August 16, 2012
After languishing in the shadows for more than a decade, Charlie Rich suddenly rose to prominence when his soul-influenced country music achieved massive crossover success.
Rich hailed from Arkansas, but it was his air force service that jump-started his professional music career. While stationed in Oklahoma, he started a blues and jazz outfit called the Velvetones. Once out of the military, he moved to Memphis, where he expanded his repertoire to include R&B. He earned some session work with Sun Records as he honed his songwriting craft. This led to a deal with Phillips International Records, which produced a handful of minor hits and an acclaimed studio album in 1960, Lonely Weekends with Charlie Rich.
Rich would toil in obscurity throughout the sixties on Groove and then Smash Records, though some of these recordings would end up hits when re-released at the peak of Rich’s popularity in the mid-seventies. He moved toward a polished country sound as the decade wound down, and his collaborations on Epic Records with legendary producer Billy Sherrill eventually caught the attention of country radio, starting with the hit “I Take it On Home” in 1972.
Then came the album Behind Closed Doors. The sound was similar to his previous work with Sherrill, but the title track was an explosive hit, topping the country charts and hitting the top twenty of the pop chart. The next single was even bigger, with “The Most Beautiful Girl” reaching #1 on both the country and the pop chart. The combination of these two singles powered the album to sales that would eventually top four million. His former labels flooded the market to capitalize on his success, with RCA managing to send three singles to the top of the country chart while competing with his Epic releases for airplay.
Rich dominated the award show circuit from 1973-1975, winning multiple Grammy, ACM, and CMA Awards, including the 1974 CMA trophy for Entertainer of the Year. During that time, his popularity peaked, with another pair of gold albums following the multi-platinum success of his breakthrough work. The hits slowed down as the seventies drew to a close, though he received wide critical acclaim for much of his work during this period, most notably his 1976 gospel album, Silver Linings.
Rich entered semi-retirement in the eighties, and was quiet on the recording front, even as his influence became increasingly prominent among the next generation of stars. In 1992, he returned with what would ultimately become his swan song. Pictures and Paintings seamlessly blended country, soul, and jazz, and was hailed as a return to form for the singer. Sadly, he would pass away only three years later. His legacy has only grown stronger since his passing, with his forward-looking fusion of multiple styles of music making him one of the genre’s most eclectic and visionary artists of all time.
- Life’s Little Ups and Downs, 1969
- I Take it on Home, 1972
- Behind Closed Doors, 1973
- The Most Beautiful Girl, 1973
- A Very Special Love Song, 1974
- I Don’t See Me in Your Eyes Anymore, 1974
- Rollin’ With the Flow, 1977
- On My Knees (with Janie Fricke), 1978
- Lonely Weekends with Charlie Rich, 1960
- Set Me Free, 1968
- The Fabulous Charlie Rich, 1969
- Behind Closed Doors, 1973
- Very Special Love Songs, 1974
- The Silver Fox, 1974
- Silver Linings, 1976
- Pictures and Paintings, 1992
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