Country Music History – Essential Recordings of 1967, Part II
The Move, Bob Marley, and NRBQ.
1. “Jackson,” Johnny Cash and June Carter. Billy Edd Wheeler has quite a resume, having worked as a songwriter, performer (he went to #3 on the country charts in 1965 with “Ode to the Little Brown Shack Out Back”), playwright, author, and poet. Wheeler had the original idea for the hotter than a pepper sprout “Jackson,” but the song was reshaped by Jerry Lieber, who used his wife’s name (Gaby Rodgers) for the writing credit. Peaking at #2 on the country charts, “Jackson” ushered in a new era of fame for Johnny Cash during the late 1960s. Of course, the chemistry of Johnny and June went beyond the recording studio. Cash divorced his first wife in late 1967 and proposed to June during a concert if February of 1968. As for songwriter/novelist/visual artist Billy Edd Wheeler, he also had a credit on the 1978 Kenny Rogers #1 country hit “Coward of the County.”
2. “The Last Thing on My Mind,” Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. Songwriter Tom Paxton went from the University of Oklahoma into the United States Army and then became an important contributor to the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene. Paxton recorded dozens of albums during his career and also wrote children’s literature. His first success as a songwriter came when The Fireballs took his drinking lament “Bottle of Wine” to the Top Ten of the pop charts in 1967. Paxton recorded “The Last Thing on My Mind” in 1964 and Hank Locklin had a minor U.K. hit with his 1966 cover version. The confused breakup of “The Last Thing on My Mind” was the first hit for Porter and Dolly, peaking at #7 on the country charts and has been covered by a laundry list of country and folk artists. For fun, check out the trippy, psychedelic version that concludes The Move’s famous 1970 album “Shazam.” Paxton returned to country and pop radio in 1981 when The Irish Rovers/The Rovers popularized his comedy drinking number “Wasn’t That a Party.” Could have been the whiskey, might have been the gin.
3. “Love of the Common People,” Waylon Jennings and the Waylors. John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins were Nashville songwriters who had more than a business relationship, the two men were also lovers. They penned two pop standards – “Love of the Common People” and “Son of a Preacher Man.” The anti-poverty “Love of the Common People” was first recorded by The Four Preps and more than twenty-five different artists released the song between 1967 and 1970. Waylon’s take probably was too much of a folk/pop sound for country music at the time, it peaked at #67. In the early 1980s, Paul Young had a major international hit with his electronic pop cover version. Waylon gives that gritty baritone voice a real work out on this number. The name of Jennings’ backing unit worked better for Bob Marley.
4. “Ode to Billy Joe,” Bobbie Gentry. Bobbie Gentry brought Southern goth mystery into the mainstream with her 1967 pop and country hit “Ode to Billy Joe.” Gentry was raised in Mississippi and moved to Los Angeles as a teenager. Prior to finding fame, Gentry worked in a Vegas nightclub revue, was a model, and studied at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. “Ode to Billy Joe” was a superb piece of writing in terms of the lack of reaction to the suicide (“pass the biscuits, please”) and the unresolved nature of the relationship between the narrator and Billy Joe. Nine years after the song was released, the public’s appetite for more knowledge resulted in the hit movie “Ode to Billy Joe,” in which a young mussy haired Robby Benson couldn’t cope with his sexual identity.
5. “Pop A Top,” Jim Ed Brown. Finally, a country entry that has nothing to do with homosexuality. Nat Stuckey was splitting his time between being a performer and songwriter in the late 1960s; there may not be a more accurate album title in music history than “Nat Stuckey Really Sings.” “Pop A Top” mixed country’s two biggest themes, heartbreak and alcohol, but the big hook was the aluminum pop tab sound effect. This #3 hit was Jim Ed Brown’s biggest solo single, although he did hit #1 on the charts as a member of The Browns in 1959 (“The Three Bells”) and on a duet with Helen Cornelius in 1976 (“I Don’t Want to Have to Marry You”). Alan Jackson returned “Pop a Top” back to the country Top Ten in 2000 with his faithful recreation.
6. “Rocky Top,” Osborne Brothers. Sonny and Bobby Osbourne were raised in Southwestern Ohio and formed their band after Bobby served in the Korean War. (Sonny, who was not drafted, worked for Bill Monroe in the early 1950s). Their sound was progressive bluegrass for its era, incorporating electric and percussion instruments; vocally, they were known for their stacked harmonies. “Rocky Top” was penned, not in the 1920s by unkempt Appalachian banjo players, but in 1967 by the husband and wife songwriting duo Boudleaux Bryant and Felice Bryant, whose credits include “Love Hurts,” “All I Have to Do is Dream,” “Wake Up, Little Susie,” “Bye Bye, Love,” and “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma” (a state that needs some serious justification). The moonshine liquor, rural paradise song was a #33 hit for the Osborne Brothers and a #17 country hit for Lynn Anderson in 1970. It is probably best known today as being a fight song for the University of Tennessee. The Osborne Brothers recorded from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s and a re-released version of “Rocky Top” became their biggest hit in 1996, peaking at #12. Bobby Osbourne still performs with his band, The Rocky Top X-Press, and in 2014 the town of Lake City, Tennessee changed its name to Rocky Top, Tennessee, in an effort to become a tourist destination.
7. “Sweet Thang,” Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn. “Sweet Thang” was the breakthrough and biggest hit for Nat Stuckey, peaking at #4 in 1966. The tomcatting number was structured like a duet, although Stuckey recorded it as a solo number. The Ernest Tubb/Loretta Lynn cover wasn’t nearly as successful, only reaching #45. However, it did give Loretta a chance to threaten cheating women, her natural sweet spot when it came to attitude.
8. “Walk Through This World with Me,” George Jones. George Jones wasn’t impressed with the love ballad “Walk Through This World with Me.” He originally didn’t want to record the song, but ended up recording it twice – after the LP version started receiving airplay, he cut another take for the single and was happier with his vocal sound. It became his first chart topper since 1962’s “She Thinks I Still Care” and he wouldn’t have another until the 1973 Tammy Wynette duet “We’re Gonna Hold On.” Little is known about songwriters Sandy Seamons and Kaye Savage. Neither writer ever had another credit on a hit song. Seamons lived in Tucson for the majority of her life, primarily working in the bank industry. Kaye Savage was a Tucson area physical education teacher.
9. “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round?,” The Monkees. Dallas native Michael Martin Murphy performed in North Texas in the early 1960s and relocated to Los Angeles after graduating high school. He was a member of an L.A. band named the Trinity River Boys in 1964, as was fellow Texan Michael Nesmith. Later Murphy would team with Owen Castleman in the duo The Lewis and Clark Expedition (both men took pseudonyms for the act) and the two songwriters wrote “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round?,” after Nesmith requested a song from Murphy. This south of the border love affair number wasn’t a hit for the Monkees, but helped to establish Nesmith’s country rock credentials. Murphy became an important figure on the Austin music scene in the early 1970s, scored a #3 pop hit in 1975 with “Wildfire,” and had a string of country hits in the 1980s. I interrupted him during dinner in Mansfield, Texas for a picture a few years ago and he treated me better than I deserved.
10. “What Does it Take (To Keep a Man Like You Satisfied),” Skeeter Davis. Jim Glaser was one of the other guys in the family act Tompall and the Glaser Brothers, the Nebraska trio of brothers who often performed background vocal duties for Marty Robbins. Glaser hit the country charts from 1968 to 1986 as a performer, including the 1984 #1 single “You’re Getting to Me Again.” As a songwriter, Glaser penned the 1967 Gary Puckett Top Five hit “Woman, Woman,” as well as Top Five country hits for Mack Warner (“Sittin’ in an All Nite Café”) and this entry. “What Does it Take (To Keep a Man Like You Satisfied)” sounds more like an early 1960’s girl group effort than a country hit of its era. Skeeter always had a sound completely different than the Nashville honky tonk or countrypolitan production styles. During the 1970s, Davis turned her attention to her spiritual beliefs. She later married NRBQ bassist Joey Spampinato, released an autobiography in 1993 (her book was not kind to former husband/Nashville media personality Ralph Emery), and passed away from breast cancer in 2004.
11. “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” Tammy Wynette. Virginia Wynette Pugh was a twenty-four-year-old Mississippi cosmetologist with three children who decided to try her luck in Nashville in 1966. Producer Billy Sherrill, needing a singer for the Johnny Paycheck composition “Apartment No. 9,” signed Wynette to a recording contract and gave her a new name. “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” with a lyrical theme about a woman turning into a tramp to get even with her cheating man, was Wynette’s first major single, peaking at #3 on the country charts. Before Tammy decided to stand by her man, she thought it might be more fitting to become a jezebel.