I Do My Swingin’ at Home

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(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.

12 thoughts on “I Do My Swingin’ at Home

  1. mikehagerty

    I always think I don’t know much Country music, but then along comes a post like this to remind me that’s not true. I wouldn’t miss Johnny Cash or Glen Campbell’s TV shows and KIBS in Bishop was block programmed, with Country from 6-9 every morning. In a one-station town, that means you’ve gotta listen to get the news, weather, school lunch menus and the like.

    And this reminds me that I even played some, beyond the crossover stuff, because I filled in on the morning show when I got my first job at KIBS….and come to think of it, my morning show at KUKI in Ukiah was interrupted every morning at 7:30 for a half-hour of Country sponsored by Redwood Ford.

    If you’d asked me at the time, I’d probably have told you I disliked Country music—and hope no one noticed my irrational love for “The End Is Not In Sight” by the Amazing Rhythm Aces, or a few years later, for Don Williams’ “Falling Again”.

  2. Rodney

    Thanks for these postings. I grew up listening to country music in the 70’’s. That is when my father was controlling the radio, driving in the car, backyard BBQ’s, etc. My father would say he liked both kinds of music… country and western. :-)
    In my room and hanging out with friends on the sidewalk, where I controlled the radio, it was Top 40, Casey Kasem etc.
    Turning 16 in 1980, I found myself listening to both genres plus my own cassette library. I love 80’s country even more than 70’s country , yet it’s the reverse for Top 40 music.
    Loving these posts, brings back lots of memories.

  3. Wesley

    “What is Truth” is both one of Johnny Cash’s best hits and I’d argue one of the top 100 songs of 1970 quality-wise. Flexes its muscles in every department from his vocals onward. Also, I was today years old when I learned that he had a younger brother that made his mark in country as well.

  4. T.

    I always thought it was strange that given the history, influence and constant name-checking of classic Country stars, that there is no “Oldies” country radio. Even with satellite radio it’s hard to find Old Country. In Rock you have “Oldies but Goodies” and “Classic Rock”. Same thing with R&B and it’s various genres. Jazz stations play old-time Jazz. Even Classical stations are primarily ‘Oldies”. But Country music seems to want to wipe out it’s own footprints.

    1. T., the trouble with Country oldies, at least in the 90s and before, was that Country was an adult format to begin with. So, if a rock/pop/R&B oldies station plays a 30-year-old record, it’s playing to a 45-50 year old. But a 30-year-old country oldie would be playing to a 60-year-old. A few stations tried “Classic Country” and hit the demographic wall fast and hard.

      Classical and jazz tend to be noncomms, so demographics aren’t an issue.

  5. Alvaro Leos

    “Oh Happy Day” and the “Mountain Berries” song remind us how much crossover there was between R&B and country, at least songwriting wise. Pure R&B acts like Al Green and Millie Jackson covered country hits with regularity. How many have there been in the last 25 years?
    And if you’re going to mention Tommy Cash, don’t forget his gusty and stunning 1968 hit “Six White Horses”, basically the angry flip side of “Abraham Martin and John”.

    1. porky

      I too am intrigued by the R&B/country crossover. I keep finding interesting examples, most recently I discovered Johnny Paycheck covered Paul Simon’s (not R&B but closer to gospel) duet “Gone at Last” (with Phoebe Snow) and used former Rae-let Charnissa Jones as his duet partner.

  6. One of my hobbies over the years has been to take a music book (I started with Dave Marsh’s The Heart Of Rock & Soul) and then try to collect on CD as many of the songs as I can (without spending too much). I have 700 songs of the 1001 in the Dave Marsh book. I then went on to Billboard’s various Number One Hits books, including the one on country music of which I have 681 of 848 songs. Which explains why I actually own “The Best Of Jerry Wallace”…

  7. mackdaddyg

    “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.”

    I’ve often thought that if somebody did a “Nuggets” style of compilation for obscure country music from the 60s, the results could be interesting. I tend to assume that a lot of country albums have the hit or two plus filler, but I’m pretty sure that I’m wrong.

  8. I thank everybody for their interesting comments here. “Classic country” will continue to exist as a streaming or satellite format, but it doesn’t have much of a future on terrestrial radio, I fear. We had one in our group for a while, but it gradually dropped the 60s/70s stuff, and on those rare occasions when I hear it now, it’s playing stuff from the early 00s. Mainstream country radio is even more dismissive of its past. While some stations are exceptions, the general run of them are playing almost exclusively stuff from the last six or eight years. Mainstream country songs do a lot of name-checking of Hank and Merle, but it’s a lifestyle signifier. Nobody–NOBODY–who’s listening to mainstream country radio in 2021 is listening to Hank and Merle too.

    1. mackdaddyg

      For what it’s worth, there’s a local station that calls itself “Mid Century Radio” and I’m assuming it’s a satellite feed although they have a local dj in the morning. They play a lot of 50s and 60s rock and r&b (heard the Clovers’ “Nip Sip” just a few minutes ago), but every fourth song is a country tune from the same time period.

      It ain’t completely dead and gone from terrestrial radio, but it sure is getting harder to find.

  9. Yah Shure

    My go-to terrestrial station for pre-Garth Brooks classic country is WVAL in Sauk Rapids/St. Cloud, MN, one of the sister stations to Album Rock The Goat/WXYG, which jb has mentioned previously. I love it when WVAL stumps me with songs I played during my country radio days, but haven’t heard in 30+ years. Once in awhile, they’ll even play original top-40 versions of hits that later became big country smashes, such as B.W. Stevenson’s version of “My Maria”.

    WVAL has been doing country since it signed on in 1963 as a 250-watt daytimer on AM 800. Now they have an FM translator, as well as ten billion other ways to listen: http://www.800wval.com/

    Or take the easy way out and bookmark:
    http://ice5.securenetsystems.net/WVAL

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