Two dozen top-tier mid-to-late 60s country hits that crossed over to the Hot 100.
Since the 1950s country music has always produced records that have crossed over into the mainstream. The emergence of the Nashville Sound in 1957 made it much easier for country artists to get pop radio play, with records that eschewed the fiddles and steel guitar of traditional country in favour of sweeter – many would say more homogenised – musical values. The end of the 50s regularly found country on the Hot 100 alongside pop, jazz, R&B and rock’n’roll, with artists such as Jim Reeves and Skeeter Davis finding their fanbases widening as a result. The big crossover country hits of that era have been extensively anthologised in Ace’s “Golden Age Of American Rock’n’Roll” and “Golden Age Of American Popular Music” series. This “Special Country Edition” in our “Chartbusters USA” series moves the timeframe to the mid and late 1960s when every genre of music was evolving rapidly, and features some of the biggest crossover hits of the era.
The mysterious way in which Billboard went about gathering their chart information during those years has led to a few notable omissions. It’s hard to believe, for example, that superstar Loretta Lynn didn’t sell enough copies in pop markets of some of her biggest country hits to achieve at least a small measure of Hot 100 action before 1970, or that her long-time singing partner Conway Twitty never crossed over with even one of his string of late 60s country hits. Did pop people just decide they were not buying country music, or is it an example of Billboard moving the goalposts of the way they collected chart data? We will never know.
Whatever, if you have even a passing interest in country music you will surely know ‘Okie From Muskogee’ by Merle Haggard, ‘I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail’ by Buck Owens and Jeannie C Riley’s ‘Harper Valley PTA’. And this collection, being an Ace collection, is about much more than merely the obvious hits. Thus you also get to enjoy a Tammy Wynette #1 that isn’t ‘Stand By Your Man’ or ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’, and rather than reissue Roger Miller’s ‘King Of The Road’ for the umpteenth time, we’ve selected his earlier Top 10 hit ‘Chug-A-Lug’. Among the other less-revived treats are the feisty ‘Mr Walker, It’s All Over’, the biggest of nine hits Billie Jo Spears racked up prior to ‘Blanket On The Ground’; Johnny Cash’s (possibly unconscious) homage to Bob Dylan, ‘Understand Your Man’; and ‘Six White Horses’, a country/folk spin on ‘Abraham, Martin And John’ that gave Johnny’s brother Tommy the biggest hit of his career. From the debut hit by 14 year-old Hank Williams Jr, who went on to become one of the biggest country artists of the 1980s, to Jim Reeves’ posthumous smash ‘Distant Drums’, it’s all good. And more to the point, it’s all country.