Country Music History – Essential Releases of 1970, Part I
Rod Stewart, The Four Tops, Run-D.M.C.
- “Able Bodied Man,” Charley Pride. Like this typist, songwriter Bill Rice was a native of Clay County, Arkansas. After meeting Southeast Missouri based performer Jerry Foster, they quickly determined that Foster’s strong suit was writing lyrics and Rice excelled in developing melodies. The duo became Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame members, penning #1 singles for Charley Pride (“Wonder Could I Live There Anymore”), Jerry Lee Lewis (“Would You Take Another Chance on Me”), Mickey Gilley (“She’s Pulling Me Back Again”), Conway Twitty (“Ain’t She Something Else”), and Mark Chesnutt (“I’ll Think of Something”). “Able Bodied Man” was the lead track to “Charley Pride’s 10th Album.” The track confirms that Nashville songwriters were studying Merle Haggard’s body of work pretty thoroughly, even back in 1970.
- “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Loretta Lynn. Loretta Lynn on her signature song, one that inspired the title of her autobiography and a motion picture about her life, “Every word is true. My daddy would work all night in the coal mine. During the day he would work in the cornfields. There were ten of us. He had to make a living for us. Eight kids. I was second, so I would take care of the kids while Mommy did the sewing and the cleaning and everything else. I think that’s why I sing. I’d rock the babies to sleep and sing to them.” She had to cut the original lyrics down from ten verses and developed the arrangement with assistance from her husband, Oliver “Doo” Lynn, who recommended using a banjo. The moving tale about her family’s hardships and love gave Loretta a depth as a writer and performer that she had never exhibited during her cartoon woman fighting phase.
- “Fancy,” Bobbie Gentry. Like Jeannie C. Riley, Lynn Anderson, and a later generation’s Deana Carter, Bobbie Gentry had more than one hit, but is only known by casual fans for one smash single. After “Ode to Billie Joe,” Gentry had two Top Twenty duets with Glen Campbell, then had her final country and pop hit with “Fancy” in 1970. Gentry, discussing her composition in 1974, “’Fancy’ is my strongest statement for women’s lib, if you really listen to it. I agree wholeheartedly with that movement and all the serious issues that they stand for — equality, equal pay, day care centers, and abortion rights.” In the song, the narrator becomes a courtesan (read: high class hooker) to escape poverty and live among the wealthiest class of society. Reba McEntire spread her…artistic wings in 1991 for a Top Ten cover hit. Gentry left the entertainment industry and the public eye after the 1970s. It was reported in 2016 that she currently lives approximately two hours away from the Tallahatchie River bridge that she made famous in her song “Ode to Billie Joe.”
- “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” Merle Haggard. There was a clear drop in depth and breadth of quality in country music of the early 1970s as compared to the late 1960s. Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, and Merle Haggard were releasing less quality material and the pen of Glen Campbell’s top songwriter Jimmy Webb went prematurely dry. Haggard followed “Okie from Muskogee” with another patriotic/hawkish/jingoistic/right wing statement with “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” a love it or leave it anthem. It’s been reported that Haggard was pressured by his record company to right another song in the spirit of “Okie,” with both blood boilers topping the country charts. The song and stance stuck with Bob Dylan for decades. Zimmy in 2015, “Merle had that song out called ‘Fighting Side of Me’ and I’d seen an interview with him where he was going on about hippies and Dylan and the counter culture, and it kind of stuck in my mind and hurt, lumping me in with everything he didn’t like.”
- “Fifteen Years Ago,” Conway Twitty. Kentucky native Ray Smith was a rockabilly artist who recorded for Sun Records in the 1950s and scored a Top 40 hit in 1960 with the “Buffalo Gals” inspired “Pretty Little Angel.” Smith wrote “Fifteen Years Ago,” a 1970 #1 Conway Twitty hit about a long married man who just can’t get his first cut was the deepest love out of his system. The song has been covered by John Prine and inspired the Sheb Wooley/Ben Colder novelty number “Fifteen Beers Ago.” Smith also wrote Twitty’s 1973 #1 single “She Needs Someone to Hold Her (When She Cries)” and, for reasons that remain a mystery, committed suicide in 1979 at the age of 45.
- “For the Good Times,” Ray Price. Austin based writer Michael Corcoran, “If George Jones was the Frank Sinatra of country music, Ray Price was its Tony Bennett.” Nowhere is that comparison more valid than on the Kris Kristofferson it’s-better-to-have-loved-and-lost number “For the Good Times,” with a theme similar to “The Dance” by Garth Brooks. A #1 country hit and a #11 pop single, “For the Good Times” gave Price a new audience, expanding his sound from his standard shuffle to sweeping orchestra countrypolitan music. Price never lost his sense of humor, later in life telling reporters that the working title for his never published memoirs was “For the Good Times…My Ass!” Still, he was completely comfortable with his buttoned up image, ““Listen, I don’t sing about drinkin’ and fightin’ and cheatin’ and all that. The only thing I’ve ever done is sing my kind of song for my kind of people.”
- “Hello Darlin’,” Conway Twitty. Conway Twitty penned his signature hit way back in 1960, many years before he was a country artist. After becoming a star, he went back through his homemade cassette tape recordings and found gold. It was producer Owen Bradley who suggested to Conway to speak the opening line instead of singing it. Like his other 1970 #1 single “Fifteen Years Ago,” “Hello Darlin’” is another lyric about being unable to emotionally shake a former love. The spoken word intro of the title phrase became a common joke/reference in popular culture and Twitty has been introduced to a new generation of bemused fans through Seth MacFarlane’s frequent references to the country legend in his animated television series “Family Guy.”
- “If I Were a Carpenter,” Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Songwriter Tim Hardin’s life was defined just as much by his drug addiction as it was his music. The Oregon native worked the Greenwich Village folk scene during the early 1960s and recorded his debut album in 1966. He is best known for writing “Reason to Believe,” which Rod Steward included on his classic 1971 album “Every Picture Tells a Story,” and “If I Were a Carpenter.” “If I Were a Carpenter,” a song wondering whether a true love could endure even if the couple belonged to distinctly different social classes, was a Top Ten pop hit for Bobby Darin in 1966. The Four Tops had an R&B hit with “Carpenter” in 1968 and Johnny and June Carter Cash had their biggest hit as a duet team with the song in 1970, a #2 country/#36 pop entry. Tim Hardin sold the rights to his music in the late 1970s and died of a heroin overdose in 1980 at the age of 39.
- “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone?,” Charley Pride. Songwriter Dave Kirby was an Albuquerque based disc jockey and guitar player who was encouraged by Willie Nelson and Hank Cochran to move to Nashville. Working with lyricist Glenn Martin, “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone?” was written three years before it was recorded, inspired by a musician leaving a Nashville recording studio and asking that question. This looking for dry land to recover from a lost love tale was a #1 hit for Pride and was later closely associated with Tex Mex musical mad scientist Doug Sahm. Kirby’s would later have writing credits on the 1978 #8 Johnny Cash/Waylon Jennings hit “There Ain’t No Good Chain Gang” and the 1985 #5 Gene Watson release “Memories to Burn.” He was married to country singer/former Merle Haggard wife Leona Williams from 1985 until his death in 2004.
- “Joanne,” Michael Nesmith & the First National Band. After leaving the Monkees, Michael Nesmith recorded a series of cosmic country rock albums during the 1970s, with the most successful being the 1970 “Magnetic South” album. He had his only pop success as a solo artist with the melancholy ballad “Joanne,” where Nesmith croons like a wounded man with a Slim Whitman fetish. Nesmith’s biggest hit on the country charts came as the co-writer for Lynn Anderson’s 1975 #14 hit “I’ve Never Loved Anyone More.” His made his last appearance on the U.S. pop charts in 1988 when the rap group Run-D.M.C. covered “Mary, Mary,” which was first released by The Butterfield Blues Band and later by The Monkees.
- “Just Someone I Used to Know,” Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. It’s pretty jarring to hear a trumpet intro on a Wagoner/Parton heartbreak tune, but that’s how the traditional weeper “Just Someone I Used to Know” begins. It’s a tale penned by Jack Clement about a lost love, the narrators can’t even bear to remove a picture of the couple together from their wallet. A strong example of Porter and Dolly’s harmony singing style, this singled peaked at #5 on the country charts. The duo scored fourteen Top Ten hits in total with their only #1 being 1974’s “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me.” Interestingly, “Please Don’t Stop Loving Me” was written by Wagoner and Parton and was released three months after Dolly announced her split from her famous mentor.