(Pictured: This much cool will give you frostbite: Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Glen Campbell.)
You asked for it, now you have to read it.
I experienced the country music of the mid-70s somewhat directly. It was an era when WMAQ in Chicago became a sensation by programming country music with Top 40 formatics (and even employed Chicago legend Fred Winston for a while). Mother and Dad listened to it in the house, the barn, and the car, and I recall turning it on myself.
The country music of the years before is a different story. What I picked up I got by osmosis or heard in years after, including some songs from the Billboard country chart from May 16, 1970.
1. “My Love”/Sonny James. There is a long list of one-time country superstars who are absolutely forgotten today. “The Southern Gentleman” had 23 #1 hits, 16 of them in a row between 1967 and 1971. “My Love” is a cover of the 1966 Petula Clark hit, and although it hasn’t aged well, it was a big deal in its day.
2. “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone”/Charley Pride. “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” is Charley Pride’s biggest hit, but “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” is the Charley Pride-iest. It’s everything that made him great in a couple of minutes.
3. “I Do My Swingin’ at Home”/David Houston. Here’s another guy who, like Sonny James, was straight money for several years, with an eye-popping record of chart success. In 1966, “Almost Persuaded” had a run at #1 country not beaten until the download era, but today, it’s the only Houston hit people remember now, if any.
5. “What Is Truth”/Johnny Cash
9. “Hello Darlin'”/Conway Twitty
11. “Tennessee Birdwalk”/Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan
12. “My Woman My Woman My Wife”/Marty Robbins
60. “Everything Is Beautiful”/Ray Stevens
62. “Long Lonesome Highway”/Michael Parks
Crossovers from country to pop and back again have always been a thing. “Everything Is Beautiful” would top the Hot 100 as May turned to June. “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife” made #42. I wrote about it a few years ago. “Hello Darlin'” made #60 but was Twitty’s longest-running country #1. You don’t need to hear me bang on about “Tennessee Birdwalk” again.
10. “Rise and Shine”/Tommy Cash. Younger brother of Johnny, and with a modestly successful career of his own during the 70s.
26. “Oh Happy Day”/Glen Campbell
32. “All I Have to Do Is Dream”/Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell
America was at peak Glen Campbell in 1970; his TV show was a hit and his records were ubiquitous. Campbell and Gentry did two Everly Brothers covers, this one and “Let It Be Me,” both of which crossed over from country to pop, and theirs might be the first version of “All I Have to Do Is Dream” I ever knew. “Oh Happy Day” ran the country chart at about the same time the gospel version by the Edwin Hawkins Singers was climbing into the Top 10 of the Hot 100.
35. “Togetherness”/Buck Owens and Susan Raye
38. “Tomorrow’s Forever”/Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton
47. “Pickin’ Wild Mountain Berries”/Kenny Vernon and Lawanda Lindsay
58. “I’m Leavin’ It Up to You”/Johnny and Jonie Mosby
67. “A Good Thing”/Bill Wilbourne and Kathy Morrison
Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell were established solo stars who got together. Owens and Wagoner were established stars who took on duet partners, while other duets came up as duets. Dolly’s solo career began while she was partnered with Wagoner. Raye and Lindsay, who appeared on Owens’ TV show Hee Haw, scored their own hits later on. Raye had five straight country Top-10 hits between 1970 and 1972, including “L.A. International Airport,” which went to #54 on the Hot 100.
(“Pickin’ Wild Mountain Berries,” first recorded by R&B singers Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson and more famously by Twitty and Loretta Lynn in 1971, is not really about procuring fruit.)
50. “Down in New Orleans”/Buddy Alan. Buddy Alan was the son of Buck and Bonnie Owens and the stepson of Merle Haggard. After a handful of minor hits in the 70s, he gave up recording for a successful career in radio programming.
53. “Running Bare”/Jim Nesbitt. In 1960, Johnny Preston scored a #1 pop hit with “Running Bear,” about an Indian brave who “loved little White Dove with a love big as the sky.” Sonny James took it to #1 country in 1969. After that, Jim Nesbitt (whose name we have mentioned at this website before) did “Running Bare,” a parody that in retrospect seems inevitable.
Our pal Bean Baxter pointed out on Twitter the other day that a large amount of 70s country is out of print and/or missing from streaming services. That’s a great loss to history geeks such as we, but also to people who simply enjoy good tunes.