Country Music History – Essential Releases of 1978, Part 2
Country Music History, Essential Releases of 1978, Part II
The Sugarhill Gang, Sonny Boy Williamson, and The Swingin’ Kornflake Killers.
1. “Rose Colored Glasses,” John Conlee. John Conlee sounded exactly like what he was – someone who had grown up on a Kentucky tobacco farm and found himself in a recording studio. Despite his gruff voice, he had a successful run on the country charts with twenty-seven Top 40 hits between 1978 and 1987, including seven #1 singles. “Rose Colored Glasses” was his first hit and no singer has battled more valiantly against an overbearing wall of strings. It’s a classic country weeper about a man lacking the emotional wherewithal to view a relationship in its current reality.
2. “Soft Lights and Hard Country Music,” Moe Bandy. Moe Bandy was somewhat like Bobby Bare, in that both men consistently released quality material, yet seldom, if ever, hit you with a knockout punch. “Soft Lights and Hard Country Music” was the last Top 40 number penned for Bandy by Sanger Shafer, who was responsible for most of his early hits. On this #13 single, Bandy nurses a heartbreak with a cold beer and finds a new woman who is also no stranger to pain.
3. “Take This Job and Shove It,” Johnny Paycheck. The David Allen Coe composition“Take This Job and Shove It” struck a nerve with working class country music fans, expressing the frustrations of dead end jobs and oppressive work environments. Paycheck’s dream of telling off the boss is laced with venom and suppressed pride, verbalizing a sentiment that probably everyone has felt during their life. The title inspired a 1981 film by the same name, a book and management series altered to (yeesh) “Take This Job and Love It,” and, most likely, countless resignations delivered with a sense of delighted smug satisfaction. Paycheck’s life spun out of control during the 1980s and he spent two years in prison from 1989 to 1991. He toured through the 1990s and passed away in 2003 at the age of 64. As he noted in grammatically incorrect fashion in 1987, he grew old too fast and smart too slow.
4. “To Daddy,” Emmylou Harris. Dolly Parton wrote “To Daddy,” reportedly inspired by the relationship of her parents, most specifically about the lack of affection that her father showed her mother. In the song, unlike real life, the long suffering woman left her spouse. Giving the song to Emmylou Harris also created tension with another male figure in Parton’s life. “As a writer, I wanted her to have it, because I wanted to have some of my songs recorded by a big artist, and she was really coming along. But Porter, that was one of the biggest fights we ever had because he was mad and thought I had made a horrible mistake. But when she recorded it and had a No. 1 song, I was so proud that I had let her have it.” (Note, “To Daddy” actually peaked at #3 on the American country charts).
5. “Two Doors Down,” Dolly Parton. While Dolly was tearing up the pop charts with her version of “Here You Come Again,” RCA recording artist Zella Lehr had a Top Ten country hit with “Two Doors Down,” releasing the song as a single before Dolly could. (Lehr came from an entertainment family and her skills included riding a unicycle and bullwhip stunts). Dolly recorded a new version of “Two Doors Down” after the album was released, targeting the song toward the pop market and creating the need to re-release the “Here You Come Again” album with the new recording. Dolly’s tale about going to a party and finding a new man to overcome her blues was accepted by both of her audiences, topping the country charts and making the Top Twenty as a pop single.
6. “Two More Bottles of Wine,” Emmylou Harris. Delbert McClinton cut his teeth as a member of The Straitjackets, the house band at Jack’s Place, a Fort Worth blues club on what was then the infamous Jacksboro Highway. The Straitjackets supported touring blues artists, to include Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Reed, and Big Joe Turner. During the early 1960s, he played harmonica on Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby!” and gave a young John Lennon a few tips on that instrument. McClinton was recording blues oriented material during the 1970s, with no commercial success. His first major hit came as the writer of “Two More Bottles of Wine,” a #1 single for Emmylou Harris and one of her signature songs. Being stranded in Los Angeles doesn’t bother the narrator, because she has the right medicine to make it through the night. A pretty funky number for 1970s commercial country music.
7. “The Way it Was in ’51,” Merle Haggard. This song serves as the title track of the second album that Capitol Records released after Haggard signed with MCA. Commercially, this 1978 release got lost in the shuffle, a shame since this is a flawless slice of Hank and Lefty inspired nostalgia. Or, in Merle’s words, 1951 was a big year for a “drive-in rest’rant carhop.” Also, check out the 1978 album cut “The Immigrant,” a song that juxtaposes the mansions of American ranchers versus the difficulties of the Mexican immigrants who perform the labor. This could have never been a hit due to the subject matter, but it certainly sounds like one. Viva La Mexico!
8. “We Live a Long Time to Get Old,” Jimmy Murphy. We first met Alabama born bricklayer/blues enthusiast/rockabilly artist Jimmy Murphy way back in 1951 with his religiously themed “Electricity.” At the age of 53, Murphy recorded an album titled “Electicity” for Sugar Hill Records in 1978 (at one time there were two record labels named “Sugar Hill,” one specialized in Americana music and the other specialized in hop hop – ergo “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang). “We Live a Long Time to Get Old” is an argument to celebrate old age, rather than be depressed by the process. Or, it’s a pro-death tune. The aging Murphy passed away three years after this album was released. Robbie Fulks, Appalachia’s least reverent revivalist, covered the song in 2001.
9. “Whiskey Trip,” Gary Stewart. Stewart had his last Top Twenty hit in 1978 with “Whiskey Trip,” a composition that has elements of Jimmy Buffett’s beach and water vibe that is so popular in modern country music, yet is still imbued with sorrow. Written by Wayne Carson and Donn Tankersley, “Whiskey Trip” an example of the career arc of an artist impacting commercial success. If this tale of sipping the good stuff as a viable substitute for a woman’s love had been released a few years earlier, it would have been a much bigger hit. Proof that Stewart will never be forgotten in Texas – the 2007 cover version by T. Tex Edwards & The Swingin’ Kornflake Killers.
10. “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty. “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly” was originally released by songwriters L.E. White and Lola Jean Dixon in 1977 (The Coal Miner’s Daughter sounds absolutely cosmopolitan in comparison to Lola Jean) and became part of a double sided hit for Loretta and Conway in 1978. The original is more mean spirited including the line “It kinda hurt my feelings when that man offered you a banana at the zoo” and Lola’s hyena laughs. In Loretta and Conway’s version, you know the couple love each other, despite their aesthetic limitations. So, here’s a key reason why some country artists are superstars – they understand their audience.