100 Greatest Men: #34. Charlie Rich

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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.

Essential Singles:

  • 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

Essential Albums:

  • 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

Next: #33. Mel Tillis

Previous: #35. Gene Autry

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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10 Comments

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10 Responses to 100 Greatest Men: #34. Charlie Rich

  1. Wow. I am surprised Charlie Rich even made this list, and especially so that you’ve placed him above Milsap, Skaggs, Yoakam, etc. as one of country music’s greatest male talents. His run at the top lasted all of 5 years. For those of us who weren’t around to see his glory days, Rich is more famous for burning the envelope onstage at the CMA Awards than for either of his big hit singles. And while “Behind Closed Doors” did find some pop culture significance past its shelf date, Rich and his music have remained little more than a campy, remember-this kinda footnote in country music. You certainly think more of his ‘artistry’ than I ever did.

  2. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    You need to brush up a bit more then. Rich’s string of albums in the sixties and seventies are legendary. He was way ahead of his time. “Life’s Little Ups and Downs” alone. “Life’s Little Ups and Downs” alone.

  3. You may be right. I’m not overly familiar with Charlie Rich’s catalog prior to Billy Sherrill giving him a commercially viable style. I do like “I Almost Lost My Mind” and “Lifes Little Ups and Downs” from his PIR/Sun years though.

    I just always felt like he bore little artistry and certainly very little influence in the overall scheme of country’s history. He was an above par piano bar singer at best; a short-lived studio creation who, had it not been for Sherrill’s influence and production, it’s likely neither you or I would know his name and wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  4. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    We wouldn’t be having a discussion about Tammy Wynette either, if it wasn’t for Billy Sherrill’s production, and George Jones would be a lot lower on this list, too.

    I have a steadfast rule about not getting pulled into comment threads on the 100 Greatest lists that I’m not sure why I’m breaking, but I think that you’re making some remarkably broad comments about an artist that by your own admission, you’re not that familiar with.

  5. I’ve heard most of those recordings – I made it a point to listen to a lot of Charlie Rich during my fascination with the 1970s in country music just last year. I didn’t hear too much worth repeating. But if those recordings were so influential as to merit a statement like “his forward-looking fusion of multiple styles of music making him one of the genre’s most eclectic and visionary artists of all time”, wouldn’t even the casual country fan be aware of those works? If only by covers and mentions by other big-name artists? By comparison, David Allan Coe’s run of Columbia/Sherrill-produced albums were recorded in this era and were just as, or more, important than anything Rich released. Coe made a lot of important contributions as a songwriter and his image still looms large. Still, I bet Coe is not on the front end of this list.

    It’s all subjective and this is, of course, your list. We’ll have to agree to disagree here, I guess. And thanks for the exchange.

  6. David Allan Coe appeared at #95.

    I enjoyed the article, Kevin. I’m not extensively familair with Rich’s work beyond his two biggest hit singles, but I will try to brush up on it.

  7. “David Allan Coe appeared at #95.”

    Yes, I know. Guess I shouldn’t be so flippant with my facetiousness. ;)

  8. Erik NorthNo Gravatar

    I thought this would be an interesting bit of trivia re. Charlie Rich: Both “There Won’t Be Anymore” and “A Very Special Love Song” were in the Pop Top 40 simultaneously for a couple of weeks in the spring of 1974, which, even in the crossover-crazy 70s, was kind of a rare thing.

  9. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    Calling Charlie Rich a country artist is like referring Wolfgang Puck as a cook. There was so more to Charlie Rich than his hits – if you go back and listen to his recordings from the 1960s you would find equal amounts of soul, jazz, country, blues and pop in the blend. His best recordings usually weren’t his biggest hits

    In interviews Rich cited eclectic big band leader Stan Kenton as his chief musical inspiration. While Charlie was not a Kenton clone, the diversity of his music was a chip off the Kentonian block. Charlie’s final album, the magnificent PICTURES AND PAINTINGS demonstrated that there was no genre of music of which he was not the master

    I think it was remiss not to list 1960′s “Lonely Weekends” and 1965′s “Mohair Sam” among the the essential Charlie Rich songs. While each landed just outside the Billboard top twenty, both were very successful in the parts of the USA – reaching top five status in many locales. A number of reputable reference sources list “Mohair Sam” as having sold a million copies – I suspect it pulled up just short of that figure in the USA but it was a huge record and also went top ten on the Candian pop charts so it probably did reach a million in North America.

    You may have him ranked a little too high as far as his popularity and influence with modern brain-dead country is concerned, but few artista made as consistently good recordings as Charlie Rich

  10. If both of you – Kevin and Paul – think so much of Charlie Rich’s early recordings, I’m going to go back and give them another listen with more informed ears this time around.

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