Country Music History – Essential Releases of 1969, Part I
1969 was so epic that we will have three different sections to cover all the country goodness. Part I includes a hidden wedding ring, a shotgun marriage, and a boy named Sue.
1. “Across the Alley from the Alamo,” Bob Wills. Bob Wills career as a touring performer ended in 1969, he suffered a major stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body. His recording of “Across the Alley from the Alamo” is a testament to his towering influence in Western swing; the song had been considered a jazz and pop tune, originally performed by songwriter Joe Greene in 1947. Wills was almost two decades removed from being a major star in 1969, but his cover of this pinto pony/Navajo/Hi-De-Ho novelty number eventually made the tune a standard in his genre. It’s since been recorded by Asleep at the Wheel, The Pine Valley Cosmonauts, The Quebe Sisters, and Riders in the Sky. Note the absence of “Playboys” in the billing, Wills was recording with Nashville studio musicians at the time.
2. “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me),” Charley Pride. Charley Pride became the third African-American to have a #1 country single when “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me”) topped the charts – Nat King Cole and Louis Jordan scored #1 country hits in 1944, when the classification of country music was still somewhat ill defined. This ballad about a poor working man who hopes his love will overcome the need for materialism was written by Dallas Frazier and frequent songwriting partner A.L. “Doodle” Owens. This is a nice slice of country traditionalism in the era before Pride turned almost exclusively to sentimental (read sappy) love songs. It’s easy to forget what a massive star Pride was, this was the first of his 29 #1 country singles.
3. “A Boy Named Sue,” Johnny Cash. It’s difficult to imagine anyone who was more successful than Shel Silverstein in a broad range of creative writing fields. Silverstein is widely known for his successful children’s books/poetry collections (“Where the Sidewalk Ends,” “A Light in the Attic”). He was a Golden Globe and Academy Award nominee for his work in television and films, and also worked as a cartoonist, singer, and songwriter. Silverstein had his first major hit as a songwriter with “The Unicorn,” a Top Ten pop single for The Irish Rovers in 1968. Johnny Cash took his prison gig tour west from Folsom to San Quentin in 1969, recording the humorous story song “A Boy Named Sue” in the process. Cash barely knew the tale of the mislabeled lad who hated his deadbeat dad, he performed the song with a lyric sheet. The tough love number was The Man in Black’s biggest pop hit, peaking at #2. Silverstein wrote the Dr. Hook hits “Sylvia’s Mother” and “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” in the 1970s, as well as Bobby Bare’s 1974 #1 country release “Marie Laveau.”
4. “Bring Me Sunshine,” Willie Nelson. “Bring Me Sunshine” is an example of Nelson wrenching a jazz influence into commercial country music. This finger snapping number was penned by Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee, the same duo who wrote the Skeeter Davis classic “The End of the World.” “Bring Me Sunshine” was first recorded by The Mills Brothers in 1968 and became the signature song of the U.K. sketch comedy duo (Eric) Morecambe and (Ernie) Wise. While it sounds like big band crooner material, Nelson had one of his biggest hits of the 1960s with his cover, peaking at #13 on the country charts. A remixed version of the song was the lead track on the disturbingly titled 2009 album “Naked Willie.” Willie wouldn’t have a more successful single until 1975’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
5. “California Blues (Blue Yodel No. 4),” Merle Haggard. Haggard released four albums in 1969, one of which was his double-LP tribute to Jimmie Rodgers titled “Same Train, A Different Time.” That set included his cover of “California Blues,” which was also included on his 1969 “Pride in What I Am” album. The lyrical theme of the penniless railroad traveler leaving a woman for theoretical freedom fit well with Haggard’s hard living image. Here’s how hot commercially Haggard was in this era – his double LP set of cover songs with no released singles went to #1 on the country album charts.
6. “The Carroll County Accident,” Porter Wagoner. One time Tennessee Game and Fish Commission employee Bob Ferguson wrote two distinctly different major hits in his career – Ferlin Husky’s spiritually themed “On the Wings of a Dove” and the love affair/car wreck tragedy “The Carroll County Accident.” The latter song is narrated from a son’s point of view about losing his father in an automobile accident, while the old man was involved in some extramarital activity and hiding his wedding ring. Bob Ferguson on his road trip inspiration, “I was driving pretty fast as I came out of Nashville and into Carroll County, Tennessee. I thought, ‘If I don’t slow down, I’m going to be the Carroll County accident’ and then I thought, ‘Boy, that sounds like a song if I can figure it out.’” He then went on to do some mighty fine figuring.
7. “Cotton Fields,” Creedence Clearwater Revival. “Cotton Fields” was written by Lead Belly and he released his version of the Louisiana/Texarkana geographically inaccurate cradle rocker in 1940. Odetta (Holmes) brought the song into the world of folk music in 1954 and it was covered by everyone with access to a microphone in the 1960s, to include Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, The Staple Singers, Lou Rawls, The Carter Family, The Beach Boys, etc. Creedence brought Fogerty’s denim and flannel Americana sound to the cotton picking anthem. Both “Cotton Fields” and the Lead Belly popularized “The Midnight Special” were included on the 1969 album “Willy and the Poor Boys,” the third long player that Creedence released in 1969.
8. “Daddy Sang Bass,” Johnny Cash. Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash both struggled with addiction during the 1960s, Perkins with the bottle and Cash with amphetamines. Perkins found inspiration in Cash’s attempt to become sober and underwent a spiritual transformation. Perkins wrote “Daddy Sang Bass” for Cash with the line “me and little brother would join right in there” being a reference to Johnny’s sibling Jack, who died at the age of fifteen. Don Reid and Lee DeWitt of The Statler Brothers provided backing vocals on this spiritually themed #1 country hit. Cash, “Carl Perkins was really looking inside my head when he wrote ‘Daddy Sang Bass.’ He knew the song would be as much a part of me as it would if I had written it.”
9. “Darling, You Know I Wouldn’t Lie,” Conway Twitty. “Darling, You Know I Wouldn’t Lie,” a song about a cheating man who is declaring that he has ended an affair, was a #2 country hit for Conway. You know Conway wouldn’t lie. The check’s in the mail. Open wide, this won’t hurt a bit. This is-the-liar-lying tune was penned by Wayne Kemp and Red Lane. Songwriter Lane was enlisted in the Air Force in the late 1950s, was homeless for a spell, got a job working for Justin Tubb, and wound up in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Later in life, the former airplane mechanic bought a DC-8 and converted it into his home.
10. “Don’t Cry Daddy,” Elvis Presley. If you are like me, you may experience a slight twinge of nausea just reading the name Mac Davis, the unctuous ‘70s singer/songwriter who often forgot his shirt when it came time to pose for album covers. Still, the Lubbock native penned or co-wrote the Elvis hits “A Little Less Conversation,” “In the Ghetto,” and 1969 #13 country/#6 pop hit “Don’t Cry Daddy.” A sentimental number about a father dealing with the loss of his wife, “Don’t Cry Daddy” could have been unlistenable with the wrong vocalist. However, Elvis could croon and mourn as well as he rocked and rolled. According to Davis, Presley wanted to record the song because it reminded him of his own beloved mother, Gladys, who passed away in 1958 at the age of 46.
11. “Galveston,” Glen Campbell. Songwriter Jimmy Webb is most closely associated with Glen Campbell, but was riding an incredible hot streak in the late 1960s, composing “Up, Up and Away” for The 5th Dimension, the cake melting “MacArthur Park” for Richard Harris, “Worst That Could Happen” by The Brooklyn Bridge, and the Frank Sinatra album cut “Didn’t We?” Romantic notions of the Texas Gulf Coast inspired the anti-war hit “Galveston,” where the narrator fears for his life and misses his significant other. Webb envisioned a different arrangement for this #1 country/#4 pop hit. “I play it for the audience the way I wrote it, which is kind of elegiac and more subdued than Glen’s rip-roaring, uptempo version.”
12. “The Girl Most Likely,” Jeannie C. Riley. Margaret Lewis Warwick was a West Texas rockabilly fan who performed with Dale Hawkins in the late 1950s. Mira Ann Smith was based in Shreveport, Louisiana, where she wrote songs and owned a regional record label (Ram Records). The two women became songwriting partners and their legacy includes “Reconsider Me,” David Houston’s “Mountain of Love,” and this #6 country hit for Jeannie C. Riley. On “The Girl Most Likely,” the well-endowed narrator is labelled as the town slut, but gets the last laugh when the local doctor’s son knocks up the snobby Suzie Jane Grout. Riley’s time in the spotlight was relatively short, she had her last Top 40 country hits in 1972 and later recorded gospel themed material.