Faron Young. I remember traveling with my family somewhere when I was sixteen. We decamped in a motel and I knew that Faron was going to appear on Hee Haw that night.. My ultimate quest was to get that black and white rabbit-eared TV tuned to CBS in time to watch him.

Flipping through my LP's from those years (alas, some of them have been lost), my tastes ran from lots and lots of Connie Smith and Lynn Anderson, practically every album Merle Haggard released, Faron (of course), The Statlers, reams of Porter and Dolly, Tanya Tucker, Johnny Rodriguez, Mel Street, David Houston, Tammy Wynette, Conway and Loretta, Mel Tillis, Barbara Mandrell. Buck Owens and Susan Raye, Bobby Bare, Johnny Paycheck. Even one-offs like Kenny Price, LaWanda Lindsey, and Tom T. Hall.

By the time Alice and I graduated from high school, along with the predetermined rock songs that blasted out of her car radio, we sang along with:

I wasn't always wedded to the classic country sound, but that's what stirred my soul. 


Finding it, however, became more difficult for me as country began to change.

It wasn't as if country went to hell just like that as the seventies rolled around. Some classic acts emerged mid-decade:  Ronnie Milsap, Gary Stewart, The Oak Ridge Boys, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Eddie Rabbitt,  GENE WATSON. And a girl singer who tipped country on its ass. Her name was Emmylou.

I still purchased mainly singles, and there were some classics scattered here and there: "Rose Colored Glasses" by John Conlee; "Heaven's Just A Sin Away" by The Kendalls; "Party Time" from TG Sheppard; most any Johnny Rodriguez release.


The trouble with the seventies was that so much bad country dominated the airwaves. Producers chased the latest fad and created monsters like Sylvia and Billy "Crash" Craddock. 

Ronnie Milsap and Gary Stewart knew what country was about, but their battle was ultimately lost in the record companies' drive to get "acceptable" artists on The Midnight Special.

It hurt my heart to abandon country, but I was driven to it. I'd lost Alice as a friend sometime in the mid-seventies. We mutually, albeit unspokenly realized our life paths had diverged. We simply stopped pretending. I don't know what her life became, but mine morphed into a a hard-fought adult; and most importantly, a mom. Music never lost its sheen for me, but it assumed a lesser importance. I was supremely poor and could only afford an occasional LP. Had it not been for a hand-me-down console stereo, music would have only streamed from a battery-powered radio or my car. 

Thanks to network television, I still knew what was going on in country and it wasn't pretty. Urban Cowboy wasn't even that good of a movie, much less the fad it spawned. It was soon after that Kenny Rogers appeared and dominated country with his Lionel Ritchie-penned tunes. I did not regret my decision to turn away. 

I've recounted this tale before, but it bears repeating. Visiting my parents on a Friday night, I found that instead of their usual Friday fare of JR Ewing, they'd popped in a VCR tape of some white-hatted cowboy singer. "Who's this?" I asked derisively. Mom answered George somebody. I was less than impressed. Granted, this guy had all the right instruments in his band, but I didn't know any of the songs. What George Whoever did, however, was pique my interest in checking out this "new" country. It didn't happen immediately. On a lazy Saturday I stopped in at Musicland and picked up a couple of cassettes. As I ritually circled my house with a dust rag, I listened.

This was the first tape I bought:

This was the second:

I didn't even know why I'd picked these two. I knew nothing about current country. But I played those tapes over and over.

My conversion was gradual. As I waited outside the elementary school for my kids' classes to dismiss, instead of Y93, I took the leap and twirled the dial to the local country station. I knew none of the names of the artists. So I just listened.

There was this one guy with a nasally voice and a kick-ass band ~ I didn't know who he was, but I liked his songs. Some sisters, Forrester, I think the DJ said. And some other family group; Judds maybe? That George guy kept popping up, too. The local station played him a lot.

This new country was like the old country, except the instruments were upfront and the bass thumped louder. And damn, the songs actually said something! I was suddenly hooked. I wasn't giving up my MTV, but I was suddenly home.

I discovered new artists named Randy, Dwight, Steve, Wynonna and Naomi, Clint, Alan, Patty, Rodney, Earl Thomas, Highway 101. My musical existence became a cornucopia of revelations. I chastised myself for giving up so easily. But somehow I knew that had I not surrendered I wouldn't have unearthed this wonder. While I was gorging on Huey Lewis and The News, country had sprouted and bloomed.

And this guy (the one with the nasally voice) stands alone:

As a country fan since the nineteen sixties; as someone who'd simply given up, I was now granted my due. I'd waited the requisite amount of years and my award at last arrived. It was as if I had to give up in order for country to catch a clue. 

And that George guy? I now possess twenty-three of his albums and a boxed set. Mom and Dad were onto something.

As the eighties rolled into the nineties, the delicacies continued to slam the airwaves. Patty, Vince, Joe Diffie, Kathy Mattea, Pam Tillis, Mary Chapin, Marty Stuart, Tracy Lawrence, Diamond Rio, Brooks and Dunn, Travis Tritt, MARK CHESNUTT, Restless Heart. 

Before even the halfway mark, however, country began to slide downhill. The songwriting became less crisp. Established stars were calling it in. I hung on until 1999; then I stopped listening forever, never to return. This time I meant it. 

I don't know what "country" is like now, but from the bits I've heard, it's no longer country. That's okay. I had forty years, with some stops in between. I don't need new music; I've got more old music than I could listen to for the rest of my life. 

(And that's after filtering out the ones I will never again listen to.)

It's a funny thing about music: I've held onto my albums from the sixties, even though I'll probably never play them again, but when I pick one up, I'm holding my history in my hands. Seeing my maiden name scribbled on the back reminds me of the person I was then and the emotions I experienced lo those eons ago. Music is so impersonal now. Even my CD's don't evince the raw emotion that an LP does. 

It's impossible to sum up my life with country. So much of it is tied to where I was, who I was, where I was going.

A glimpse of my musical heart (draw your own conclusions) can be found here:

The two songs I remember hearing for the very first time on the radio and swooning over:

It's been a great run. I'm not sorry for any of it.

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).

Freddy Weller:

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...