100 Greatest Women, #23: Crystal Gayle

http://www.countryuniverse.net/100-greatest-women/”>100 Greatest Women


Crystal Gayle

She had an older sister that was already a country legend by the time she was ready to pursue her musical dream, but Crystal Gayle followed big sister Loretta Lynn’s advice to form her own distinctive style, and she ended up an enormous star in her own right.

Loretta had already married and moved to Washington when Brenda Gail Webb was born. When Brenda was only four, the family moved to Indiana, a good distance away from the Butcher Holler home of her older sister. When Loretta became a star, young Brenda was inspired to follow in her footsteps. She learned guitar, taught herself folk songs and went out on the road with Loretta during her summer breaks from school.

Upon graduation, she signed with Decca Records. They already had Brenda Lee on their label, so they asked Brenda Gail to change her name. Her fondness for Krystal Hamburgers led to her stage name, Crystal Gayle. Loretta wrote her first single “I’ve Cried the Blue (Right Out of My Eyes),” and Gayle performed it in a similar style to hers as well. The song was a modest hit, but future singles fared poorly. The label insisted that Gayle sing like her older sister, which pigeonholed her as an artist.

Frustrated, she received good advice from Loretta, who told her she wouldn’t make a name for herself unless she created her own style. Gayle exited Decca and signed with United Artists, where she began to find her own voice. Working with producer Allen Reynolds, she developed a smooth singing style with a pop flavor. By 1976, it was paying dividends. She scored two #1 hits that year, “I’ll Get Over You” and “You Never Miss a Real Good Thing (Till He Says Goodbye),” and was named the ACM Most Promising Female Vocalist.

The following year, she recorded her signature song, “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” The gold-selling single topped the country charts for four weeks, crossed over to pop and won her a Grammy. The accompanying album, We Must Believe in Magic, was the first female country album to be certified platinum. Her label took the unconventional step of going back to her previous album, 1976’s Crystal, to follow up the mega-hit, resulting in another chart-topper, “Ready For the Times to Get Better”, which Gayle still cites as one of her favorite songs she’s ever recorded.

Thus began a hit run that would go on for more than a decade, and make Gayle a major presence on the adult contemporary charts as well. For three consecutive years, she was nominated for ACM Single of the Year, for “Brown Eyes,” “Talking in Your Sleep” and “Half the Way.” Her albums regularly went gold, and she dominated the Female Vocalist races, winning the CMA twice and the ACM three times.

One of the reasons that she was so successful was that she didn’t release sound-alike singles. She experimented with different sounds and themes, making her an unpredictable artist. For example, in 1982, her collaboration with Eddie Rabbitt “You and I” was a crossover pop smash, but she followed it with a tender cover of the Rodney Crowell composition “Till I Gain Control Again,” which had been previously cut by Emmylou Harris.

By the time her hit run slowed down, she had accumulated an astonishing eighteen No.1 hits, two more than her older sister had under her belt, and fourth among all women in country music history, behind Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire and Tammy Wynette. She was famous enough to command her own network special, guest starred on shows ranging from Another World to Sesame Street, and became nearly as widely known for her floor-length hair as for her deep catalog of hits.

In recent years, Gayle has continued to tour and record, and has remained eclectic in her endeavors. The nineties and beyond have brought two live albums, a gospel album, a children’s album, a standards collection, and a tribute to Hoagy Carmichael. She recently received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and she operates her own specialty store in Nashville, Crystal’s for Fine Gifts and Jewelry.

Crystal Gayle

Essential Singles

  • “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” 1977
  • “Ready For the Times to Get Better,” 1978
  • “Talking in Your Sleep,” 1978
  • “Half the Way,” 1979
  • “You and I” (with Eddie Rabbitt), 1982
  • “‘Til I Gain Control Again,” 1982

Essential Albums

  • We Must Believe in Magic, 1977
  • When I Dream, 1978
  • Miss the Mississippi, 1979
  • These Days, 1980
  • Cage the Songbird, 1983

Industry Awards

  • ACM Most Promising Female Vocalist, 1976
  • ACM Top Female Vocalist, 1977, 1978 & 1980
  • CMA Female Vocalist, 1977 & 1978
  • Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue”), 1978

==> #22. Wanda Jackson

<== #24. Connie Smith

100 Greatest Women: The Complete List

8 Comments on 100 Greatest Women, #23: Crystal Gayle

  1. I don’t think there are any siblings, who were not in the same act, that have been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. However, that will change when Crystal takes her rightful place in the HOF alongside her sister Loretta Lynn.

  2. This is a good spot for Gayle. My mom used to play her in the car all the time when I was growing up so I’ve always had a big soft spot for her music. Her pure, controlled phrasing is what impresses me the most. And I would postulate that her unique brand of pop-country really helped pave the way for artists like Shania Twain; “Why Have You Left the One You Left for Me” sounds to me like a clear precursor to “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” (and not just because of the long-winded titles!)

  3. My only issue with Gayle is that since writing this post last night, “Half the Way” has been stuck in my head. Those strings are ruthless!

  4. She seriousl has the longest hair ever, has it hit the floor yet. I love how she made that her trademark and, in a way, it helped seporate her from her sister as an artist and give her her own identity. I greatly respect how she made her own image, her own music, and her own fame. In fact unless you look into it it’s a long shot to even gjuess that her and Loretta are sisters. So I think this is a great spot for her, not the most successful female artist in history, but she’s accomplished enough through her career as a musician and a person that it’s only a mater of time before she join her sister in the Hall Of Fame.

  5. I would guess Hank Jr would get into the CMHOF before Crystal Gayle so that would be the first set of family members not part of the same act, but Crystal will likely make the first sibling pair . I’ve always regarded her as a pop singer, but like Anne Murray, she has sufficient country presense to qualify as a county artist

  6. Sings like an angel and is one of the most consistant hit makers of the 70’s and 80’s. Paved the way for Shania and Faith Hill.

  7. Should be ranked much higher IMO.

    I always find it sad that Crystal Gayle is not more highly regarded in country music history. She surpassed her sister in #1 hits (and this includes Lynn’s duets with Conway Twitty) and she made a career all her own.

    She and her producers recorded the kind of music she loved to sing and she had a style different than anyone on country radio. As a result, she was a hit-making machine.

    It irritates me that NONE of the modern day female country artists ever site Crystal as their inspiration. Who do they think kicked the doors down at country radio so that they could record the pop-country songs they sing today???

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