100 Greatest Women, #64: Billie Jo Spears

100 Greatest Women

#64

Billie Jo Spears

Her star may not have shone as bright as some of her contemporaries in the seventies, but Billie Jo Spears earned a dedicated following both in the United States and Europe with her bluesy vocals and sharp material.

She started young, a mere teenager when she released her first single on independent label Abbott Records, “Too Old For Toys, Too Young For Boys.” A high school diploma and a few demos later, she was in the big leagues, signing with United Artists in 1964.

While she floundered for most of the sixties on that label, watching her singles go nowhere, a move to Capitol records led to her first big hit. Sung from the perspective of a country girl who gets more than she bargained for as a secretary in New York, “Mr. Walker, It’s All Over” was something of a working girl’s anthem, a slightly seedier spin on Norma Jean’s “Heaven Help the Working Girl.”

While that song was a breakthrough hit, it didn’t start a trend, and her subsequent singles for Capitol didn’t match the promise of “Mr. Walker.” Her career was further slowed down by the need for vocal cord surgery, which could have ended her run for good. Fortunately, a full recovery gave her a second chance, and she returned to United Artists in 1974.

Her first single after returning to the label would become her biggest hit. “Blanket on the Ground,” a sexy song about a married couple having some fun under the moonlight, became her first and only #1 country single in 1975. Better yet, it crossed over to the pop charts in England, establishing a following for her there stronger than in her home country. When she had another top ten country hit in 1976, “What I’ve Got in Mind,” it went top five on the pop chart in England.

Spears remained a presence on the country charts for the rest of the decade. Her cover of the Gloria Gaynor disco smash “I Will Survive” just missed the top twenty, but it earned Spears her only Grammy nomination to date. In 1980, she had her final hit “Standing Tall”, an appropriate swan song that Lorrie Morgan would later revive in the nineties.

While big stardom eluded her in America, Spears remained one of the most popular country artists in England, where she was once dubbed “The Queen Mother of Country Music.” Fans interested in her work have only budget collections to choose from stateside, but she’s the subject of some exquisite retrospectives overseas. The two-disc, 48-track Ultimate Collection is highly recommended.

Billie Jo Spears

Essential Singles

  • “Mr. Walker, It’s All Over,” 1969
  • “Blanket on the Ground,” 1975
  • “What I’ve Got in Mind,” 1976
  • “Misty Blue,” 1976
  • “I Will Survive,” 1979

Essential Albums

  • Mr. Walker, It’s All Over (1969)
  • Blanket on the Ground (1975)
  • What Ive Got in Mind (1976)

==> #63. Rhonda Vincent

<== #65. Suzy Bogguss

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3 Comments

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3 Responses to 100 Greatest Women, #64: Billie Jo Spears

  1. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    I’ve seen her perform live several time, although none more recently than 1977. She had a forceful delivery that just seemed to deliver the goods on songs others would not be able to put across. I think her voice probably sounded “too country” for most country radio programmers of the 1980s so she fell off the playlists

  2. She’s a sentimental favorite of mine, only because “Blanket on the Ground” was my parent’s song. They didn’t have a wedding song, but it came out the year they married and just became their song.

  3. GailNo Gravatar

    She and Johnny Paycheck, and Lefty Frizzell brought the true and best soulful sound of country music to us, and I’m very greatful for their fantastic contributions.
    Thank you Ms. Billie Jo Spears. Love your work!