(Pictured: Crystal Gayle, sultry in the 70s.)
Forty years ago this week, Crystal Gayle hit the Billboard Top 40 with “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” a bluesy pop-country number that would eventually reach #2, one of several singles unable to dislodge “You Light Up My Life” from the #1 spot during the last quarter of 1977.
Crystal Gayle’s country career went back to “I’ve Cried (The Blue Right Out of My Eyes),” a minor hit in 1970. Her first big country hit was “Wrong Road Again” early in 1975. “Somebody Loves You” hit the country Top 10 early in 1976, and that summer, she enjoyed her first #1, the marvelous “I’ll Get Over You.” The latter became her first pop crossover, hitting #71 on the Hot 100. Those 1976 hits began a remarkable streak of success. She would hit the country charts a total of 36 times in 11 years. All but three of those songs would make the Top 10, and exactly half hit #1. Of all those, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” was the biggest, spending the whole month of September 1977 at #1 on the country chart. The album on which it appears, We Must Believe in Magic, is her biggest, and was the first album by a female country singer to be certified platinum.
Crystal Gayle’s brand of twang-free pop country was perfectly placed for 1976 and 1977, although the disco explosion caused by Saturday Night Fever made it tougher for her to cross over. After “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” she hit the Top 40 three more times. “Talking in Your Sleep” made #18 in the fall of 1978, and “Half the Way” (which is better than you remember, if you remember it) went to #15 a year later. In 1982, “You and I,” a duet with Eddie Rabbitt, became her second Top 10 hit, going to #7.
Even without crossover success, Gayle remained one of the biggest stars in country during the first half of the 80s. “You and I” was a #1 country hit, the first of five straight records to hit #1 between 1982 and 1984. A couple of them, “Baby What About You” and “The Sound of Goodbye,” crossed over to the lower reaches of the Hot 100, and the spectacular “Our Love Is on the Faultline” should have. This was about the time she made People magazine’s list of the 50 most beautiful people in the world; she was famed for her remarkable hair, which sometimes reached five feet in length.
As fashions changed in the 1990s, it got tougher for established country stars to break through on the radio. Nevertheless, Gayle kept releasing albums, her last one in 2003. A duet with Gary Morris, “Another World,” was the theme song of the NBC soap of the same name between 1987 and 1996, and she made a few acting appearances on the show. One of her more noteworthy recent gigs was writing and performing “Midnight in the Desert,” a theme song for radio host Art Bell. Earlier this year, she was officially invited to join the Grand Ole Opry, which is something that should have happened 40 years ago considering the number of minimally talented $300 haircuts who are Opry members today. The invitation came 50 years after she first performed on the Opry stage, when she was only 16 years old. She’s reportedly working on a new album, to be titled Am I That Easy to Forget, which is supposed to be out later this year.
I became a country radio DJ in 1979, and it didn’t take long for me to put Crystal Gayle high up my list of favorite artists. Her voice knocked me out (and still does), and her songs were usually a cut above what other Nashville stars were releasing. The list of great Crystal Gayle records not heretofore mentioned is long, including “Ready for the Times to Get Better,” “Why Have You Left the One You Left Me For,” and the utterly charming “Your Kisses Will.”
To sum up: she’s good and I like her and you should listen to some of these songs because maybe you’ll like them too.
9 thoughts on “Brown Eyes Blue”
I’d like to co-sign every word of this, Jim. She’s an underrated artist for sure. Sidebar: was thinking recently about Conway Twitty, one of the most successful country artists of all time. Now virtually forgotten. No legacy. How come?
Bean, my answer is “outside of token Johnny Cash/Willie Nelson references, what past greats does country music celebrate”? While rock is full of references/homages/outright thefts of classic rock acts and virtually every area has a classic rock station, modern country music acts like it started with Garth Brooks. How country forgot its past while rock seems to be trapped in its past, that’s worthy of a book…
It’s actually worse than that, Alvaro. You’d be surprised at the number of young male country stars who consider Jason Aldean a giant of the genre and *the* star to be emulated, and his first record was in 2005.
Ah, but I do remember “Half The Way,” and I remember it being great, even though it received zero Top 40 airplay on metro NYC radio stations and I was confined to one spin a week on AT-40. That was enough to sell me on it though.
“When I Dream.” I’m getting goosebumps just thinking of it.
Let’s not forget her work on Tom Waits’ amazing “One From the Heart” soundtrack. She has one of those easy-sounding voices that would work in a number of genres. In fact, I’d go so far to say that she was slightly miscast as a country artist. That’s not a “traditional” country voice, I’m not sure where the country is on “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue”…but she did carve out an interesting niche for herself in that market.
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