Crystal Gayle Starter Kit

Producing primarily pop-flavored country music has rarely been a ticket to immortality for even the biggest artists, particularly the female ones.  Imports like Shania Twain and Olivia Newton-John are labeled impostors.  Faith Hill’s canny song sense is overlooked while hubby Tim McGraw’s is widely praised. Brilliant Dolly Parton records like “Here You Come Again” and “9 to 5″ are cited as being beneath her greatness, rather than prime examples of it.  Only Patsy Cline has been given a free pass, and who wouldn’t want to claim those pipes?

Where does this leave Crystal Gayle, younger sister of Loretta Lynn and owner of 32 top ten hits, 18 of which went #1? As the first female country artist to sell platinum, her impact was quite big back in the day. But aside from her signature classic “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”, her music has been largely forgotten.  Perhaps this is because she peaked during an era that is often looked down upon as too crossover for its own good. Unlike Parton and Cline, there is virtually nothing for traditionalists to celebrate within Gayle’s catalog of hits. But much like Hill and Newton-John, the woman recorded some wonderful songs that deserve rediscovery.  Here are a dozen of the best.

“I’ll Do It All Over Again” from the 1976 album Crystal

Gayle typically avoided purely victim stances in her lyrics. Here, she’s been left but is aware that her heart will mend and that she’ll love again.

“Ready For the Times to Get Better” from the 1976 album Crystal

Country singles recorded in a minor key are quite the rarity, but the arrangement undercuts the misery of the lyric, even as she’s clearly ready to move on to happier times. This just might be her finest moment.

“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” from the 1977 album We Must Believe in Magic

This classic won her a Grammy and the first of two CMA Female Vocalist trophies. If the piano sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same player that powered Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” to similar success on both the country and pop charts.

“Talking In Your Sleep” from the 1978 album When I Dream

Proving that her appeal wasn’t limited to one big hit, this hit launched what would become Gayle’s second consecutive platinum album.

“Why Have You Left the One You Left Me For” from the 1978 album When I Dream

Her first really big uptempo hit defied expectations and broke her out of the ballad mold.  It didn’t hurt that it was ridiculously catchy.

“Half the Way” from the 1979 album Miss the Mississippi

Another hook-laden hit, powered by an infectious string section and quite a bit more wailing than she’s usually known for.

“Too Many Lovers” from the 1980 album These Days

What sounds like a quiet bar ballad in the first few seconds soon turns into an uptempo message of caution to women looking for love in all the wrong places.

“You Never Gave Up On Me” from the 1981 album Hollywood, Tennessee

There aren’t too many anniversary songs that essentially say, “Thanks for loving me even when I didn’t love you.”  Romantic songs like to pretend that both partners are equally kind and loving, when that isn’t always the case. I like ones like this more.

“‘Til I Gain Control Again” from the 1982 album True Love

Crystal Gayle was hardly the predictable vehicle for this intricate Rodney Crowell composition that had been previously cut by Emmylou Harris.  Even she didn’t think she could pull it off. Thankfully, producer Jimmy Bowen coaxed her into it, and the result was a #1 hit that was also among her most sophisticated performances.

“Baby, What About You” from the 1982 album True Love

Not much more to say about this one than it’s a slice of pop-country perfection.

“The Sound of Goodbye” from the 1983 album Cage the Songbird

One of Hugh Prestwood’s first great moments as a writer was this hit. Much like his material later pushed Randy Travis into a more ambitious production approach (“Hard Rock Bottom Of Your Heart”), the sonic landscape of this #1 hit pushed Gayle and country radio into far more interesting territory.

“Cry” from the 1986 album Straight to the Heart

Given that she’s in the grand tradition of those Nashville Sound ladies, it’s no surprise that Gayle not only covered Lynn Anderson’s #3 hit effectively, she even took it two slots higher up the chart.

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24 Comments

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24 Responses to Crystal Gayle Starter Kit

  1. Paul DennisNo Gravatar

    Crystal Gayle is a fine artist, although much of her output falls within the Adult Contemprary format of the time – I suspect that if she had not been the sister of Loretta Lynn, Jay Lee Webb and Peggy Sue, she might not have been classified as country at all

    That said, there is much in her catalogue worth hearing. Much of it may have been AC/Easy Listening schlock BUT it was so very well executed

    I can’t really object to anything on your list although you’ve left off three of my personal favorites

    I’ve Cried (The Blues Right Out of My Eyes)-1970
    Wrong Road Again (1975)
    This Is My Year For Mexico (1975)

    Can’t say I liked either Lynn’s or Crystal’s version of “Cry” – the Johnny Ray original from 1951 pounds both of them into the sand.

    By the way, both “when I Dream” and “Half The Way” went to #1 on Cashbox, giving her 20 #1s

    It’s odd how Crystal Gayle, starting ostensibly as a country artist, was so much less country than her contemporary Anne Murray, who never regarded herself as country at all

  2. BobNo Gravatar

    Since I’m more of pop country fan, I always liked CG better than her sister. I see that Paul mentioned Anne Murray. Loved and still play her music. If she were starting out today, I can only see her as a country artist.

  3. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    I think it’s funny that the country hits of Olivia Newton-John, who was the most harshly criticized of all the crossover artists, were more country than not just Murray’s hits, but those of Nashville-based stars like Gayle and Barbara Mandrell.

  4. MichaelNo Gravatar

    Wow! I can’t even remember the last time I thought of taking out my Crystal Gayle CD and giving it a spin. Thanks for the reminder. I always forget how many hits she’s actually had. Also worth mentioning if the above are enjoyed:
    You Never Miss a Real Good Thing (Till He Says Goodbye)
    Somebody Loves You
    I’ll Get Over You
    If You Ever Change Your Mind

  5. TomNo Gravatar

    …at the end of march crystal gayle is going to be in concert here in zurich. that spoils the final part of my skiing season completely. just the thought of breaking a leg and not being able to go and see her…

  6. Paul DennisNo Gravatar

    Kevin – for a very brief moment in time, ONJ was definitely a country artist, although she hadn’t previously been one, and by the time the awards started coming for her, she had already largely left the field

    I think most of the criticism came because it was clear from the word go that she was only a visitor to the genre. ONJ’s management made a calculated decision to break her in the country market, and then use her good looks as leverage into the US pop market

    Actually, there are some very country Ann Murray recordings, especially among the album cuts. ONJ was country for two singles and albums. Mandrell had some very country hits as well

  7. KevinNo Gravatar

    Olivia Newton-John won her country awards in 1973 and 1974 on the strength of “Let Me Be There” and “If You Love Me (Let Me Know).” She continued to record country material through 1977, and remained a core artist of the genre until Grease.

    Even when her emphasis switched to pop in the late seventies, album cuts remained country-flavored and charted on the country surveys. She’s since recorded plenty of country material. I’m doing a starter kit on her country stuff soon. It’s pretty awesome.

  8. KevinNo Gravatar

    I should add that despite the fact that she’s one of, if not the, most strikingly beautiful women to find success on either the pop or country chart, it wasn’t her looks that broke her in either market. She was scoring pop hits long before anybody knew what she looked like, and her album jackets and style of dress downplayed her beauty, covering her up from head to toe in the process. It was her distinctive voice and strong material that made her a star.

  9. Paul DennisNo Gravatar

    I would not regard ONJ as having an especially good voice – the material was great yes, and the way they surrounded her voice on songs like “Banks of The Ohio” was outstanding, but there were and are many better female voices on the musical scene.

    I think the styles of the time (midi-skirts, etc) covered her up more than that there was any conscious effort to do so by her management – she wore more revealing fashion prior to breaking through to the US market but she changed with the fashions. I purchased her first three US albums – If Not For You (1971), Olivia (1972)and Let Me Be There (1973)- right when they first came out (and I still have them somewhere) but I knew even then that the albums were far greater than the sum of their pieces

    ONJ has had a fine career and she may be a great humanitarian, lover of animals and all those other worthwhile things, but a great singer she never was. She remained basically country through 1976, with “Let It Shine” being the last number she recorded that was of any interest to me.

  10. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    I disagree. I’ve seen ONJ live in recent years and she can still sing rings around most of the ladies (and gents) of yesterday and today. She was never a belter a la Ronstadt or Cline, but she has impressive range. The best description I’ve heard of her vocal style is ethereal, though it was showcased better on her pop music.

    She did have an excellent producer in John Farrar, who knew how to frame her voice better than anyone, but the woman can sing with nothing but a guitar or piano. She doesn’t need bells and whistles.

  11. Myra RobinsonNo Gravatar

    It has been awhile ago,but I had the pleasure of seeing Loretta and later on Crystal in concert. both were great ,of course. Crystal sang all her hits and did a wonderful job. her hair is still down to her feet and she wears 4 inch heels and she is very petite.

  12. travis reedyNo Gravatar

    I hate most pop country with the exception of Crystal. All her songs are catchy and I love the arrangements. My favorite of them all is 1986’s ” strait to The Heart”. Love all her hits but the ones from the 80’s are the best!

  13. ChadNo Gravatar

    I’ve never thought of Anne Murray and Crystal Gayle in the same category, but I guess I can see that, even though their voices are totally different.

    My favorite gayle song, by far, is “You’ve been talking in your sleep.” That’s great song writing and a good delivery.

  14. sheldonNo Gravatar

    Thanks Kevin for this great list – I couldn’t agree with you more on your choices.
    Anyone who hasn’t heard “Till I can Gain Control Again” needs to find it…it is a great song, with a great vocal performance from Crystal.
    I was lucky enough to meet Crystal in Nashville last October after her Eddie Stubbs interview, and she could not have been nicer or more gracious to the folks there that night. Class act all the way.

  15. I wouldn’t begrudge any of these a place on this list, and have no new songs to add. I will say that of the female crossover acts that were only loosely rooted in country of this era, I still prefer Linda Ronstadt.

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  17. Cutting the TreacleNo Gravatar

    so just put “half the way” on. flashback to driving to school (1st grade) and listening to the radio.

  18. Cutting the TreacleNo Gravatar

    “So fill me up to the top, whoa don’t you stop ’til I’m over-flowing. Love is the seed and, babe, I need you to keep it growing.”

    Hmm. That sounds frankly sexual. I did not pick up on that when I was 6 (as opposed to basically every Conway Twitty song which dripped enough innuendo that even a first grader kind of knew Conway was not talking about a nap when he sang “lay you down”).

  19. Crystal Gayle was one of my favorite artists when I was growing up and I still enjoy listening to her music. I did not initially care for “Till I Gain Control Again” when it was first released, but I’ve grown to appreciate it over the years and now regard it as one of her finest recordings.

  20. that artis is preety
    i hope her sound is good too
    i never heard about her song

  21. cajNo Gravatar

    Crystal Gayle was my family’s favorite singer. We made many trips with her tapes playing all the way there and all the way back.

    I would add two of my personal favorites:
    1) Our Love is on the Faultline from True Blue (1983)
    2) I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love from Cage the Songbird (1984)

  22. HeatherNo Gravatar

    I haven’t forgotten her! She was my childhood hero! :)

  23. PatrickNo Gravatar

    I was so thrilled to find this well written article on Crystal today, although I am coming to this conversation a year late. Crystal Gayle was the underrated musical genious of her time. Perhaps in the shadows of Loretta, or deluged by artists less gifted than her, but with better gimmicks. I would hear her songs and think, “there is nothing that sounds like that on country radio and no one who has the pipes to back it up.” She also wasn’t afraid to sing about something other than love. Songs like “We Must Believe In Magic”, “Cage The Songbird”, “The Other Side Of Me”, “The Woman In Me”, “Ready For The Times To Get Better”, and “Tennessee” express different emotions; grief, will, self-love and love for home. She had an amazing ability to pick great songs. To this day, all it takes is the first 4 notes of “Baby, What About Me” to flush away the gray of any bad day for me.

    I never left Crystal behind in the years that followed her big chart success. I guess its because I have never heard anyone like her, before or since. And now she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, just incase anyone forgot.

    Thanks again,
    Patrick

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