Among My Souvenirs

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(Pictured: Marty Robbins, in a promotional photo for the 1976 Academy of Country Music Awards show broadcast.)

A while back, I threatened to start a blog about 1970s country, and several amongst the readership said they’d read it. This trip inside the Top 100 country hits of 1976 from KLAC in Los Angeles is for y’all.

99. “Fly Away”/John Denver
67. “Country Boy”/Glen Campbell
56. “Hurt”/Elvis Presley
47. “Come on Over”/Olivia Newton-John
Lots of songs on this chart crossed over to the pop chart. All of these made the pop Top 40. Spoiler alert: there are others to be covered below.

78. “Afternoon Delight”/Johnny Carver
76. “Save Your Kisses for Me”/ Margo Smith
32. “Misty Blue”/Billie Joe Spears
Contemporaneous country covers, sprouting up as a song hit big on the pop charts, used to be a thing. That there would be one of “Afternoon Delight” was a mortal lock.

72. “Here Comes the Freedom Train”/Merle Haggard
16. “The Roots of My Raising”/Merle Haggard
4. “Cherokee Maiden”/Merle Haggard
“Here Comes the Freedom Train,” about the Bicentennial exhibit that criss-crossed the country from April 1975 through April 1977, was Haggard’s lowest-charting single since 1965 (!), and it still made #10 in Billboard.

70. “I’ll Go Back to Her”/Waylon Jennings
61. “Suspicious Minds”/Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter
15. “If You’ve Got the Money”/Willie Nelson
13. “Remember Me”/Willie Nelson
5. “Good Hearted Woman”/Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson
The Waylon and Willie outlaw country legend kicked into overdrive in 1976, with the compilation album The Outlaws, the first country album to get the RIAA’s new platinum certification for one million sold, and Willie’s The Sound in Your Mind, which was Billboard‘s #1 country album of 1976. Allow me to recommend yet again Outlaw: Willie, Waylon, Kris, and the Renegades of Nashville, an excellent history of the movement, by Michael Streissguth.

68. “Somebody Loves You”/Crystal Gayle
46. “She Never Knew Me”/Don Williams
39. “Among My Souvenirs”/Marty Robbins

34. “El Paso City”/Marty Robbins
20. “Say It Again”/Don Williams
11. “Til the Rivers All Run Dry”/Don Williams
9. “I’ll Get Over You”/Crystal Gayle
Gayle, Robbins, and Williams are not usually mentioned among the first rank of country superstars, but they ought to be. “I’ll Get Over You” and “El Paso City” have been favorites of this blog since always. “She Never Knew Me” is quintessential Williams: brilliant storytelling as natural as breathing.

64. “Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life”/Moe Bandy
35. “Golden Ring”/George Jones and Tammy Wynette
I don’t have much to say about either one of these, but “Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life” and “Golden Ring” are about as country as country can be.

63. “Broken Lady”/Larry Gatlin
49. “If I Had to Do It All Over Again”/Roy Clark
29. “Faster Horses”/Tom T. Hall
17. “You’ll Lose a Good Thing”/Freddy Fender
10. “(I’m a) Stand by My Woman Man”/Ronnie Milsap

I’m gonna sing along with a lot of songs on this chart and nobody can stop me.

53. “The Man on Page 602″/Zoot Fenster. Behold an artifact of a viral sensation. On page 602 of the 1975 Sears Fall/Winter catalog was a picture of an underwear model, and it sure looked like he was accidentally displaying a bit of his junk. Alas, “The Man on Page 602” is not very good, but the fact that it got any traction at all indicates just how sensational the sensation was.

42. “Me and Ol’ CB”/Dave Dudley
27. “Convoy”/C. W. McCall
9. “The White Knight”/Cledus Maggard

As 1975 turned to 1976, CB radio songs were thick on the ground, and the top two below are additional artifacts of that time.

26. “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You”/Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius
7. “Sometimes”/Bill Anderson and Mary Lou Turner
If you turn on country radio today, you won’t hear many songs about adultery. Not so in the horny 70s. “I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You” is about two people who either want to do it or don’t, and/or want to get married before they do it, or don’t. “Sometimes” is a song I’ve written about before. Bill Anderson, who is now the longest-tenured living member of the Grand Ole Opry (60 years) since the death of Stonewall Jackson last month, had #1 hits with two different duet partners, Jan Howard and Turner.

2. “One Piece at a Time”/Johnny Cash
1. “Teddy Bear”/Red Sovine
Both of these also crossed over to the pop charts, although “Teddy Bear” spent but one week at #40. Sovine is also on this chart at #73 with “Phantom 309,” a truck-driving ghost story also recorded by Tom Waits.

Today, KLAC is a sports station, carrying the Dodgers, Clippers, Chargers, and UCLA football and basketball, but its history includes 23 years as a country station, from 1970 to 1993. My history includes several years as a country radio DJ, and most of these songs were heard on my shows at one point or another.

5 thoughts on “Among My Souvenirs

  1. Thanks for this, JB. As I’ve noted before, I’m far from a Country fan, but good records are good records and there are a lot of them on this list.

    KLAC is a remarkable station—easily the most successful Country station in Los Angeles’ history. Country was hot when Western swing was (the late 40s), and L.A. had a whole bunch of recently-transplanted folks from Oklahoma and other parts. But those were in the days when stations were block-programmed.

    When stations started to pick a lane, Country found itself on KFOX, a 1,000-watt AM at 1280 on the dial in Long Beach, 25 miles south of downtown L.A., and, from 1966-68, on KGBS, a 50,000-watt AM at 1020 on the dial in Los Angeles that was, until late 1976, a daytimer.

    KLAC, in the 40s and 50s, had been a big-time Los Angeles radio station, giving KMPC and KFI a run for their money in adults who wanted to hear popular music (Sinatra, Tony Bennett, etc.).

    In 1958, likely in response to the launch of Top 40 at KFWB, a General Manager named Mort Hall fired all of the jocks and hired “staff announcers” to handle time, temperature, call letters and commercials. It crashed and burned. Over in six months. As a radio historian friend said when he told me the story, “What fools these Mort Halls be”.

    Hall survived, re-hired talent and went back to MOR, but could never regain what had been lost. Metromedia bought the station in 1963 and Mort was gone. KLAC went to talk radio in 1965 with the infamous Joe Pyne, but ultimately lost that battle to KABC.

    In 1970, it came back to MOR, but near the end of the year, went Country—the first and only full-signal, full-time Los Angeles AM station to commit to the format. (KZLA-AM at 1540 doesn’t count, in my book, but your mileage may vary). Even though it eventually fell to FM competition, neither KZLA-FM in the 90s and early ’00s or KKGO today came near the ratings that KLAC garnered in the 1970s.

  2. Wesley

    Some great insights here as always, jb. I’m not surprised that John Denver, Glen Campbell, Elvis Presley and Olivia Newton-John are on the chart, but I am surprised that they appear in that order counting up. Would’ve guessed the exact opposite for those positions.

    Likewise, country versions of Afternoon Delight and Misty Blue seem natural, but Save Your Kisses for Me wasn’t exactly screaming for twang in my book, so to speak.

    And dammit, with all the good or at least interesting sounding offerings here, why did something like The White Knight by Cledus Maggard have to cross over to the pop top 40? Ugh.

    1. “The White Knight” is remarkably bad even by the standards of 70s novelty. It’s not funny, it’s barely even clever, its brain-dead characterizations hold its audience in contempt, and you can see the ending coming from a mile away. I have written on a couple of occasions over the years about how in the spring of 1976, American Top 40 would edit some of the most popular songs of the day to a little more than a verse and a chorus, but insisted on playing all of “The White Knight.” It’s endless in its single configuration at four minutes plus, but there’s a seven-minute version I have never been able to bring myself to listen to.

  3. porky

    The MOR station where I worked played Elvis’ “Hurt.” Can’t forget critic Dave Marsh’s assessment in his “Heart of Rock and Roll” book of top 1001 singles: “If [Presley] felt the way he sounded, the wonder isn’t that he only had a year left to live but that he managed to survive that long.”

    Our dad took us to the Freedom Train when it made its stop in Peoria. All I remember is the “moving sidewalk” lest you spend too much time eyeballing an exhibit and Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “Wizard of Oz.”

    “Misty Blue” had its origin as a country song, written by Bob Montgomery who was a duet partner with Buddy Holly. Like all great songs they can be adapted to other genres (Dorothy Moore). First version was by Wilma Burgess, one of C&W’s first openly gay artists.

    The C&W history books I’ve read cite cheating songs first appearing after WWII, Floyd Tillman’s 1949 hit “Slippin’ Around” one of the first of that kind. The 70’s sure had a sleazy singles scene going on, all the “right” ingredients must have aligned.

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