Country Music History – Essential Recordings of 1972, Part II
1. “I Take it On Home,” Charlie Rich. California musician Kenny O’Dell worked as a performer in both country and pop music. His teen bubblegum song “Beautiful People” hit #38 on the pop charts in 1967 and during the same timeframe he wrote the Top Twenty pop song “Next Plane to London” by The Rose Garden. O’Dell relocated to Nashville in 1970 and had his first major hit with “I Take It on Home.” Charlie Rich was pushing forty and after approximately a decade and a half of recording, he hit the country Top Ten for the first time with this slow, soulful number about turning down all the neighborhood hussies. Producer Billy Sherill stamps the number with a string avalanche after a low-key intro.
2. “L.A. Freeway,” Jerry Jeff Walker. 1972 was the year that Austin began its transformation into what is now known as “The Live Music Capital of the World.” The first person on the scene was Michael Martin Murphy, who made the influential “Geronimo’s Cadillac” album in 1972 and gave the scene its “Cosmic Cowboy” name. Before Willie settled into town, Jerry Jeff Walker became an Austinite, immediately writing about his new surroundings and dancing naked on “Hill Country Town,” the title track to his 1972 eponymous album. “L.A. Freeway” is a song that Guy Clark wrote after relocating from West Texas to Los Angeles, which left him pining for dirt roads. “L.A. Freeway” has never found a mainstream audience, yet it’s an absolute anthem in progressive country circles.
3. “Made in Japan,” Buck Owens. Buck Owens chart success began to wane in the 1970s and he was later known just as much for being a host on the syndicated country music television program “Hee-Haw” as he was for his music. (Owens never really liked “Hee-Haw,” but the filming schedule was so easy and the money was so good, it was hard to walk away from the gig). “Made in Japan,” Buck’s last #1 single, was penned by steel guitarist Bob Morris and his wife Faye Morris. While the 1970s ushered in the era of cheap products made in Asia, Owens sings a love ballad about falling in love with another import, a girl who was made in Japan. The guitar riffs make this song the romantic version of “Turning Japanese.”
4. “One’s on the Way,” Loretta Lynn. “One’s on the Way,” a tale of a harried, often pregnant Kansas housewife who compares her dreary life to those of jet setting movie stars, highlights songwriter Shel Silverstein’s colloquial gifts (“The faucet is a drippin’ and the kids are a bawlin’/One of ’em a toddlin’ and one is a crawlin’/And one’s on the way”). It was also an apt fit for Loretta Lynn, who was no stranger to the rigors of child rearing. Country music historian Bill Malone, Loretta became “”the spokeswoman for every woman who had gotten married too early, pregnant too often and felt trapped by the tedium and drudgery of her life.”
5. “Oney,” Johnny Cash. Songwriter Jerry Chesnut, “This is one of the few songs that I’ve written for a particular artist. Larry Butler came to me and said he had a chance to produce Johnny Cash if he could find him a hit song. Years before, I had worked for the Florida East Coast Railroad shops and had a foreman named Frank Oney that stood over and pushed his men to the point of slavery. I thought a song about him and what I’d like to have done to him would be right down Johnny Cash’s alley.” This #2 country hit features the trademark Johnny Cash chunka chunka rhythm style on a tale about a working man’s last day on the job after twenty-nine years of harassment from an overbearing superintendent. Oney will be presenting the new retiree with a gold watch. In return, Cash can’t wait to give his former boss a right hook.
6. “A Picture of Me (Without You),” George Jones. George Richey was a Malden, Missouri native who moved to Nashville in the late 1950s, where he became a session player, songwriter, producer and a husband to Tammy Wynette. He gave the title “A Picture of Me (Without You)” to Norro Wilson, who completed the song with Jones in mind. Jones took the crestfallen number to #5 on the country charts and it was a Top Ten hit for Lorrie Morgan in 1991. Wilson, “I’ve often said a good song title, like a picture, is worth a thousand words, is worth a thousand ideas. It’s easier to write, I believe. That’s one of my most proud songs to have written.”
7. “Someone to Give My Love To,” Johnny Paycheck. Johnny Paycheck often turned to the Nashville songwriting team of Jerry Foster and Bill Rice for material and they wrote his 1972 #4 country hit “Someone to Give My Love To.” Musically, it sounds quite a bit like Waylon Jennings, an imitation that might not have been appreciated. Waylon, from his 1983 song “Living Legends”: “Well, I hope ol’ Paycheck liked my song/’Cause, like him, it’s just a joke/But if he don’t, I guess he knows/That my shit-a-giver’s broke.” Tracy Byrd had a minor hit with his cover of “Someone to Give My Love To” in 1993.
8. “To Live is To Fly,” Townes Van Zandt. To Live is To Fly, Townes Van Zandt. From his fifth album, “To Live is To Fly” is a love song and piece of advice: follow your dreams, don’t settle for mediocrity, live in the moment. However, it’s also about seeking something in your life that another person can’t provide. In the case of Townes, he is describing his need to leave his lover to fulfill his need to communicate through songs. As we all know, Townes had empty spaces that were insatiable. The words “To Live’s To Fly” are inscribed on Townes Van Zandt’s gravestone.
9. “Turn it On, Turn it On, Turn it On,” Tom T. Hall. A tale of a working man who was bullied for being unable to serve in World War II, the protagonist named Johnny gets his revenge the old fashioned way, by shooting two of his tormentors. How’s this for a nice piece of writing? After his gun misfires when Johnny tries to kill the sheriff, he shrugs off his fate with this observation, “The Lord must think a lot of you.” As for the song’s title, it’s what Johnny says as he prepares for his date with the electric chair.