Country Music History – Essential Releases of 1977, Part I
East Bound and down, loaded up and truckin’.
1. “9,999,999 Tears,” Dickey Lee. Memphis native Royden Dickey Lipscomb first recorded for Sun Records in the late 1950s and became a successful songwriter and performer in 1962, penning “She Thinks I Still Care” for George Jones and hitting the Top Ten on the pop charts with the Barry Mann/Larry Kolber teen tragedy number “Patches.” (Note – that’s a different song than the 1970 Clarence Carter pop and R&B hit). Lee had middling pop success during the 1960s and had his first major country hit in 1971 with a cover of Delaney & Bonnie’s “Never Ending Song of Love.” He topped the country charts in 1975 with his version of the melodramatic lost love song “Rocky,” which was also a Top Ten pop hit for Austin Roberts. Penned and first released by Razzy Bailey, who would become a major country star in the early 1980s, “9,999,999 Tears” was Lee’s last major country hit and was nicely covered on the 2013 Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison album “Cheater’s Game.” Lee continued to have songwriting credits during the 1980s and 1990s on major hits by Reba McEntire, John Schneider, Doug Stone, and Tracy Byrd.
2. “East Bound and Down,” Jerry Reed. The 1977 film “Smokey and the Bandit” was a scenery chewing comedy ostensibly about bootlegging with Burt Reynolds and Sally Field cast as romantic lead roles. Originally slated as a low budget moving starring Jerry Reed, Reed kept his role after his friend Reynolds agreed to star in the film, turning the picture from an anticipated B-movie into a box office smash. “East Bound and Down” is a banjo hooked storyline summary that went to #2 on the country charts and its outlaw spirit continues to inspire truck drivers, hell raisers, beer drinkers, and various combinations thereof. During this timefame, Reed became just as well known as a television and film actor as he was as a musician.
3. “Heard It in a Love Song,” The Marshall Tucker Band. The Southern rock act The Marshall Tucker Band charted six gold and platinum albums during the 1970s. They only had two Top 40 hits (this single and 1975’s “Fire on the Mountain”), but their material has often been covered by country acts. Waylon Jennings, Alabama, and the Zac Brown Band have all done versions of “Can’t You See” and Mark Chesnutt recorded “Heard It in a Love Song,” the band’s highest charting effort. Musically, “Heard It in a Love Song” is an easy rolling country rock effort with the flute and piano solos taking priority over the guitar break. Lyrical theme – I love you, babe, but you ain’t the road.
4. “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away,” The Kendalls. The Kendalls were a father/ daughter country duo from St. Louis, Missouri; they started performing in 1969 and released a series of singles and two albums on independent labels in the early 70s. “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away” was their breakthrough hit, contrasting the heaven of physical pleasure with the devil inspired sin of cheating. The twang heavy sound and the conflicted lyrics worked as a moral dilemma and also as somewhat of a spoof of the form. The Kendalls would wrap up their career with over twenty Top 40 country hits, including three #1 singles. Kelly Willis had a minor country hit with her cover of “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away” in 1993. Songwriter Jerry Gillispie also had writing credits on #1 singles for The Bellamy Brothers (“Do You Love as Good as You Look”) and Terri Gibbs (“Somebody’s Knockin’”).
5. “Here You Come Again,” Dolly Parton. The songwriter duo of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil are perhaps best known for their 1960’ s compositions such as “Kicks” by Paul Revere & The Raiders, “Walking in the Rain” by The Ronettes, “We Gotta Get out of This Place” by The Animals, and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” by The Righteous Brothers. “Here You Come Again” was written as a potential comeback hit for Brenda Lee in 1975, but she passed on it. B.J. Thomas, who had a hit with the Mann/ Weil composition “Rock and Roll Lullaby” in 1972, recorded “Here You Come Again” in 1977, but it wasn’t released as a single. After a decade of success on the country charts, this song gave Dolly her first major crossover pop hit (peaking at #3 on the Hot 100) and she would soon become translate her music success into starring film roles. Not one to be underestimated, Dolly Parton mastered both the Nashville and Hollywood good old boy networks during the ‘70s.
6. “I Can’t Love You Enough,” Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn. After starting their duo career with five successive #1 singles, Conway and Loretta never went back to #1 after 1975’s “Feelins’” (not a cover of the godawful Morris Albert pop hit), but all their singles from 1976 to 1981 went Top Ten. “I Can’t Love You Enough” was penned by Nashville Hall of Fame Songwriters Max Barnes and Troy Seals (the brother of Jim Seals of Seals and Croft and Dan Seals of England Dan & John Ford Coley) and is a Music City meets Las Vegas country funk number about Conway and Loretta’s burning love and lust for each other. Best self-referential lyric, Loretta’s sexual “bum bum bum” nod to Conway’s “You’ve Never Been This Far Before.”
7. “If We’re Not Back in Love by Monday,” Merle Haggard. “If We’re Not Back in Love by Monday” was a hit on both the country and R& B charts in 1977. Merle Haggard took his reading to #2 on the country charts and Millie Jackson had a #5 R& B hit. The song is about a couple on the rocks who propose spending one more weekend together to determine whether they should stay together. Millie’s version has a quiet storm, jazz infused quality with vocals reminiscent of Gladys Knight’s soul ballad style. Haggard’s spare arrangement leads with a steel guitar, a sound that was not at the forefront of mid-1970’s country music. Haggard’s popularity backtracked slightly during the latter part of the 1970s, as he didn’t score a #1 single from 1977 until 1980.
8. “I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised),” Johnny Paycheck. Paycheck’s career was somewhat stalled during the mid-1970s, but the outlaw country movement provided a more natural outlet for his outsider attitude. His 1977 album “Slide Off Your Satin Sheets” was a comeback record with the title track and “I’m the Only Hell” both hitting the Top Ten, setting the table for the 1978 #1 smash single “Take This Job and Shove It.” “I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)” is an update of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” – not quite as good as that classic, but much more humorous. One of the co-writers was Bobby Borchers, who scored his own Top Ten hit with the Sterling Whipple composition “Cheap Perfume and Candelight.” I mention this primarily because Borchers had one of the more impressive white man Afros of that era.
9. “Let Your Love Flow,” Bellamy Brothers. The Bellamy Brothers were raised in Darda, Florida by a father who performed weekend gigs in Western swing bands. They had their first taste of commercial success with David Bellamy’s songwriting credit on Jim Stafford’s 1974 #3 hit “Spiders and Snakes.” “Let Your Love Flow” was written by Larry Williams, who worked as a roadie for Neil Diamond (Diamond passed on the song) and had the easy going country rock sing along feel that was so popular during the ‘70s. The brothers had limited pop success after this #1 hit (it only went to #21 on the country charts), but scored twenty-five Top Ten country hits between 1979 and 1990.
10. “Luckenbach, Texas,” Waylon Jennings. Jerry Jeff Walker put the almost nonexistent Texas Hill Country town of Luckenbach on the map; Waylon Jennings immortalized it. The song name checks Hank Williams, Mickey Newbury, Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, and the man singing the tune. Theme – just say no to dress clothes and city life. “Luckenbach” was penned by producer Chips Moman and session musician/songwriter Bobby Emmons who had performed on the classic “From Elvis in Memphis” and “Dusty in Memphis” albums in the late 1960s.
11. “Middled Aged Crazy,” Jerry Lee Lewis. While Jerry Lee’s commercial status dimmed somewhat during the late 1970s, he still had six Top Ten country hits between 1976 and 1981. In terms of his persona, nothing fit better than “Middle Aged Crazy,” where Jerry battles a tsunami of strings to describe a forty-year-old man who wants to taste the wild life again. Jerry Lee’s last two Top Five country hits were variations of this theme, as he went to #4 in 1981 with “Thirty Nine and Holding.” Baby boomers – the first generation of Americans whose stated goal was to be eternal teenagers.