You’re Lookin’ at Country

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(Pictured: country singer Lynn Anderson, 1971.)

It’s always a weird experience for me to look at a country radio survey from the late 60s or early 70s. I frequently see familiar names, but very few familiar songs. Only a tiny handful of the hits of that time would be found in the gold libraries of the stations I worked for in the first half of the 80s. That’s true of the survey from WEEP in Pittsburgh, dated October 15, 1971, which I saw on Facebook over the weekend. The pic won’t reproduce well here, but you can see the entire list here. And there’s some interesting stuff on it.

1. “Never Ending Song of Love”/Mayf Nutter. Few names are more country than “Mayf Nutter”: his given name is “Mayfred,” after his great-grandparents, May and Fred. He was a native of Clarksburg, West Virginia, a couple of hours south of Pittsburgh. His “Never Ending Song of Love,” a cover of Delaney and Bonnie’s hit from earlier in 1971, was big there, and in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and a couple of other places, but it didn’t make Billboard‘s country Top 40, and neither did anything else Nutter recorded. He was also an actor, with recurring roles on The Waltons and Knots Landing, among others. He celebrated his 82nd birthday this past week.

2. “Easy Lovin'”/Freddie Hart
6. “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died”/Tom T. Hall
10. “You’re Lookin’ at Country”/Loretta Lynn
19. “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms”/Buck Owens
44. “She’s All I Got”/Johnny Paycheck
I submit that only these five records achieved anything like classic status in the years that followed 1971. There was a time when every respectable country singer or band would have known the Flatt/Scruggs bluegrass chestnut “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms.” Owens’ recording was the biggest hit, but it would also be recorded by Leon Russell under the name Hank Wilson.

5. “Miss Nancy Ann’s Hotel for Girls”/Tex Williams
9. “I’d Rather Be Sorry”/Ray Price

15. “A Song to Mama”/Carter Family
19. “The Mark of a Heel”/Hank Thompson
25. “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie”/Slim Whitman
27. “Leavin’ and Sayin’ Goodbye”/Faron Young
29. “Be a Little Quieter”/Porter Wagoner
30. “Someone Stole Me Blind”/Webb Pierce
35. “Honky Tonk Stardust Cowboy”/Lefty Frizzell
40. “Fall Away”/Tex Ritter
41. “Red Door”/Carl Smith

These are some of the most famous names in country music, and in the case of the Carter Family, of American music, period. They would remain popular for as long as they could climb on stage at the Grand Ole Opry, but by 1971 it wouldn’t be long before they would be too old-timey for the radio.

8. “Quits”/Bill Anderson
12. “How Can I Unlove You”/Lynn Anderson
No relation, these two. I heard their songs on my parents’ radio stations and never forgot them. “Quits” is a perfect example of Bill Anderson’s ingratiating style and gift for wordplay, and also of Nashville’s pop-appealing countrypolitan sound. (It’s as far removed from “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” as it’s possible to get.)  “How Can I Unlove You” is three more minutes of “Rose Garden,” Lynn Anderson’s hit from earlier in the year, but I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.

12. “Brand New Mister Me”/Mel Tillis
16. “Pictures”/Statler Brothers
33. “Six Weeks Every Summer”/Dottie West
A handful of stars on this chart would raise their profile as the 70s went on, and remain hitmakers into the 80s.

22. “No Need to Worry”/Johnny Cash and June Carter
24. “Good Lovin’ Makes It Right”/Tammy Wynette
39. “After All They Used to All Belong to Me”/Hank Williams Jr.
42. “Lead Me On”/Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn
45. “Papa Was a Good Man”/Johnny Cash
46. “I Wonder What She’ll Think About Me Leavin”/Conway Twitty
Some era-transcending giants of country were at work too, although not with songs anybody remembers today.

47. “Baby I’m Yours”/Jody Miller
49. “There Must Be More to Life (Than Growing Old)”-“Fire Hydrant #79″/Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan
Jody Miller had a classic countrypolitan style and great taste in covers, including “Baby I’m Yours,” and I am sorry to learn that she died earlier this month at the age of 80. Jack and Misty, best known for “Tennessee Birdwalk” and “Humphrey the Camel,” have been favorites of this website since always. “There Must Be More to Life” is done straight, but with the odd harmony that made them so compelling. “Fire Hydrant #79” is sung from the point of view of a failed country singer to his only friend, a Nashville fire hydrant. It’s 100 percent uncut Jack and Misty.

(A new Sidepiece went out on Wednesday of this week. Check your spam filter, or click here to read it right now.)

8 thoughts on “You’re Lookin’ at Country

  1. porky

    In my early 20’s I started digging deeper into country music as did other “new wave people” like me. Elvis Costello’s Billy Sherrill-produced LP “Almost Blue” was the catalyst as was Costello’s championing of George Jones. There is some great country music journalism from the 70s and 80s and I dug into as much of that as I could find.

    I’m with you when you talk about songs not ringing a bell. When listening to our local replay of the “American Top 40” countdown I go full geek and pull up that week’s Billboard issue from and read about the controversies of the day and the context in general. I look at the C&W chart and see how many songs I know, ones that have lived on beyond that particular year. Not many. In fact the number of standards that are re-done is pretty high.

    The correct title of that Tex Williams song is “The Night Miss Nancy Ann’s Hotel For Single Girls Burned Down.”* It’s my experience that C&W, like the blues, has a limited musical structure causing their writers to rely on the use of intriguing titles to draw the listener in.

    *Well I’ll be department: This song’s author Dick Feller has a few classic under his, now her belt as he is now known as Deena Kaye Rose and is a transgender activist.

    1. JP

      I forget where I read this, but I’ve heard that one reason the idea of country oldies radio never caught on was because the typical Merle Haggard fan in 1969 would have been well into their thirties, so they probably would have been past retirement age or close to death by the time the nostalgia craze kicked in.

      I suspect that if there had been a country oldies format (like there is with rock and soul), the songs would have been just as familiar as the Beatles or the Supremes. My dad did listen to country radio in the 70s and 80s, yet the familiar songs I see on those way-back charts are either stuff my father listened to back in the day, or things I found at the used record store as an adult. “Swinging Doors” doesn’t feel as pervasive as “She Loves You” or “Stop! In The Name Of Love.”

      1. Wesley

        Part of the problem as I see doing a classic country oldies format is that there was a higher turnover of hits on the format than with the Hot 100 and soul. For example, Tom Roland’s The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits profiled 848 chart toppers from January 1968 through December 1989 (essentially 22 years). It took the Hot 100 41 years (1958-1999) to compile that same number of hits.

      2. This is correct. Oldies worked as a format because it was based on music from the audience’s teens and 20s. The audience for Country (and this has changed since) was 35-plus, so a Country Oldies format immediately starts outside the desirable advertising demo.

      3. And to Wesley’s point, that turnover suggests that, at the time, Country hits were hits of the moment. They weren’t on the chart or the radio long enough for real attachments to be formed.

        And part of that is rooted in the demographics. Adults didn’t want the repetition and the long stays on the chart the way teens did.

  2. Brian Rostron

    Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate general, was from Clarksburg, (then) Virginia. I was astonished to learn that Stonewall Jackson, the country musician, was not a stage name. He was from Tennessee.

    1. porky

      So how’s this for some synchronicity? I’d heard this story but searched for it and it came up on, of all places, Jack Blanchard’s website:

      “A Red Sovine And Stonewall Jackson Story”

      (This story from Roger Sovine
      by way of our friend Stan Anderson.)

      When country stars Red Sovine and Stonewall Jackson
      were touring years ago,
      Red got pulled over for speeding.

      When the cop asked who he was,
      he gave his full real name,
      Woodrow Wilson Sovine.

      The officer obviously thought he was being a wise guy,
      because he looked at his friend and said,
      “I suppose you’re Abraham Lincoln”.

      He replied “No, Stonewall Jackson”.

      (Roger Sovine was Red’s son who had a prolific career in song publishing. Not sure who Stan Anderson is/was).

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