Country Music History – Essential Records of 1966, Part II
Never sell the farm and move to a city.
1. “Husbands and Wives,” Roger Miller. “Husbands and Wives” was a departure for Miller, a sad rumination on divorce that almost has a confessional singer/songwriter sound. Miller’s original went to #5 on the country charts and was a Top Twenty hit for David Frizzell and Shelly West in 1981. Brooks and Dunn had the most successful version of the song, taking it to #1 in 1988. Miller quickly turned away from serious themes, his next two singles were “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd” and “My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died.”
2. “I Remember You,” Slim Whitman. While the late night commercial ad for Slim Whitman boldly claimed that he “sold more albums in Britain than the Beatles and Elvis combined!,” Whitman only hit the U.S. country Top 40 charts five times during the 1960s. (Perhaps, the claim is true if it means the albums that the Beatles and Elvis recorded together). “I Remember You” is a Johnny Mercer/Victor Schertzinger composition that was sung by Dorothy Lamar in the 1942 film “The Fleet.” English singer Frank Ifield had a #1 U.K. country hit with his 1962 yodeling tinged cover. Sounding like a forerunner of Tiny Tim, Whitman’s kitschy falsetto singing on “I Remember You” might be his definitive performance. A #49 country hit, memorably reprised in Rob Zombie’s 2003 horror movie “House of 1000 Corpses.” (Thanks to my friend Meera Brantseg for making me Slim Whitman hip).
3. “A Man I Hardly Know,” Loretta Lynn. “A Man I Hardly Know” is an atypical effort for Loretta in that she plays the victim – after losing a love she runs into the arms of a stranger. The public rejected sinful Loretta, this self-penned number peaked at #72 on the country charts. On her next single, “Dear Uncle Sam,” the government made Loretta a widow. That Vietnam era record went Top Five.
4. “One in a Row,” Willie Nelson. “One in a Row,” a tale where Willie can’t shake his love for a cheating woman, was Nelson’s first Top 20 country hit since 1962’s “Touch Me.” The success of the single pushed the “Make Way for Willie Nelson” album into the country Top Ten. However, that wasn’t exactly winning the lottery in those day. Nelson biographer Joe Nick Patoski, “Album sales were a mere pittance from a performer’s standpoint. Unless you were someone huge like Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, or Merle Haggard, you couldn’t move enough units to get out of debt to your record label.” Meanwhile, Johnny Bush relayed the continued difficulties of executing Nelson’s vision in Nashville, “Chet (Atkins) is riding my ass over the loudspeaker in the studio: ‘The drums aren’t making it!’ All the time, I know I’m playing it the way Willie wanted the son of a bitch to be played, a bolero-type beat, a slow rumba, for country records. I knew that’s what Willie wanted.”
5. “Satisfied,” Connie Smith. Connie Smith’s fourth studio album was a gospel release titled, to avoid any confusion, “Connie Smith Sings Great Sacred Songs.” The album yielded no singles, but “Satisfied” is a Holy Ghost shouter about the pleasures of the promised land. It sounds a bit like “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” played with Pentecostal fervor. “Satisfied” was written by Kentucky born country/gospel singer Martha Carson, as a reaction to audience disapproval of her divorce from musician James Carson. Martha Carson had writing credits on two Top Ten country hits – Spade Cooley’s “A Pair of Broken Hearts” (#8, 1945) and Faron Young’s “I Can’t Wait (For the Sun to Go Down)” (#5, 1953).
6. “The Streets of Baltimore,” Bobby Bare. While Bakersfield might have the most famous streets in country music, Bobby Bare had his first Top Five country hit since 1964’s “Four Strong Winds” with the Harlan Howard/Tompall Glaser composition “The Streets of Baltimore.” On this downhearted story song, the narrator sells his Tennessee farm (uh-oh) and takes a factory job in Baltimore to make his wife happy. He soon discovers that his woman loves the bright lights of the city more than she loves him. It’s surprising that “The Streets of Baltimore” was only a hit single once, it’s been covered by Gram Parsons, Charley Pride, Nanci Griffith with John Prine, The Del McCoury Band, The Statler Brothers…you get the idea.
7. “Swinging Doors,” Merle Haggard. “Swinging Doors” was the first major hit that Merle had with an original composition, peaking at #5. After a heartbreak, Merle’s finds a new home that is fully equipped with swinging doors, a jukebox, and a barstool. Replicating Buck Owens’ Bakersfield sound, Buck’s ex-wife and Merle’s then current wife Bonnie Owens provided backing vocals on Merle’s early hits – the duo also had a minor country hit in 1964 with “Just Between the Two of Us.” Merle wasn’t starting with any scrubs in terms of musicianship – James Burton, Glen Campbell, and future Derek and the Dominos drummer Jim Gordon receive recording credits on the “Swinging Doors” album.
8. “The Bottle Let Me Down,” Merle Haggard. Merle Haggard could have made a career out of drinking songs and this #3 single was one of his best. He wasn’t shy about describing how influential Buck Owens was on his early material. Haggard, “The only person that either of us knew that had any success at all, that we knew personally, was Buck Owens. We had to kind of pattern most everything from what Buck would talk to us about.” On this song, Bonnie’s harmony drops off after “tonight the bottle” and Merle sings solo “let me down.” Merle, “The only reason for harmony is to accent… Buck always taught me that.”
9. “Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line,” Buck Owens. While country music has often taken a condescending view toward public assistance, that isn’t the (sole) point of this #1 single for Buck Owens. Texas disc jockey turned songwriter turned recording artist Nat Stuckey wrote “Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line,” in which a man waits his turn for a woman’s affection. Buck Owens and Don Rich made some adjustments to the composition, enough to take co-writing credits. This love hungry song was released during Buck’s hottest commercial streak, being the second of five consecutive #1 singles during 1966 and 1967.
10. “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” Loretta Lynn. After six years of recording, you could say that Loretta Lynn found her true voice – that no nonsense, give no quarter, colloquial/home truth attitude – with “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man),” a #2 country hit. Loretta was inspired to write the song after a woman came to see her backstage, crying because her husband was with another woman. Lynn, “I looked at that other girl and I thought, ‘My God, don’t tell me you’re going to let somebody like that take your husband away from you!’ Cause, to me, she was twice the woman that the other gal was. So I looked back at her and said, ‘Why she ain’t woman enough to take your man!’ Just like that, as soon as I said it, I knew I had a hit song.”